Blue Collar, Gold Swagger. Dissect, chew it up, and digest it. What does it really mean to you? A catchy phrase to sell a few t-shirts? Perhaps. Dig a little bit deeper, and you might find what your mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, or your idol has been telling you all of your life.
It’s that Blue collar. It signifies callused hands, the ability to turn a wrench, sweat on the brow, roll up your sleeves, a few beers, a few too many curse words, that put-food-on-the-table mentality. That blue collar signifies harvest time, fear of God, disadvantage, sacrifice, bloody knuckles, chip on the shoulder, and — God willing — chip off the old block.
What about Gold Swagger? It’s that quiet confident type, that speak-softly-and-carry-a-big-stick mentality. That grind it out, get knocked down, get back up state of mind. For us, it’s more than a catchy phrase on a shirt. It’s not a song, a movie, a TV show, or make believe. It’s real life. That’s what this, our, pro-basketball state is all about. Earn what is ours, take it, and keep it.
Feels pretty good to be home to the best defensive team in the league. I take comfort in that. First in defensive rating, opponent field-goal percentage and opponent three-point shooting. Second in opponent points per game and opponent field goals made per game. The list goes on.
There couldn’t have been a more suitable style of play for team that represents an ideal that most state residents have been molded into. Work like a captain and play like a pirate. Get to work early and clock out late. Not because that buys you an extra two inches on the plasma but because if you don’t pick up the slack, the guy behind you has to. Like Larry Bird said, “Push yourself again and again. Don’t give an inch until the final buzzer sounds.” Where do you think that Larry the Legend earned his work ethic? The moral fiber of the people of this great state comes a little thicker than most. People here are cut from a different cloth. A thick cloth that knows what a 12-hour day, backaches, and eye strain feel like.
Let us get it out of the way. In collegiate writing 101, they tell you to never to insert a definition in order to hold and keep your audience. After reading the actual definition, however, I can’t help myself.
1. an unsophisticated, boorish, and provincial person; rube.
2. pertaining to or characteristic of hicks: hick ideas
3. located in a rural or culturally unsophisticated area: a hick town
How fitting. Do not take it as a grain of salt. Take it as a lump of coal that you can turn into a diamond. Look at it as a badge of honor. It’s the offset Midwestern accent. As far as I know there aren’t that many designer jeans stores or oxygen bars in the Hoosier state. I take comfort in that.
I say, let it ride. All on black. Of course, most of us know a person with one too many cars on the lawn who speaks funny and knows the words to every Charlie Daniels song. You also probably know someone else that says hello to every person they see, doesn’t think of Bobby Knight as a person of this earth, and would give the shirt off their back because it the right thing to do.
It’s a cultural clash of sorts. It is not California, or Texas. We are not Bostonians and we sure as hell aren’t New Yorkers. Things run a bit slower here in Indiana. A New York minute is not even on our radar. In fact, an Indiana minute is probably more like a minute thirty. That extra thirty seconds is used discussing basketball and taking it easy. Its OK, because it’s built into our cultural fabric. You’re damn right it is.
If you have driven around the, our, state or Indianapolis, you have probably seen some of the advertisements about this Pacers team being “built not bought.” Don’t think for a second that the NBA is not a business or that the players are not influenced by a pay check. Indiana is a small-market team. We don’t have oceanfront property or palm trees. Most of the players on this team know that they have a far better chance to bask in the limelight in a large market. They have more ample opportunities to get endorsements or rub elbows with A-listers elsewhere, but they are here.
Take David West, for example. He had opportunities to sign with a large-market team (Boston). He signed and is hopefully staying here because there is an opportunity to be part of something special. Danny Granger perhaps could have left during the “rebuilding” phase but didn’t.
There are more examples, but the point is: these Pacers have come a long way.
Benjamin Harrison once said “I don’t think people ought to take the elevator if they [can] walk, because they don’t get to see the stairway.” This is fitting because, in part due to this mentality, this team has taken leaps and bounds from what was once an NBA power house to, well … we all know what the team’s past is.
This is not the Malice in the Palace, Club Rio, Downtown Circle fiasco Pacers. What we are witnessing is a complete group of players on the cusp of title contention who represent what Midwestern Hoosier values are all about. Larry Bird, Kevin Pritchard, and Donnie Walsh have shown a shared vision of re-creation. With the right pieces, the right mentality, and that old -school approach, all is right again.
This state is chalk full of tradition. As a father, you want your next of kin to wear your team’s colors. In the land of Hoosier Hospitality, basketball is a religion. A rusty hoop in every other backyard, and kids whispering to themselves, “3 … 2 … 1 … AAHH!” You want your next of kin to wear Butler blue, IU crimson and cream, or Purdue gold and black.
I never wanted the Pacers to be one of those teams where the arena is half full of fans wearing jerseys with names of no one on the current roster. With the back of every jersey featuring players that played a decade ago. For years, I was always telling my son, “yeah but back in the mid-90’s … man, you should have seen these guys play at MSA.” This team has grown above the ones that took the court nearly a decade ago. An NBA powerhouse might be a bit ambitious, but not far off. We are now seeing the #31 jerseys trickle out and be replaced by those of guys in the starting five. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Miler Time, but I like the new times even better.
Why are we not on board? Why aren’t we preaching out with the old and in with the new? It is shameful that we, Indiana, are not going full tilt in for this squad. Fill The Fieldhouse seats, grab a chair at a pub, watch it home. My god (wo)man, we are 20th in the league in seats sold. 20th! Six sports below the Magic and just one above the Suns. Let me reiterate, six below the Magic (20-62) and one above the Suns (25-57). This isn’t a refurbished product. This a new gold standard. The Gold standard. Made from the same elements of the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. Getting back to where the Pacers belong.
The Knicks vs. Pacers. What a sight for sore eyes.
I never get rid of the Jon Starks jokes and still hold a weird animosity towards Spike Lee. If you think about Indiana in these parts, you probably think that the Davis boys were never dirty players, they were just hard workers. You probably think that Mark Jackson was always just pleading his case and most definitely not a whiner. Reggie was always just trying to gain a competitive edge, he would never talk trash or would most certainly never flop. Our idea of Indiana being a hard-working team, then, and now is seen through rosy red glasses.
Some in the Northeast see Indiana as a whole different animal. The Davis Boys were cheap, Jackson was a con-artist, and Reggie was … Reggie was still the New York Killer. Over a decade later, here we are again. Hibbert and West are trying to get a rise out of Chandler. The Pacers are (supposedly) strategically attacking Anthony’s shoulder. There is still a lot of ball to be played. A lot has changed, and yet nothing has changed. I absolutely love it.
It is our heritage, legacy, and right to beckon everything that is VHS tape, Trapper Keeper, and by all means Rock Paper Scissors into the next handful of games. Here we are, watching a reincarnation of one of the all-time best rivalries in sports. It is probably a bit late in your life to run point for our pro basketball team. That doesn’t mean you can’t cheer you’re ass off. Here’s to Monday morning water cooler talk, without the vocal chords to talk.