Although it may seem like ages ago that the NBA's schedule-makers released the 2013-2014 regular season calendar, let's take a moment to harken back to that particular bygone era. Back then, in what now seems like yesteryear, it was announced that the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks would combine for a whopping total of 50 nationally televised games. Meanwhile, the Indiana Pacers (one win away from the NBA Finals...well, really one lay-up away, but that's just semantics) would be granted a mere ten games to be seen by a national audience - a figure good for twelfth most in the league. They would not be seen on a national network on Opening Night, no Pacer would be featured in the NBA's Jingle Hoops commercial advertising the league's marquee slate of Christmas Day games, and the Blue and Gold would appear just twice on TNT. Yes, in those olden days, it was extremely difficult not to question exactly what it would take for the Pacers to earn a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Well, at least in the case of small-market teams, it appears that making a few strategic offseason moves (adding Luis Scola, retaining David West, and extending Paul George), as well as, racking up the wins does the trick. Suddenly, in the eyes of the national news outlets, the Pacers were a team worthy of being noticed, analyzed, featured, and discussed:
Attn NBA Teams: Larry Bird and the Pacers are serious about winning the NBA championship this year and in the future.— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) September 25, 2013
But, really let’s face it, when any team jumps out to a 16-1 record and takes the league by storm, it would be a real challenge for them to avoid the media spotlight – even if said team does not play in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, or Chicago. Nevertheless, in the case of the Pacers, the NBA limelight had finally found a new location to focus its rays.
Over the summer, Roy Hibbert graced the cover of STACK magazine. Inside the periodical, details were provided about "how Hibbert transformed himself from a college freshman who couldn't complete a single Push-Up to an NBA All-Star who deadlifts 540 pounds."
Yet, the Big Dawg was not the only Pacer to land a cover shoot. After finishing the month of October averaging 28 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists, on 48% shooting, SLAM magazine decided it was finally time for the NBA community to get to know Paul George:
Most recently, PG was also selected to cover ESPN The Magazine's "Analytics Issue," inside which writer Pablo S. Torre explains a simple equation... "If Pippen's PER + Duncan's DWS + James' net rating = Paul George, then how many seasons until he becomes the NBA's best two-way player? (Trick question: He already is.)"
The publicity train did not just stop with the Pacers' two All-Stars; it also found its way to George Hill via Men's Health Magazine:
...And later, it travelled on to C.J. Watson as he, too, was featured inside the pages of SLAM, where he sat down for a 1-on-1 interview to discuss his role on-the-court, as well as, his desire to give back off-the-court:
Thanks to slamonline for the article in the new slam check it out!!!!!! http://t.co/HROvrRq9uQ— C.J. Watson (@Quietstorm_32) February 19, 2014
Of late, if fans follow Pacers.com's Scott Agness on twitter, they may have even noticed that the Pacers' starting five will be featured in an upcoming issue of GQ Magazine:
Yet, the Pacers have not just garnered attention from print media. At the beginning of the season, the team sat down for an in-depth interview with First Take's Stephen A. Smith. Paul George made an appearance on "Teach" (a CBS documentary honoring various educators), and, later on this year, he stopped by Jimmy Kimmel to crack a few jokes. Word is also circulating that, in the coming days, fans will even be able to catch C.J. Watson on HGTV's"Scoring the Deal."
Yes, it seems safe to say that the media spotlight has more than honed in on Indianapolis. R-E-S-P-E-C-T has, at long last, been earned, which is definitely a far cry from where the team stood last summer when schedule makers did not think the Pacers would garner enough ratings to warrant putting them on national networks more regularly.
Certainly, added media attention is good for the franchise, ticket sales, individual branding, and fan base, but the Pacers have loftier goals than just grabbing ratings, having their contender status debated by talking heads, and measuring their coverage in comparison to the Miami Heat. Over All-Star weekend, while on air with ESPN's Mike and Mike, Frank Vogel touched on this very topic:
"Well, I don't know, I think there has been something made about that in the past, but I think we are reaching the point now where we are sort of being recognized as one of the best teams in the league. I do not think it is about competing for respect. I think we're getting plenty of attention from anyone. It is really about, we want to be champions. We want to take on all comers, and see what we can make happen. It is really about achieving that greatness more than earning respect."
For the small-market Pacers, the respect they earn will likely always be nothing more than an added bonus of sustained success, not a byproduct of location or market size. The Pacers deserve all the Gold Swagger of photo shoots, magazine covers, commercials, features, and interviews, but their team objective is still as Blue Collar as ever. Achieving greatness, winning a title, raising a banner - this is the ultimate prize upon which the Pacers have their eyes collectively focused. Like Roy Hibbert states in his NBA Dream Big commercial, "My dream is to win an NBA Championship."