Another Pacers season is underway and for the first time all year, Indiana fans filed into Gainbridge Fieldhouse to get their first glimpse of the Blue & Gold at the annual FanJam presented by Gainbridge.
Thousands of fans descended upon downtown for the popular free event. The first 5,000 people to enter received a swag bag and voucher for a free hot dog, chips, and Pepsi product. The first hour consisted of concourse activities before the Pacers players, coaches, and support staff took the court for a scrimmage and other activities.
This year's FanJam scrimmage was one of the most entertaining in recent memory, with lots of competitive energy, laughs, and gravity-defying dunks. Later, the Pacers' three 2022 draft picks entertained the crowd during the annual Rookie Show.
"I really thought the crowd was great," Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle said. "This was as good as a FanJam crowd as we've ever had here. Really into it, really vocal, a lot of noise."
Sixth overall pick Bennedict Mathurin put on a show for the fans early in the scrimmage, scoring 13 early points to help the Blue team out to an early lead. Mathurin's first points came on a stepback 3-pointer over Buddy Hield and he later added a couple dunks, including a two-handed reverse slam and a right-handed windmill.
The Blue team led 34-15 entering the closing minutes of the first half, but the White team answered with a 14-0 run just before the half that featured a Tyrese Haliburton self alley-oop off the glass. Kendall Brown's dunk right at the first half buzzer ended that spurt and gave the White team a 36-29 lead after the opening 10 minutes.
The second half featured several more highlight-reel dunks including windmills from Terry Taylor and Brown and a between-the-legs slam by Isaiah Jackson.
But the highlight of the half came when an enterprising young fan sitting on the baseline named Jaxon Puckett asked if he could play in the scrimmage. Hield gave the kid his jersey and led him to the scorer's table, where he promptly checked in, weaved through the defense and executed a perfect give-and-go with Jalen Smith before sinking a layup to a loud ovation.
"That was awesome, man," eight-year veteran Myles Turner, the longest-tenured Pacer, said of Puckett's newfound stardom. "He really got the people going. That's what FanJam's all about."
The Blue team looked well on their way to a win, but the White team mounted a late charge, with Langston Galloway ultimately hitting a buzzer-beating three to send the game into overtime.
Hield scored the first five points of the two-minute extra frame to put the White squad in front and Deividas Sirvydis missed a potential game-winner at the buzzer as the White team prevailed, 70-68.
Next up was the 3-point contest, where Hield ultimately prevailed, beating Haliburton in the semifinals and Galloway (who topped Sirvidys in his semifinal) in the final.
The on-court activities concluded with the always-popular Rookie Show. Once again, Myles Turner served as master of ceremonies, picking out the costumes and songs for each rookie and introducing them to the crowd.
First-year massage therapist opened the show with a strong rendition of Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" before giving way to the three rookie players.
Brown went first, dressed as Cat in the Hat and stumbling his way through Kelly Clarkson's "Since You've Been Gone." Andrew Nembhard gave a solid performance of Katy Perry's "Firework" while dressed as Buzz Lightyear, but had trouble remembering the lyrics.
Mathurin avoided those problems by reading off his phone as he belted out Vanessa Carlton's "A Thousand Miles" in a Frozone costume.
The three rookies then competed in dance off before fans ultimately picked Mathurin as this year's winner.
"I was pretty excited just to meet the fans for the first time," said Mathurin, who said he was happy he got to sing the song he was assigned, which he knows well from its prominence in the 2004 film "White Chicks," one of his favorite movies.
Afterwards, the players spread out across the Fieldhouse for the final hour at photo stations to take pictures with fans.
All in all, it was memorable start to what promises to be a busy next few weeks at the Fieldhouse. Indiana hosts New York and Houston for preseason games next Wednesday and Friday. The Blue & Gold will then tip off the regular season with a three-game homestand as part of Opening Week presented by Kroger, hosting Washington on Oct. 19, San Antonio on Oct. 21, and Detroit on Oct. 22.
"It's just the first real sense of the season starting back up," Turner said of the FanJam experience. "Just that spirit in the gym and being back in front of our fans in general. We had to play the first two (preseason) games on the road, so just getting that feel in Gainbridge (Fieldhouse) again, it was dope."