Originally published December 3, 2010
As a kid growing up in Indianapolis in the late 90s and early 2000s there was nothing better than the NBA. Reggie Miller was my idol and the Pacers were a contender year in and year out in the Eastern Conference.
That all changed November 19, 2004.
On that day the Indiana Pacers played on the road against the defending NBA champion Detroit Pistons in a matchup of the previous year’s Eastern Conference Finals.
The Pacers came into the game with a 6-2 record and with a win over the defending champions they had to be considered one of the favorites to win the whole thing.
With 45.9 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and the Pacers holding a comfortable 97-82 lead Indiana’s Ron Artest fouled Detroit’s Ben Wallace from behind on a dunk attempt. Wallace responded by pushing Artest, which led to a physical confrontation between the two teams.
Artest took refuge by lying on the scorers’ table where he was hit with a cup of diet coke thrown by a fan. Artest charged into the crowd throwing punches while chaos ensued in the arena. The rest is history.
The Pacers franchise has been in turmoil ever since. Artest was suspended for the entire 2004-05 season and Pacers struggled to a 44-38 record and a second round exit in the playoffs.
The biggest blow came when the face of the Pacers’ franchise for 17 years, Reggie Miller, decided to retire following that season.
Indiana traded Artest just 16 games into the 2005-06 season but snuck into the playoffs at 41-41 before quickly being eliminated in the first round.
But the Pacers have not made the playoffs since 2006 and compiled a 135-193 record over that time period.
The fate of the Pacers franchise changed in one night. Indiana went from being one of the best teams in the East to a joke.
Indiana never recovered from the retirement of Reggie Miller and have been trying to find a face for the franchise ever since.
But the struggles for the Pacers may be coming to an end.
Indiana is 9-7 this season and has wins on the road over the Miami Heat and defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. The team is second in the central division and just three games behind Boston for first place in the Eastern Conference.
For the first time in 6 years there is hope for Pacers fans.
Indiana, after years of not playing defense, has bought into coach Jim O’Brien’s system and is finally playing with passion. For the last several years the Pacers played with lackluster effort and hustle. But that is changing.
Danny Granger gives the Pacers one of the best scoring forwards in the league and legitimate threat to score 40 each night.
The acquisition of second year player Darren Collison in the off-season gives the team strong point guard play, which has been lacking for sometime.
But most important to the Pacers success has been the development of 7-foot center Roy Hibbert. Hibbert has made himself into one of the better young big men in the league and should only improve.
There is little doubt that the Pacers are playoff team. They may even be a dark horse contender to be the representative for the Eastern Conference in the NBA finals.
After six tumultuous years Indiana seems to finally be getting past the brawl that changed their franchise forever.
In a basketball crazy state, it’s good to have a team to be proud of.