Jeff Foster, a True Indiana Pacer Great, Retires

The second-longest-tenured Indiana Pacer of all time has retired from the only team he has ever known. Yes, in a sad development, Jeff Foster has called it quits at the age of 35 midway through his 13th season. He has suffered from chronic back trouble for years now, and after undergoing two different corrective procedures this year, apparently with limited success, he has decided that his body will no longer allow him to play the relentless style of basketball Pacers fans have had the pleasure to watch for the past 13 seasons.

“It’s with deep regret that I have to conclude my basketball career,” said Foster. “I’ve given my all to the Pacers and the community the last 13 years. I had hoped to be able to finish the season, but unfortunately my back problems prevented that from occurring. I want to thank the Simon family and the Pacers’ organization for 13 memorable years.”

According to the Pacers, Jeff ranks in the top 10 among all players to have ever suited up for the NBA incarnation of the blue and gold in 11 different statistical categories. With 764 games played as a Pacer, I believe he is third in NBA franchise history, behind only Rik Smits (867), and some guy named Reggie (1,389). Perhaps most special of all, the three of these guys combined to play precisely 0 games for another NBA franchise. In that respect, and many others, Jeff Foster is a true Pacers legend. (UPDATE: Those games played figures were merely regular season totals. Throw in playoffs, and it is 817 for Jeff, 971 for Rik, and 1,533 for Reggie).

This announcement really is a shame since Jeff had the game to keep playing for several more seasons. He just doesn’t have the body for it anymore. Earlier this season in Boston, Foster jokingly told me that he knew he would never pass Reggie Miller on the all-time games played list for the Pacers. “[Tonight], I officially became the second-longest-tenured Pacer behind Reggie,” said Foster on January 6 after the first game he played this season. “And I am not catching him. I’ve got five more years to go [to catch up] — that’s not happening.”

At the time, it was a funny comment from a guy who is one of the classiest men, and best financial planners, in the league. Now? In hindsight? It takes on a different meaning. He seemed very sure that he was on the road to recovery and eager to play alongside a group of guys who were help taking this franchise, finally, for the first time in more than a half-decade, against what must have seemed like all odds, back in the right direction. He knew he could still compete and was even joking about being upset that Tyler Hansbrough stole some of his rebounds that night.

In doing so, Tyler did what few NBA players ever could.

Foster, who played in 764 games  had a truly uncanny ability to track down boards. He truly was among the best who have ever lived, and it is with no nostalgia or any effort to praise a man who is now leaving the league that I say this.

Jeff never played a ton of minutes so he doesn’t rate that high on the career leaders for rebounds per game or total rebounds (where he is 197th all time). But according to Basketball-Reference.com, he is 8th in modern NBA history in terms of rebound rate (which measures the percentage of available boards a player gathers while on the court, I believe dating back to 1972). By collecting 18.95% of the missed shots that occurred while he was in the game over 13 seasons — nearly one out of every five misses — he trails only Dennis Rodman (23.44%), Dwight Howard (20.99%), Swen Nater (20.85%), Moses Malone (19.83%), Larry Smith (19.3%), Marcus Camby (19.13%) and Dikembe Mutombo (19.1%).

On the offensive end, he was even more impressive. Again, Jeff never played a ton of minutes so he “only” ranks 84th since records began being kept. But he is 5th since then in offensive rebound rate. He trails only Jayson Williams, Rodman, Moses and Larry Smith aka Mr. Mean.

Pretty amazing company.

Thanks for all the ball-chasing memories, Jeff. It will be a pleasure to see your number retired.

Notice the blue and yellow square at the bottom. One number. One franchise. Infinity plus one boards.

Tags: 90s Pacers Jeff Foster Reggie Miller Rik Smits

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