Fans should be happy Pacers were left out
Five NBA games were televised on Christmas Day, none of which included the Pacers. Doesn’t seem right, right?
One third of the league got to play in the short-sleeved showcase events, including two blatantly bad teams, New York and Brooklyn. Seems there should have been room to squeeze in the team that shares the league’s best record with Portland and Oklahoma City, right?
Here’s the thing.
The NBA and its national networks – in this case, ESPN and ABC – obviously look for large-market teams to put on television. It only makes sense from a fundamental business perspective. Back in the summer, when the schedules were made, most people thought New York and Brooklyn would be winning teams. Or, at the very least, interesting teams. Now they’re only interesting in the manner that a train wreck is interesting.
The Pacers were widely regarded as a title contender as well, but for whatever reason were excluded from the holiday cheer. Now that they’re 23-5, their omission seems as glaring as the North Star.
But here’s the thing.
It was better for the Pacers not to be spreading cheer on Christmas Day. For two reasons.
Most of the players and coaches no doubt preferred having the day off, particularly those with families. Nobody wants to work on Christmas, although I admit liking it back in my newspaper days when I received holiday pay (time-and-a-half) to cover games. The Pacers played on Christmas Day in 1999, 2000 and 2004. Fortunately, all were home games. I doubt that covering a road game on Christmas Day would be worth any amount of holiday pay.
Most importantly, it’s good for the Pacers to feel slighted. Players look for an excuse to carry a chip on their shoulder throughout the maze of the 82-game regular season, and it’s not easy when things are going well. That’s why LeBron James tried to make a big deal out of Lance Stephenson’s dunk at the end of the Pacers’ victory over Miami on Dec. 10. And it’s why the Pacers sometimes play the no-respect card. They’re running low on those cards, though.
They’re getting plenty of respect from the national media. Every national NBA writer who’s come to Bankers Life Fieldhouse this season fawns over the Pacers – although in the age of the internet, isn’t every person covering an NBA team actually a global writer? They love the way the players interact with one another on the court and they love the way the players interact with the media in the locker room.
All that love, though, becomes a negative influence over time, dulling their competitive edge and making them feel too satisfied. Larry Bird, when he coached the team, actually complained that the media coverage was too positive at times. He invited criticism, believing it kept his players on edge. He had grown used to that while playing in Boston, and considered the local marketplace too soft for his liking.
One would have to strain, if not like, to find negatives about this team. Even Bird lavishes praise on them. So, anything that keeps a chip on the Pacers’ collective shoulder should be viewed as a good thing. If you’re a fan, send a thank-you note to the NBA office and ESPN headquarters. They just did you a huge favor.