My response to Mike Wells regarding fan attendance at Pacers games

Hi everyone at ICR.

I’m Brad. I blog here about this team that also happens to play in Indiana. I’ve been a Pacers fan since 1990. Like many, I haven’t been to an actual Pacers game since the infamous Brawl in 2004. Though, for me, circumstances are a bit different. I live in NYC, surrounded by a swirling, orange-drenched sea of Knicks fans.

I’m writing here today because Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star requested that I "educate" him on why the Pacers have some of the lowest attendance numbers in the NBA this season despite the team being, you know, good.

All this stems from Mike, who, despite being the Star’s beat writer covering the Pacers, posting a snippy, passive-aggressive reading blog entry the other day on the Star’s "Pacers Insider" website that was critical fans for not showing up. What struck me about the piece was Mike’s willful blindness to the actual issues facing the Pacers and the NBA in general. Instead of writing about those, or even touching on them in passing, he took the easier option and ran with it: Blaming fans.

In fact, the man came off as little more than a bloviating douchebag when he went on Twitter and asked readers why they weren’t showing up at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse on a more frequent basis. Seriously, here’s the troll bait he sent out February 7th:

"In" "honor" "of" "Mike's" "tweet," "this" "sentence" "will" "place" "every" "word" "in" "quotes."

Now, to be fair to Mike, he isn’t the only one in the local Indianapolis media market who is asking the insipid "What’s wrong with the fans?" question when it comes to the Pacers. There’s inherently nothing wrong with asking the question itself, especially if it's being used in a larger context. Fans aren’t above criticism.

Trust me, I know.

We asked the same questions when some fans abandoned the Colts after Peyton Manning was released last year. However, that wasn't the ONLY question we asked, and fans were not entirely to blame.

What bothers me about how the soft, Jell-O wiggling blob that is Indianapolis sports media addressed the fan attendance issue is that pretty much everyone was asking the same "What’s wrong with the fans?" question. No one seems to have asked, "What’s wrong with the NBA?" Or, even better, "What’s wrong with a professional basketball league that can’t draw fans that are rabidly eating up the exact same game at the amateur levels?" Personally, those questions are more interesting than simply waggling a finger at people and scolding them for not attending Pacers games.

This motivated me to tweet this and this out to the world, with no specific focus on Mike or his newspaper.

Apparently, my questions and criticisms angered Mike to the point where he decided to question my manhood in a reply tweet. As a dirty blogger who lives in mom’s basement and can’t dress himself at age 36, I appreciated Mike displaying once again that, despite the high and mighty claims of a certain columnist at the Star, reporters at established media entities do indeed get just as hissy, hysterical, and ridiculous on Twitter as any rabid fan does.

But, I’m not here to bash Mike Wells. He seems like a decent fellow overall, and he has a fabulous last name. I’m here to "educate" him. He wants to know why no one is showing up, even though the answer is right in front of his face literally every day. So, here goes…

A year ago this time, I came to this blog to solicit feedback from you readers on an idea I had: Why not trade the farm for Dwight Howard? A ridiculous suggestion, I admit, but the logic was sound if you took a step back and examined the landscape of the NBA.

Last year, the Pacers had cap space, an interesting corps of youthful players, and an up-and-coming young coach. Howard had one foot and four toes out the door in Orlando, and despite his immature, backstabbing tactics that would impress Joffrey on Game of Thrones, he was still a Top Five player in the NBA. Landing a talent like him could mean truly contending. The NBA is a star-driven league, and a team of nobodys (like the Pacers) was not going to defeat a team like Miami, Boston, or even New York in route to the Finals.

The last time a small market team faced a group of nobodys in a Finals was 2005, and it was one of the lowest rated series in NBA history. No way commissioner David Stern was going to allow that again. This is a man who once declared that his dream NBA Finals match-up would be the Lakers v. the Lakers, and he was stone-cold serious when he said it.

I could literally stop the article right now and just leave you with that and it should be enough for Mike Wells to know why fans are staying at home. But, because Mike asked for it, I'll continue.

I tossed my Dwight Howard suggestion to many of you, and the responses I got back were surprising. I’m paraphrasing many of these because locating the FanPost has proven difficult the last two days, but here is what I noted:

"Howard won’t want to play here."

"Stars don’t like Indy."

"This isn’t a market that attracts stars."

"Stick to football, you asshole."

OK, maybe that last one was a word-for-word quote, but you get the point.

The comments back really through me for a loop. Why wouldn’t NBA stars want to play in Indiana? Reggie Miller made a name for himself here. NFL QB Peyton Manning, one of the biggest stars in sports ever, will likely have a statue of him erected in front of Lucas Oil Stadium when he retires. What’s so terrible about Indiana?

I then modified the question, and asked myself, "Well, if fans are right and stars don’t want to play in Indiana, why would I, or anyone, invest any kind of money or time in the NBA?"

