Ready to Begin a New Experience
by Mark Montieth
August 13, 2012
I'd like to say I've aspired to work for the Indiana Pacers' website since I was a young boy back in the 1960s, but that would be a lie for obvious reasons. Like most kids then, I really was hoping to sell iPads.
You just never know how things are going to turn out in life, though, so here I am, ready to begin a new experience: writing for Pacers.com. It's an endeavor that will allow me to draw from my vast experience following the franchise while continuing my streak of getting into basketball games for free.
I've lived in Indianapolis for all but six years of my life since graduating from Indiana University with a Journalism degree in 1977. I was born in Methodist Hospital, grew up in a house on 65th St. just off of Michigan Road, and attended Pike High School. I developed the ambition of writing sports for the Indianapolis Star when I was 12 years old, around the same time the Pacers set up shop in a former jewelry store on 38th St. My brother and I nearly attended their first game, against the Kentucky Colonels, on Saturday, Oct. 14, 1967, but we decided against it at the last minute. Good thing, because it was sold out. Or, perhaps, enough tickets had been given away to fill the Fairgrounds Coliseum.
My first personal look at the Pacers came on Nov. 15 of that year, against the Oakland Oaks. Rick Barry had jumped over from the NBA San Francisco Warriors, but had to sit out a year because of the reserve clause. He worked on the Oaks' radio telecasts, however, so I ran down with a few friends to get an autograph from him and his Nehru jacket. On the way back to our seats, I also got a signature from Jerry Baker, the Pacers' original radio voice. I still have that slip of paper. I also have autographs from a few other vintage Pacers, even one from Reggie Harding. Veteran fans will appreciate the historic significance of that one.
Those seasons in the Coliseum, with cigarette and cigar smoke hovering over the court and the faint smell of farm animals wafting through the concrete lobby, are sometimes made out to be better than they were. Nostalgia has a way of filtering out negatives. But they were really good years, nonetheless. The Pacers brought a major league element to the city, and their three ABA championships brought a much-needed source of pride. Before then, Butler basketball was the city's biggest sports attraction. In fact, the main sports headline on the day the formation of the ABA was first mentioned in the Star's sports section told of Butler's loss to DePauw.
The Pacers played in a semi-legit professional league, filled with legit professional players who brought an exciting style of play that was appropriate for the times. The freewheeling nature of the games, the three-point shot, the red, white and blue ball, the bikini-clad cheerleaders, the fights … it all seemed appropriate for a league debuting a few months after the psychedelic Summer of Love. Well, maybe not the fights. But too many quality players had been unable to break into the closed shop that was the NBA, which was a 10-team league until 1967. The ABA gave them another chance, just as it gave Indianapolis another chance following the Olympians' implosion in 1953. The primary reason the ABA survived was that there was a market for more professional basketball, and there was no better marketplace in the new league than Indianapolis.
As a spectator, I saw the Pacers score 177 points against Pittsburgh. I paid $1.50 to stand in an end zone for a playoff game against the Los Angeles Stars, stretching my neck to get a glimpse of the action. I saw Roger Brown go one-on-one with helpless defenders. I saw soon-to-be Hall of Famer Mel Daniels get into several fights, once even following an opposing player to the visiting locker room at halftime to resume communication. I saw Slick Leonard and his leisure suits stalk the sideline. I saw an angry fan in the front row take off his glasses and slide them toward a referee after a questionable call. I saw a young vendor carrying a tray of snow cones slip in a puddle of vomit and fall on the ramp leading to the concourse.
Fast forward 30 years, and I'm covering the franchise for the Star. I debuted as the beat writer in the 1996-97 season, Larry Brown's last as the Pacers' coach, and the only one within a 16-year period that didn't end with a playoff appearance. It made for the perfect warmup lap for me, a chance to get acclimated to the modern-day NBA and its knack for overwhelming the lives of everyone associated with it. Larry Bird arrived as coach the following season, setting off the most dramatic decade in the franchise's NBA history. I wound up covering the team throughout the Bird, Isiah Thomas, and Rick Carlisle eras, as well as part of Jim O'Brien's turn at the wheel – a total of 12 seasons, the final two shared with Mike Wells.
That's the longest anyone from the Star has covered the team. It's debatable whether I should brag about that or apologize for it, given the extreme nature of the job and the toll it extracts, but I lean toward bragging. Covering the NBA is nearly an athletic event of its own, given the physical challenge of working virtually every day for several months at a time and engaging in all those commercial air travel skirmishes. I saw a lot during those years, too, but this time got to report on it all – from the spectacular seven-game series with Chicago in 1998, the franchise's only trip to the NBA Finals in 2000, the franchise-best 61-win season in 2003-04, the brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills in November of 2004, several chapters of Reggie Miller's historic playoff anthology, and endless other meaningful moments.
I left the Star of my own volition in 2008, but not because I was tired of going to Pacers games – or Pacers practices, for that matter. In the years since then I've established an award-winning radio show (One on One, on 1070 The Fan, the franchise's flagship station), immersed myself in a book project in which I spent two seasons inside Purdue's basketball program, taken on various freelance writing assignments and failed to significantly improve my golf game.
I'll continue those endeavors while working for Pacers.com. It's a part-time gig for me, one that will enable me to do what I enjoy most and hopefully do best – write columns and features – without being bogged down by the daily details. I'll be allowed to write honestly. Although the Pacers own and operate the website, they will not ask me to mislead the fans. Journalistic integrity will be a primary emphasis, and we intend to compete with all the other local media outlets for the fans' attention.
With all that I'll have going on, with my history following the team and with the hopes people have for the upcoming season, I'm sure I'll never be bored. Hopefully I'll never be boring, either.