Caught in the Web: Sentimental about past, Foster ready for future
By Conrad Brunner
March 27, 2012 -- Forget for a moment whether Jeff Foster is ready for retirement.
Consider the plight of his wife Jamie and 5-year-old twins Carter and Elle, who now will serve as the primary outlets for his interminable energy and furious competitive spirit.
"You guys ready to have me beating you on the Wii all the time?" he said, looking at his wife and children. "I'm undefeated in all video games and board games with the family, so I'm going to have to tone it down a little bit.
"I told the wife today that maybe after we play one night as a family, walking into the bedroom I'll elbow her or something just to feel like I'm getting that competitive nudge back again."
Speaking publicly Monday for the first time since announcing his retirement last week, Foster was upbeat about the future -- although his includes another operation to address the chronic back problems that forced him from the game at age 35.
"I fought with the decision at the beginning of the year, whether or not to end on last year's note or try to come back but I was in great shape and I felt great, so I figured I'd give it one more shot and be out here to help these guys and continue to watch our improvement," he said. "As you guys have seen, they have continued to improve and I can't wait to be a fan of this team and continue to watch them for years to come.
"There was a moment about three weeks where the reason I have to have surgery kind of came to the forefront. It just is what it is. My body broke down. It was telling me 'it's time.' "
For a player that had career averages of 4.9 points and 6.9 rebounds to have a retirement press conference speaks to just how ingrained Foster was to the franchise. He joined the team in 1999-2000, the season the Pacers reached the NBA Finals, a team coached by Larry Bird and led by Reggie Miller, Mark Jackson, Dale Davis, Chris Mullin and Rik Smits.
Though never a star himself, Foster was a valuable contributor. In franchise history, he ranks second in seasons (13), fourth in games (764), fourth in rebounds (5,248) and fourth in personal fouls (1,921). He also ranks eighth in steals (507) and tied for 10th in field goal percentage (tied for 10th).
"You come in as a rookie and you go to the Finals and you're playing for a Hall of Fame coach, multiple Hall of Famers on your team, multiple All-Stars on your team and you think, 'It's going to be this easy the rest of the way,' " Foster said. "We had our opportunities to get their midway through my career and it was fun growing with the teams with Jermaine (O'Neal) and Al (Harrington) and Stephen (Jackson) and Ron (Artest).
"Unfortunately things didn't work out. Sometimes that's the way the cookie crumbles. They've done a great job of rebuilding this team. It just takes time to grow together, you learn as a team and you become one."
Bird joined Foster for the press conference and thanked him for his 13 seasons of service.
"He was somebody that came in here every day and worked hard, did the things he was supposed to do, he was a mentor to a lot of young players that came through our organization," Bird said. "It's been a thrill to watch him play and watch him do his things in the community. We were very fortunate to have a guy like Jeff. We hope we can have many more like him come through here because you don't find guys of his reputation and his work ethic and his commitment every day. We've been very fortunate for 13 years. A lot of times we take it for granted but I know personally what he's done here and what he's achieved.
"We had a lot of good days and a lot of bad days but overall Jeff has stayed pretty even-keeled and done his job and played hurt. It's unfortunate it has to end this way but that's the way this game is."
Foster said he hoped to be remembered for his work ethic and on-court effort.
"Just as a guy that went out there and played hard every night," he said. "I truly enjoyed playing for (the fans) and their enthusiasm and spirit always helped me take my game to another level. I will always remember their cheers for the rest of my life."
It's safe to assume they won't forget him any time soon.