"Ballboys" do a lot more than job title implies
They do it all: the dirty work, that is.
They wash towels, pick up beverage cups and warmup suits, and run a variety of errands. They are essential in ensuring game nights run as smoothly as possible for players, trainers and staff.
Rick Rowe collects Kareem Rush's warmup suit as the shooting guard prepares to check into a game. (Frank McGrath/Pacers)
Who are these invaluable, of something less than glamorous, members of the team? Good question.
“Depends on who you talk to,” Rick Rowe said. “The old school guys say ‘ballboys’ because that’s what they’re used to. But I’ve heard some people call us ‘locker room attendants,’ too. I’m in the locker room more than I’m on the floor, whereas the younger guys are out there rebounding. It’s sort of a progression.”
Rowe, 26, is in his sixth year as a ballboy – the official job title – for the Indiana Pacers, a job he pursued because of his interest in basketball and because he “was always the type of guy who was hanging around in a gym anyway.”
“I just wanted to be a part of it,” he said. “I’ve worked hard to stay around here.”
Rowe had to wait a whole season from when he initially called the Pacers, but was persistent and the following year received an opportunity from David Craig, who was the team’s trainer at the time. He was given a few games to work and would get more games and responsibility based on his work performance. Despite having no previous experience, he was quickly working every game.
On a typical game night, that means arriving at Conseco Fieldhouse around 3 p.m. and often staying until 11 p.m. or midnight depending on how long it takes to clean up and put things back in order after games.
Assistant athletic trainer Carl Eaton, who supervises the ballboy program, said he looks for responsible hard workers.
“They have to really pay attention and not get too involved that it’s a Pacers game,” he said. “They actually have a job to do and most of them do that very well. We couldn’t have a game without them.”
They must also maintain at least a C average in every class, and if they don’t, Eaton said, “They get suspended and aren’t able to work until they get their grades up.”
The laundry list of responsibilities bestowed upon the ballboys includes everything from the previously mentioned clean-up of towels, cups and warm-ups to errands such as getting tickets for players and running things to and from their cars.
“Basically, just doing whatever someone needs before the game,” Rowe said.
Darius Dancer takes a moment to enjoy the process of gathering up the basketballs. (Frank McGrath/Pacers)
While the job pays just minimum wage, it is the experience itself that can ultimately pay dividends.
John Abrams, 49, has been the team’s ophthalmologist for the past 20 years and was a ballboy himself from 1973-76, during his high school days. Though the job entailed similar responsibilities, it was the additional perks that made Abrams’ ballboy experience just a little different.
“We would hang out with the players, like Billy Knight and different people, and go to movies, ball games, bowling, dinner,” Abrams said. “They would take us everywhere. Billy Knight used to take my friend Sherm Izsak and I out to dinner after almost all the weekend games.
“Some of the best memories I have are going to Sam’s Subway near Fall Creek and Meridian Street when guys like Julius Erving were in town. Those were fun times telling stories at the table. Me and my buddy were just part of the group. The players were really good to us. I took one of the guys’ Mercedes convertible to the junior prom.”
But the perks did not stop there for Abrams, whose size 13 foot paid off big-time in the shoe department.
“There were four guys on the team that wore the same size,” he said, “so I had the best collection of shoes of any guy in my high school or anyone playing on any ball teams because they would give them to me.”
Abrams maintained the job until he left for college at Indiana University, but remained in contact with the organization. It was Craig who would later invite Abrams to join the staff as the team’s eye doctor when he finished school.
In addition to his team duties, Abrams has also started an academic achievement award given out once a month during the season, to a student from one of seven Indianapolis Public Schools affiliated with the Pacers. The student is chosen by the school’s principal based on academic excellence.
“They get to come to the game and serve as a ballboy,” Abrams said. “We present them with a certificate and a gift card to Simon Mall. But the ballboy experience … this one child each month gets a special experience. They get to go in the locker room, get to rebound, and get to sit on the floor during the first half. I’ve tried to keep that experience for others by doing this achievement award.”
Abrams credits the influence Craig had on him during his years as a ballboy.
“He was very good at giving us responsibility and teaching us responsibility and he also served as a pretty darn good role model and mentor-type of person,” Abrams said. “He probably kept more than a few ballboys off the streets and out of trouble and actually into successful careers and lives because of his influence on everybody and from the job.”
Rowe has a Bachelor’s degree in computer technology from IUPUI and has started his own lawn care company, but said he would always like to be a part of the organization and would like to stay as long as they’ll let him.
“I do it because I love being here,” he said. “I love coming to every game.”