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Unsolved Mysteries from Pacers Commercials, Explained

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What you are about to read is not about basketball.

I’ve been loitering around a lot on YouTube lately. With the NBA on pause and bad news constantly on hand, there’s something incredibly comforting about getting lost at home in a limitless stream of uploaded sports content which, by nature, never pauses and, instead, naturally expands to occupy the needs of my unquiet mind without daring to ask if I’m still watching. Like sifting through a rummage sale, I take joy in knowing that a simple search for one specific game or highlight might just reveal to me the oral history of a nifty play-call; or, in this case, lead me down a rabbit hole of long-forgotten advertisements. Either way, no matter which thread gets pulled, the end result is that I’ve spent one less hour of indefinite isolation thinking about all of the reasons why it is necessary to stay in indefinite isolation.

Therefore, in the interest of frivolous escapism, and perhaps because we are now living in a world where I suddenly find myself looking for absolutes under every rock and tree, I invite you to join me as we attempt to answer unsolved mysteries from commercials featuring some of your favorite Pacers.

Who won the pick-up game between Jermaine O’Neal and Paul Pierce?

The year was 2003, and rather than selling the lifestyle of being a professional basketball player, Nike was marketing playing basketball as a lifestyle in and of itself. Stripped down to its purest form, and set to what now sounds like cheesy clear-out music from a home renovation show, Jermaine O’Neal and Paul Pierce were just two dudes playing shirts and skins at a nondescript gym. Distinguished more by their skills than their status, Pierce and O’Neal’s frustration with the competition mounts to such an extent that their respective teammates, who they’ve repeatedly waved off and roasted, ultimately become audience to a high-intensity game of one-on-one.

While not remotely espousing the merits of playing like a team, and clearly heavily choreographed, the ad nonetheless manages to be all about ball as the two premier players proceed to feast on each other with their signature moves, presumably into perpetuity.

And that, right there, is the problem: What’s with the cliff-hanger? After making it a point for Pierce to say, “win by two,” why doesn’t someone actually win by two? This is as maddening as when a show gets cancelled without a series finale.

Give. Us. Closure.

Instead, here’s the play-by-play (you know, once points actually started to be scored and the rest of players took a whole bunch of seats):

1-0 — Pierce dunk shot: Made

1-1 — O’Neal turnaround jump shot: Made

2-1 — Pierce driving layup: Made

2-2 — O’Neal driving dunk shot: Made

3-2 — Pierce fadeaway jumper: Made

3-3 — O’Neal dunk shot: Made

4-3 — Pierce jump shot: Made

4-4 — O’Neal jump shot: Made

Notably, though they were playing on a full-court, neither of them attempted a three. In time (well, at least in modern time and if playing by ones and twos), going up and down 94-feet without any opportunities to find rest would naturally incentivize pulling up from deep because as soon as a shot goes up on one end the shooter would have to race back to the paint at the other to avoid getting beat off the dribble or in transition. Given his ability to get buckets from more spots on the floor, the edge on that front would likely go to Pierce. However, the longer the two of them persisted in answering each other make-for-make, it seems like the legs on the crafty scorer’s fall-away jump-shot eventually would have started to feel the effects of defending up a position against O’Neal on the block. In that sense, the conditioning (dis)advantage would cut both ways for both parties.

That said, for nerds like me who actually spend time thinking about fictitious pick-up games, Nike clearly wanted to leave it open for interpretation (or, maybe, protect one of their sponsored athletes from taking a scripted L?), which is interesting given that the company was willing to allow for the existence of winners and losers in later installments.

A few years later, for instance, Team JO (Chris Paul, Tony Parker, LeBron James, Paul Pierce, and O’Neal) could be seen defeating Team Suns Team Sheed (Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Shawn Marion, Rasheed Wallace, and Amare Stoudemire) 8-6 while playing by ones.

Granted, at some point, there probably needs to be an extended conversation about how in the fresh heck it was that O’Neal and Wallace got chosen as captains for squads that included Kobe and LeBron (Did they shoot for it? How did both of them win a shootout against Steve Nash and Chris Paul? Are they really good at rock, paper, scissors? Was there a sign-up sheet? Why didn’t anyone else see the sign-up sheet?!?); but, for now, just try to focus on the bottom of the screen.

Dun-dun-duuuun...keeping score while playing to seven and winning by two is possible — at least when Pierce and O’Neal are on the same team (intrigue!).

Release the tapes, Nike.

What was the recommended reading list for Paul George’s hot tub book club?

On Christmas Day of 2015, Nike released a short film wherein four kids set out to choose their favorite players by going straight to the source, the players themselves: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Elena Delle Donne, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, Kobe Bryant and Paul George — who, rather predictably, is shown fishing on a yacht.

Later seen gathering around for “hot tub book club time,” Peanut, Shawn, Toni, and Angel soon find out that George’s highlight-packed style of play is the polar opposite of his laid back personality. But alas, we, the viewers, never find out what we, a people currently with plenty of time on our hands to hide away with a book, really want to know:

What is he reading?

Rather, likely because of copyright or to avoid cluttering the shot, all we get is pages full of words with a nebulous cover. Bummer.

From what we can observe, we know that the book is relatively slim, so I, personally, choose to believe that George was engrossed in the unadorned writing style of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.” After all, who better than the 2015-16 Pacers, a group of avid fishermen bogged down by aged roster construction, to connect and identify with how Santiago’s struggle to catch the giant marlin was really a reflection of his struggles with himself? Amid a season which was fraught by ups and downs and consistently wanted for reinvention, this isn’t just the book recommendation that those Pacers should’ve wanted; it’s the book recommendation they desperately needed.

Did Victor Oladipo really dunk in dress shoes?

Two summers ago, before a ruptured quad tendon limited him to sipping coffee with fellow Express spokesperson and supermodel Karlie Kloss, Victor Oladipo was running, jumping, and posing at the intersection between fashion and sports.

Fitted to look like a movie in front of a city skyline backdrop, the high-octane guard is seen maneuvering effortlessly around a blacktop basketball court in a suit and dress shoes, even to the point of dunking.

Or, so we think. The camera never actually shows his feet as he leaves the ground. And, while one of his shoes does manage to peak into the frame before he lets go of the rim, we mostly only see him from the waist up while he’s flying through the air.

HOW CAN WE BE SURE THAT WHAT WE’RE SEEING IS REAL?

Well, here’s what we do know: Dress shoes, with their inflexible outsoles, lack of traction, and toe-hating elegant shapes, should probably be ranked somewhere in-between wobbly flip-flops and unforgivable steel-toed boots as the toughest footwear in which to hoop.

That’s why it begs pointing out what shoes the other guards in these ad spots were wearing.

Trae Young, not in dress shoes.

Jamal Murray, also not in dress shoes.

Faith is believing, not seeing; and if we choose to believe that Oladipo really did dunk in dress shoes (which, of course he did), then this is subtly a tremendous flex. In fact, **types in sarcasm** obviously what we should all take away from this is that the future of the dunk contest isn’t improving on feats of athleticism; it’s accomplishing feats of athleticism in spite of restrictive clothing (Boots with spurs! Hyper-fitted jackets with shoulder pads! Pants made out of weighted blankets! SUITS OF ARMOR!!!).

Yes, I really miss basketball. Why do you ask?