Most Pacers fans can tell you exactly where they were when they heard the news that first fateful Friday in August of 2014. Whether it came by television, text, or tweet, it was equally stunning. Star forward Paul George suffered a leg injury during a Team USA exhibition game in Las Vegas. Play was stopped and would not continue out of respect. The gruesome images explained why. The words “career ending” were thrown around on sports broadcasts and in social media.
After the shock, came sadness and disbelief. Followed by the cold, hard reality. The Indiana Pacers would face the coming season without their star player, their All-Star, or as fans call him, their “PaulStar.”
Pacers President Larry Bird summed it up in a press conference days later.
“I can sit up here and try to sugarcoat it all you want me to, but you just can’t replace Paul George.”
-Larry Bird, Pacers President
Who will fill Paul George’s size 12 shoes? It’s tough to say. But he’s not afraid to say his teammates are up to the challenge. And George hopes the fans are as well.
“This team is going to be a team that goes out there and competes. I look forward to them still having the same drive and the same commitment and being the team everybody loves in Indiana.”
The Pacers didn’t fold in 2012, when All-Star forward Danny Granger was sidelined with a knee injury. If anything, it created an opportunity for a young player with talent, drive, and untapped ability. A player who looked to Granger as a friend and mentor. A player who would be named to the NBA All-Star team himself the following season.
A player named Paul George.
The good news is that Paul George will likely resume his basketball ascent, which means the Pacers haven’t had to make dramatic changes to their marketing. Todd Taylor, senior vice president and chief sales and marketing officer, says the players are very clear about their desire to be sold as a team.
“From the first guy to the last guy, they’re all very likeable. They like each other. And I think their play really reflects that. And I think that matches the Midwest and Indiana specifically. I think that we take a great deal of pride in being from the state that they play the game as close as you would want the game to be played, still knowing that they are the best on the planet.”
Still, Taylor sees an opportunity for an individual player to step up, step into the spotlight, and contribute to the team in a big way. The Pacers may have to take a step back to move forward. But then again, they may not.
“There’s been plenty of great teams out there that should have won a title and didn’t. And there’s been teams that kind of came out of nowhere and they won a title…so you never know when the next storyline is going to develop.”
-Todd Taylor, Senior Vice President, Indiana Pacers
It’s what makes sports the ultimate, longest-running, and most successful reality television show in history. And whether they’re watching a team that’s built for a championship or a team that’s building for a championship, the Pacers are banking on the fact that fans will want to be there to see it unfold in person.
The Pacers hope the goodwill they’ve built with their success (including back-to-back trips to the Eastern Conference Finals) carries into this season. That regardless of losing Paul George, pride and team loyalty will bring fans out to Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
And that the basketball they see there will bring them back.