Then, I started looking back over the events that have shaped the NBA since the infamous brawl at Auburn Hills back in 2004. Keep in mind, I don’t think that fight matters much anymore to fans anymore, but the circumstances that caused it are still very much in play today in the NBA.

Take a look at this recent write-up by Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla, who, when opining about why Celtics forward Kevin Garnet exercised his no-trade clause when the Celtics and Nuggets were reportedly chatting about shipping him to Denver, wrote this:

NBA stars view Colorado as a flyover state. It's not as remote as Alaska. Denver, however, lacks the bright-lights lure of New York, Miami and Los Angeles.

Denver, Colorado? The city that signed Peyton Manning after he was cut by the Colts; a guy whose star shines brighter than pretty much anyone in the NBA’s, including Lebron’s. The same Denver that hosted John Elway for nearly two decades as a player. The same Denver that won two Stanley Cups with Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy. Denver, population 2,599,504, is a "flyover" city not too far removed from Alaska for certain NBA stars?

So, what do these players think of Sacramento? Minnesota? Charlotte? Memphis? Indianapolis?

When it’s that obvious that the faces of the NBA have that much contempt for your state and city, do you honestly think the people in that state are going to gives these assholes their money?

Speaking of assholes, let’s run down the list of people who are the front-and-center faces of the NBA:

Now, you’ll notice that not one name there is on the Indiana Pacers roster. This gets to my point that the reason fans aren’t showing up has less to do with the team in Indiana and more to do with the association Indiana plays in.

I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t say that the Pacers are a legitimately fun and exciting team to watch. Personally, I like Paul George, George Hill, and many others on the current squad. I just don’t like the cesspool of shit-smelling slime we call the NBA.

This brings us to the notion that the NBA is perceived as "rigged." It doesn’t matter if you personally think the theory that the NBA is the WWF in sweat socks and overpriced sneakers is a tin foil hat conspiracy. The perception is now embedded with many people. It almost doesn’t even matter if it’s true or not. People believe it. Lots of them.

There’s ample evidence to suggest the theory has legs. Just enough to sow a very large, very germinating seed of doubt as to the credibility of the league. Once that doubt sets in and grows roots, and once people start wondering if the NBA’s truly odious commissioner is using his influence to swing the officiating of games (an accusation that has been written about quite often), how can a writer like Mike Wells not wonder if this will affect the bottom line at Bankers’ Life?

Personally, I think Mike does know. He’s just too attached to the mechanism to challenge or even question it openly.

This is why I was just a little ticked at him for taking a shot at fans. That’s the easy road. The road paved with the least resistance for him. Mike isn’t accountable to fans. Not as much as he is to the Pacers or the NBA. He can bash and berate readers ‘til Kingdom Come, or, even later, when Roy Hibbert starts earning that ridiculous contract the Pacers signed him to. Fans will still read Mike’s reports because he’s embedded within the org. He's an "insider."

However, if he takes a step back and starts making critical comments or questions about the NBA, its players, and the frothy bile of over-hyped, ego-driven basketball that is shoveled into the faces of fans on a nightly basis, then Mike’s probably not an "insider" anymore.

Asking questions of that kind is critical to getting to the real heart of the matter. This is why it would have probably been best for all parties if Mike had chosen not to write about the attendance issues.

Let guys like Bob Kravitz, Jake Query, or JMV ponder the questions of attendance. They're better equipped. Let loud-mouthed asshole bloggers like me be the douche in the room who stands up and says, "The problem ain’t the fans, tough guy. It’s the assholes who star in and run this league."

I understand that beat writers can’t do that, but it also means guys like Mike can’t get away with either A) Taking the easy road and finger-pointing at fans, or B) Carrying fresh buckets of water for a broken NBA and its obnoxiously tiresome star players.

Sure, it’s likely other factors are contributing to the low attendance. Larry Bird was a pretty piss-poor general manager for years and Herb Simon is an uninspiring, cheap owner. Mike states in his blog that:

Fans said they wouldn't return until there was both a competitive team on the court and a roster of players whose off-court behavior did not include visits to strip clubs.

The Pacers followed suit by cleaning house and putting together a team the city would embrace

Well, the girlfriend beating scumbag known as Lance Stephenson is still on the team, and is now getting rewarded with increased minutes! So much for cleaning house, huh?

All these things are likely factors, but at the end of the day, the numbers are low because the NBA doesn’t market or gear itself towards a wider base of fans. It’s also got a massive credibility problem, and the stars who are the face of it aren’t the kind of people who a wide range of folks would consistently get up and cheer for.

I’ll close by saying Mike Wells is a good reporter who does his job well. I'm also happy he took the time to respond to a tweet I sent him. However, perhaps next time Mike might want to approach a topic like fan attendance with a bit more of an open mind. If not, then don’t write about it at all.

Thanks to Tom Lewis for letting me post here and for tolerating my insanity.

Year end of the lesson.

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