How Victor Oladipo changed the vibe in Bankers Life Fieldhouse

Indiana Pacers (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)
Indiana Pacers (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Indiana Pacers fanbase has been through highs and lows in recent years, but Victor Oladipo changed the relationship of the fans and the team.

The last few Indiana Pacers seasons have been question marks in their own right. Pacer fans entered the 2016-2017 season wondering if this would, in fact, be Paul George’s last season in Indiana. The scuttlebutt amongst fans was split. Some wanted him to stay, couldn’t imagine the Pacers without him. While others were ready for something new, calling George a ‘locker room cancer’ though the situation was more complicated than that.

Nevertheless, there was still 82 games to play.

The vibe inside Banker’s Life that season reflected the decidedly undecided fan base. The attendance was average and where there should have been excitement and anticipation for a new season, the vibe was instead undeniably apathetic.

Fans just weren’t sure if they should cheer for George or boo him. And then Larry Bird and the Pacers brought back the fan favorite, Lance Stephenson. This deal was like a shot in the arm for not just the team but for the fans.

When Stephenson subbed in during his first game back the crowd was deafening. Each and every substitution featuring Stephenson would be met with the same raucous enthusiasm. It was this reaction to Stephenson it becomes apparent. Pacer fans wanted someone to root for, someone they believed in because he believed in them.

And this was no longer George. It was all about Stephenson now. He received all the cheers and all the applause. As the regular season ended and the Pacers just barely made their way into the playoffs, the crowd turnout remained remarkably low especially for a marquee matchup like the Lebron James-led Cavaliers.

The Pacers would go on to be swept that first round. It felt like the beginning of the end of the Paul George era in Indiana. That no matter what George said, this was likely the last anyone would see him in a Pacers uniform.

So, what did that mean? It meant that Pacers fans everywhere needed to hunker down and wait out the rebuild years that were undeniably coming.

The Victor Oladipo era begins

After a lot of talk and speculation, the final answer came on June 30th when news broke that George had been traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder would receive Paul George and the Pacers would, in turn, get both Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.

This trade was dismissed as a dud, along with the entire 2017-2018 Pacers season. Sports authorities everywhere had deemed that season as a complete rebuild for the Pacers since losing “star” player, Paul George.

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When it came time for opening night, the crowd was small and the feeling was one of “let’s get this year over with!” Then this freshly put together squad began playing. And then winning. This team looked legit! Sure, there were areas to smooth out and improve but all in all, they looked good. Especially good for the “rebuild year”.  What’s more, is that while the winning was great, what was heard most around the Fieldhouse was how this was a team team.

They played just as hard for each other as they did to win, and it showed. The fans coming to support the team each home game weren’t exactly sure what they were seeing but they believed in it. The strong team mentality was further supported off the court when Oladipo paid a visit to Myles Turner after an early-season injury put him out of commission for a handful of games.

Oladipo wanted to make sure Turner knew what an asset he was to the team and that he when he returned, the chemistry would only grow. Because you see, when George left the Pacers the heir apparent was Turner. George said as much in a handful of interviews both before and after being traded.

However, after Oladipo’s arrival, it was evident there may be a new leader. Not because Oladipo wanted it but because that is just who he is.

The fans embrace the Indiana Pacers

Slowly but surely the attendance began to grow at the Fieldhouse. The fans were aware that maybe we wouldn’t make it to the playoffs but that didn’t matter. This team is a team you wanted to root for every night. You believed in this team.

And when it came time for the All-Star selection, Indiana made sure to send their new favorite Pacer to join the elite. After the All-Star break, the momentum continued to grow, and the Pacers continued to win. The Fieldhouse crowd was surging, the cheering louder and the belief stronger.

As the post-season neared it was clear, the Pacers were going to the playoffs after all. Something no one saw coming.

The feeling inside the Fieldhouse during that seven-game series against the Cavaliers was electric, loud, boisterous and proud. A complete 180 from the previous season playoff run. Proud of the team that defied all the early season predictions and coalesced into a lineup worthy taking a Lebron James and the Cavaliers to 7 games in the first round of the playoffs.

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As the offseason progressed this past summer, the Pacers made a tough decision and chose not to re-sign Lance Stephenson. The team would end up filling his spot with Tyreke Evans from the Memphis Grizzlies.

President Kevin Pritchard knew the decision may not be popular with the fans but felt it was the best move to continue to improve the bench for the upcoming season. And this was the elephant in the offseason — could the Pacers continue to build on last season? Or was it just a fluke?

As the Pacers opened the 2018-2019 season at home, the fans picked up right where they left off; filling up the Fieldhouse and ready to see what year two will bring. After two seasons where apathy was the driving force when the games tipped off, they entered the season with a palpable sense of excitement.

The Pacers followed suit and have hit the ground running. Playing hard for each other while always keeping things interesting. You know, like leaving that last second shot to their leader Oladipo to seal the win against Kyrie and the Celtics. It’s just expected at this point.

This Pacers team, with no Paul George hangover and no Lance Stephenson, continues to win and prove the last year, it was no fluke.

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Simply put: The Pacers are flat out fun to watch in person. Oladipo made the Pacers feel like Indiana’s team again, and the entire vibe in Bankers Life Fieldhouse and within the fanbase changed with it.