My dad took me to my first Indiana Pacers game at 13. It was a regular season tilt featuring Larry Bird’s World Champion Boston Celtics. And while I knew the Pacers weren’t good, finding Market Square a swirling sea of green, filled with an army of auto mechanics and accountants shoulder to shoulder in the same Bird jerseys, each swooning over Larry Legend was completely unexpected.
The Celtics arrival had inspired the first sell-out since the last time they were in town and the usher was gushing about the curtains finally being raised on the upper level. In the shadow of a World Champion, the Pacers played like a semi-pro team. The crowd surged with every shot Bird made, chanting his name after every pass he threaded, and cheered for every rebound he corralled. Everything about the night seemed out of place as 17,000 strong seemed to resent any resistance the Pacers put forth.
Meanwhile, from the row behind, two rosy cheeked draft experts blasted the Pacers 6-foot-7-inch rookie wing for not being Steve Alford. The gangly kid from UCLA with the ears. “They should have drafted his sister, she’d help the Pacers more.” “He didn’t play for Knight, he doesn’t know basketball.” Brilliance personified.
Life is funny. Who could have known that so much of Indiana’s history as a franchise would be tied to that night back in 1987?Who knew that wide eyed rookie with the big ears would put the Pacers back on the map, shoot us into the Finals and stick a finger in New York City’s eye along the way? Reggie Miller was fiery, fearless and played with a chip on his shoulder the size of Texas.
And when Reggie and Larry joined forces in 1997 Pacers fans rejoiced in George Costanza-like fashion, “Worlds are colliding!” But alas Reggie’s Hall of Fame career is over and Larry is left to look on helplessly from his perch along the baseline, in the city he once dominated as a champion, reduced to watching all his hopes and dreams for a Pacers’ title swirling down the proverbial toilet.