Pacers get into the holiday spirit

Bruce Bennett

None of the Pacers may be featured in the NBA's "Jingle Hoops" commercial advertising the league's slate of Christmas Day games, but that does not mean they are not getting into the holiday spirit.

The NBA's schedule makers may not have chosen the Indiana Pacers to play on the league's most marquee regular season game day (Christmas Day), but that slight has not prevented the team from getting into the holiday spirit. To date, this holiday season, several members of the Pacers' roster have already taken part in various traditional Christmas activities:

Whether it is decorating a tree...

Catching their favorite holiday television programs ...

Or, as most do this time of year, contemplating the potential release of their very own Christmas album...

Regardless of the activity, it is clear that no one is uttering, "Bah, humbug" on the Pacers' roster. In fact, the team has been so holly, jolly that members of Area 55 and the G2 Zone decided to organize an evening of singing carols (Pacers themed, of course) at the Pacers' tree on Georgia Street.

While it is definitely entertaining to see members of the Pacers taking part in various fun holiday activities, it is their steadfast commitment to giving during the most wonderful time of the year that makes them even more likeable and impressive.

For example, on December 3, Paul George announced via social media that he would be serving as the Pacers designated "Season of Giving Ambassador."

In an interview with Huff Post Live, PG elaborated on the importance of being centrally involved with the #NBAGiveBIG campaign, by noting:

"I want to be fully behind it." George later added, "For us, it is all about giving back to the community, being a part of our community. We want to help year round, but this time of year it is most important because Christmas is a wonderful holiday. We want everyone to enjoy it the same way we do."

During that same interview, Paul also revealed that several members of the team have "special things" planned throughout the Christmas season. While some are yet to come, others have already taken place with great success.

As part of an event that Scott Agness from Pacers.com calls "Shop with the Pacers at Greenwood Park Mall", Rasual Butler, Chris Copeland, George Hill, Solomon Hill, Orlando Johnson, and Lance Stephenson all took time to shop alongside eight families from the Wish for Our Heroes foundation. Each of the families at the special event received a Kroger gift card, Pacers tickets, a photo with Santa, and a Simon Mall gift certificate. During the event, Agness took advantage of the opportunity to speak with several of the Pacers about what it means to be involved with community service projects during the Christmas season. Orlando Johnson offered a heartfelt observation about the importance of giving to others and the fulfillment one receives when doing so:

"It means so much. Just being able to give back to this community because they've done so much, especially since I've been here. To be able to spend some with these kids and these families, hopefully it's making their day a little brighter because I know it's definitely making mine better."

Another holiday-inspired community happening recounted by Agness at Pacers.com is what he describes as "David West's Holiday Surprise." The event was held at Turning Point Christian School in Lawrence Township. The evening was put on by David West and his wife in order to reward 113 students for their academic achievements. According to the event summary, each exemplary student and his/her family received two toys and a holiday meal to take home. Echoing Orlando Johnson's sentiment concerning the intrinsic value of giving, David West's wife told Agness:

"We have been blessed so much that it makes it easier to give back so it's more rewarding now than it is to receive. This is the most favorite time of the year for me! So we get overwhelmed with giving back. There's so many people that need help in so many different ways, and we do as much as we can and we enjoy."

Not unlike their gameplay on the court, giving back is a team effort. Indeed, it is not merely a select few of the Pacers-and possibly their families-getting involved in various community outreach opportunities; they are all stepping up in their own ways.

As reported on the Pacers Cares social media page, the Indiana Pacers and Fever teams-in partnership with Jakks Pacific (a leading US toy company)- joined forces to support an area toy donation drive. Roy Hibbert, C.J. Watson, and Orlando Johnson all happily participated in putting some of the donated toys directly into the hands of wide-eyed children. The bulk of the more than 30,000 toys donated during the drive are set for delivery to various organizations in the Indianapolis area including Dayspring Center, Christamore House, Community Hospital, Hawthorne Community Center, Indianapolis Fire Department, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, Julian Center, Marion County Sheriff's Department, Methodist Children's Hospital, Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St.Vincent, Riley Children's Hospital, Salvation Army ARC, Sheltering Wings, St. Francis Hospital, Shepherd Community Center and Toys for Tots/ US Marines.

Wait, there's more. The news release also conveys that the Pacers Cares holiday schedule of events includes the "annual Holiday Hospital Visits", "Pacers Sports and Entertainment Community Service Day", as well as "other individual player events". Beyond these more publicized activities, there are some events that, while they receive less notoriety, are just as important and impactful. For instance, in conjunction with the You Win We Win Foundation, the Quiet Storm Foundation (co-founded by C.J. Watson) collected toys for the 2013 holiday season.

While each of the aforementioned publicized charitable acts are impressive and admirable, there are likely countless others being made privately (without intentional media coverage) by Pacers that are equally as extraordinary and bighearted.

For example, although cameras and reporters were not there to capture the following act of kindness, an employee from the Greenwood Mall shared a story about Lance Stephenson's generosity that was later retweeted by Pacers Cares prior to Thanksgiving. According to the tweet seen below, Stephenson overheard a conversation between a mother and daughter in Journey Kids store in the mall. The discussion regarded the daughter's hope to purchase a pair of boots, which her mother expressed were unaffordable to them. Moved by the conversation, and not wanting to see the parent and child leave empty-handed, Stephenson approached the mother and told her he would be willing to purchase the boots.

This story about Lance's willingness to give to those less fortunate than himself epitomizes something that David West told Scott Agness at his holiday event at Turning Point Christian School:

"It's just a part of who we are. Every single opportunity we have to help some people out, anybody out, if there's a need that can be met and we can help, we're there."

On that day in Journey Kids, Lance Stephenson was "there".

The Pacers may not be "there" this year to suit up for the NBA's showcase of what the schedule makers projected to be the league's most compelling match-ups on Christmas Day (which by the way, will feature, as it stands now, four teams below .500), but they have consistently seized the opportunity to be "there" when help was needed this holiday season - more than willing to give of their time and of themselves.

To the diehard Pacers' fan, very little of this team's dedication to community outreach may come as a surprise because, as chronicled here at Indy Cornrows, giving back is not just something this team does exclusively around December 25. It is a year round effort. That is part of what makes this team, 1-14, so special. There is no doubt that Christmas is a special time of year, but like Paul George stated in his interview with Huff Post Live, "We want to help year round."

And help year round they do.

Whether it is packaging food for Kids Against Hunger, visiting patients at Riley, hosting a celebrity softball game, participating in Basketball without Borders, sponsoring scholarships through Jr. Seed, or simply purchasing a pair of boots at the mall, the Pacers have been "there", because like David West stated, "It's just a part of who we are."

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