Yes! Yes, Your Honor, I admit it: I’m in love with the Indiana Pacers and I hate everyone and anyone who gets in their way.
The love affair started in childhood (what doesn’t?). Daddy was a perplexing man (whose wasn’t?), but on many occasions, he took my brother Stephen and me to the Fairgrounds Coliseum in Indianapolis to see black men with big Afros and white men with long sideburns, all of them wearing short shorts and playing ball for the Indiana Pacers.
The league was called the American Basketball Association, but they might as well have put Ringling Brothers somewhere on the logo. They used a red, white and blue basketball and came up with kooky innovations like a 3-point shot and a slam dunk contest at the all-star game.
The Pacers squared off against teams like the Virginia Squires, Utah Stars, Miami Floridians, and the dreaded Kentucky Colonels, almost as hated as those dreaded Kentucky Wildcats, who (along with Purdue, who broke Scott May’s arm late in the regular season), cheated the unbeaten Hoosiers outta an NCAA title in 1975.
The Pacemate cheerleaders wore go-go boots and sat courtside on furry round swatches of carpet meant to resemble basketballs. Security wasn’t a concept on anyone’s mind, so my brother and I (and our friends Mack and Wiggy) would wait for the players coming off the court after the final buzzer, then ask the giants of the ABA for their sweatbands. George Gervin. Zelmo Beaty. Doctor J. They all gave them to us without thinking twice.
The ABA was bush league compared to the NBA, but it was everything to the people of Indianapolis, whose Pacers were as much a factor as today’s Lakers.
The blue and gold brought three titles to the city and Pacer People rocked the Fairgrounds Coliseum, and later, a brand new Market Square Arena (I was sure I’d win the arena naming contest by submitting: Indiana Stadium. My back up and second submission: Indianapolis Stadium).
Pacers fans even stepped up when the team held a telethon to save the franchise from going to that big luxury box in the sky, where all folded franchise go, joining the likes of the Spirits of St. Louis, Oakland Oaks and Carolina Cougars.
Myself, I put in 2 bucks. The Pacers and their winning ways were a source of thrills and continuity in an otherwise tumultuous adolescence.
By the late 70s, the Pacers were in decline. When NBA adopted them (along with the Nets, Spurs and Nuggets), the Pacers sank to the bottom of the standings for a good long while.
Then came Reggie Miller, booed by fans at Market Square on draft day. That skinny kid from UCLA? He’ll never last in this bang-’em-up league. The circle city had yet to see what I had seen while I was a UCLA cheerleader during Reggie’s first two years as a Bruin.
More than two decades later, Reggie is Indianapolis’ Greatest Pro Basketball Star Ever. And while the Coliseum lives on, Market Square was flattened around the turn of the century, replaced by a state-of-the-art Fieldhouse that stands as a tribute to old school basketball barns. It’s also a testimony to how far the city’s first big league sports franchise has come.
But there’s still a little ways to go. Still a little “we’re from the ABA and we’ll show you” mentality resonating in all the memorabilia decorating the halls of the Fieldhouse.
The Dallas Chaparrals nee San Antonio Spurs have done their part by winning NBA titles. Now it’s time for the ABA’s best franchise on and off the court to come full circle.
I have been there since Mel Daniels, Roger Brown, Freddy Lewis, Don Buse, Kevin Joyce, Bob Netolicky, Billy Keller and George McGinnis were household names in the city in the ’70s.
Since Steve Stipanovich, Chuck Person and Vern Flemming were household names in the city in the ’80s.
Since Mark Jackson, Dale Davis, Rik Smits and Antonio Davis were household names in the city in the ’90s.
I listened on the radio when there were no television contracts, always wearing the same black socks because, that was, after all, the reason they won.
I felt the joy of the last ABA championship, over the dreaded Kentucky Colonels, (almost as dreaded as the Wildcats who, along with Purdue, cheated the unbeaten ’75 Hoosiers …).
I suffered the agony of being down 0-3 to the Utah Stars in the Western Division finals, then the ecstasy of tying the series 3-3, only to be followed by more agony when the Pacers came up short in Game 7.
I called my mom many times from college in the early ’80s, before the days of round-the-clock sports news, to ask, “Did the Pacers win tonight?”
I was there in person for 95% of the home playoff games during the five Eastern Conference finals of the 1990s.
I witnessed first-hand the Miracles on Memorial Day: Rik Smits beating Shaq and the Magic with a two at the buzzer to tie up the conference finals at 2-2, Reggie beating Michael and the Bulls with a three at the buzzer to tie up the conference finals at 2-2.
I was there when Kobe Bryant single-handedly pulled out a pivotal Game 4 victory in overtime in the NBA finals, leading to Phil Jackson’s Lakers’ their first title.
I was also there when the State of Indiana decided that LA, which was up 3-1, would not win their championship at the Fieldhouse in Game 5.
Did I mention I named my dog Boomer, my nutty golden mutt, after Boomer, the nutty Pacer Panther?
So, you see, Your Honor, I’m guilty as charged. I did it and I’d do it again. I was there on the night in question, whatever night in question you’re referring to. Say whatever you want about me, call me a Pacers fan, call me Pacer Crazy. Yeah, I’m Pacer Crazy, like the hit tune of the 90s states.
Speaking of tunes, I can dance! Like Dancing Harry to “Long Tall Glasses” in the 70s. Yep, I bought the 45 single. You know I can dance, you know I can dance …
Pacer People are supposed to be Pacer Crazy. Throw the book at me. Make it a coffee table book, which I hope with all my body and soul, will say ABA CHAMPS TO NBA CHAMPS … YOUR INDIANA PACERS.
So there you have it, Your Honor. Do what you want. Say what you will. Call me whatever. I’m Pacer Crazy and I have no plans on looking for a cure.
- Originally published in a slightly different version as “Ballin’s Blue and Gold Bias,” which appeared on ‘Ballin with Randy Boyd’ on Outsports.com in May 2004.