Speaking with raw emotion while detailing real-life examples of social injustice shared with him by African American members of the team and expressing a desire to get out of his comfort zone and be part of the solution, Kevin Pritchard didn’t just talk; he promised to put words to action.
“I think you are going to see a completely new Pacers organization,” said Pritchard, who admitted to being mad at himself for being ignorant in the past to the full scope of racism in this country now in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
“And if we are not, hold us accountable. That’s the difference. We are willing to be held accountable and we want it. Because if we do it, if we are the pillar of this community, with the Colts, with the Fever, we have the pillar. I keep telling Malcolm every day, ‘We are giving you the pillar, we are listening to you. You do it and we’ve got your freaking back.’ In our conversations, Herb and Steve Simon (have) been completely moved, floored, emotional, and ready to do whatever is right for the community first, so I feel an amazing amount of resources that can be put behind this, and an amazing amount of support from Herb and Stevie.”
Thus far, in mobilizing behind the advice of Nate McMillan to listen, learn, and activate, the organization has already held a town-hall meeting in an effort to open up an active dialogue, which included Fever player Erica Wheeler, Fever GM and WNBA legend Tamika Catchings, Malcolm Brogdon, and T.J. McConnell. Brogdon, meanwhile, who has long now been at the forefront of attempting to use his voice for change, has said that he wants to organize a march with his teammates in Indianapolis. In the long-term, however, it was evident that Pritchard also wants to see the momentum from this moment carry over into the team’s everyday operations, rather than simply fizzle out over time.
“When I grew up and played at Kansas basketball for Roy Williams, every single day before practice there was an offensive emphasis and a defensive emphasis, and you had to memorize it,” said Pritchard. “And then, there was a thought of the day. And that thought of the day had nothing to with basketball. Zero. And, so, fifteen minutes before practice we would have these worldly discussions.
“...I want to challenge us to talk about real life issues every day and listen to our players,” he continued. “I think that, for me, is as important as anything when we bring in players to listen and say, ‘What is truly important to you and let us help you with your platform.’”
As someone who spent time with the Spurs as a scout while he was climbing up the NBA ranks, Pritchard’s vision for the future sounds familiar to how Gregg Popovich has chosen to go about fostering education and understanding about the world inside San Antonio’s multi-cultural locker-room over the years.
During the 2014 NBA Finals, for instance, Popovich opened a film session recognizing the equivalent of Australia’s Martin Luther King Jr. on Mabo Day (June 3) in an effort to raise awareness for the culture and traditions of Patty Mills, who is of Torres Strait Islander, Aboriginal Australian and Maori descent.
“It builds camaraderie and helps them grow as people, and all that carries over,” Popovich told Sports Illustrated’s Alexander Wolff at the time.
Regardless of whether having more intimate knowledge of where players come from and what they’ve experienced translates to improved on-court production, the hope for the Pacers is that investing in them as people as well as athletes will connect them better to each other and the NBA city in which they live while affecting change therein.
“I want our players not come in and be hired guns and then (be) out of here,” Pritchard explained. “I’m going to try to get players to understand what’s important to them and allow them to succeed in that platform and, hopefully, they grow stronger roots to Indianapolis and help these communities.”