We Hoosiers value hard work, consistency, modesty, common sense.
We also love our basketball.
During the Indiana Pacers’ run in the National Basketball Association playoffs, these values and our love affair with the sport clashed.
With forward Paul George emerging as a superstar, the Pacers had looked so good early in the season. Their Blue Collar, Gold Swagger mentality appealed, at least, to our collective admiration for a good work ethic.
But as the season wore on, the team’s shortcomings grew increasingly evident. After the All-Star break, the Pacers started to lose more frequently as the roster degenerated from a cohesive team to a troubled scattering of individuals.
Roy Hibbert, the Pacers’ gigantic center with an engaging personality, had become something of a cult hero among fans of the blue and gold.
Then, after his second appearance in the All-Star game in as many years, he grew sullen and complained that not everyone on the team was playing unselfishly.
That brings us to the supremely talented Lance Stephenson. As the season wound down toward the playoffs, Stephenson set off on a quest to compile statistics, rather than to win. Clearly, he had both eyes on the prize — a new contract.
After the Pacers struggled to defeat the Hawks and then the Wizards (both clearly inferior teams) in the first two rounds of the postseason and moved on to play the Miami Heat, Stephenson’s always-unpredictable behavior took a particularly bizarre turn.
He blew sweet somethings in LeBron James’ ear. He tickled James’ chin. He smacked a Heat player in the face, drawing a flagrant foul.
Often an idiot, Stephenson also played at times like a basketball savant, only adding to fans’ frustration with his Good Lance/Bad Lance swings.
The Pacers had labored throughout the season to earn home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs. But that didn’t matter when they ran into the defending NBA champion Heat, who dispatched them in six games, blowing the Pacers out in the final contest of the series.