The Pacers played Monday night at Gainbridge Fieldhouse and they will be back in action on Wednesday and Friday as they wrap up a four-game homestand. They were off on Tuesday, but Tyrese Haliburton and the rest of his teammates and coaches were still at the Fieldhouse in the evening, welcoming 600 men, women, and children experiencing homelessness from Central Indiana shelters for a warm holiday meal.
Haliburton, Indiana's star 22-year-old point guard and the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, took over hosting duties this year for the Come to Our House Season of Giving Dinner presented by US Foods and the Pacers Foundation. The event, in its 25th year, tips off Pacers Sports & Entertainment's Season of Giving, Delivered by Papa John's.
Haliburton has been in Indiana less than a year, but has already made it a point to immerse himself in the community, with no better example than volunteering to host the annual dinner. After dishing out 14 assists on Monday night, he was back in the same building on Tuesday to dish out turkey.
"It's just really important that we get out here, show love to the community as much as we can," Haliburton said of why he wanted to host the event. "Because as players, fans come and show love to us, so it's important we show love back."
PHOTO GALLERY: 2022 Come to Our House Season of Giving Dinner >>
Joining Haliburton on the serving line were the rest of the Pacers' roster and coaching staff as well as the front office, Pacers Sports & Entertainment staff, Indiana Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell, local media personalities, and several members of the Simon family. It even was a family affair for Haliburton, as his parents John and Brenda also took part in the event on what happened to be his mom's birthday.
Haliburton was especially moved by the fact that all of his teammates volunteered to take part in the event as well, something that he feels is a reflection of the tight bonds they've developed in the locker room.
"Our coaching staff and our front office have done an amazing job putting together a great group of guys," Haliburton said. "We're all just growing closer every day. There's players all around here supporting and showing love to this event. It means a lot."
Like Haliburton, Pacers forward Jalen Smith joined the team at the trade deadline in February. This was his first time taking part in the Pacers event, but it felt familiar in a way, as Smith and his family made a point to give out food in different areas across his hometown of Baltimore when he was in high school.
"It truly means a lot," Smith said. "There's certain things you can do in the world to just put a smile on people's faces. We play basketball -- we put an orange ball through a hoop and that puts a smile on people's faces. And being able to serve them dinner, seeing them happy just getting a meal, it brings the joy out of everyone."
For Myles Turner, the longest-tenured Pacer, taking part in the event has become an annual tradition. Turner first attended the event as a rookie in 2015 and it always is one of the highlights of his year.
"It means so much more than just food on a plate," Turner said. "We put a smile on people's faces, we've got a lot of kids in here running around right here in the house that we play. It's nice to be able to come out here and serve the less fortunate and let them know that they're cared for around this community."
In addition to the food, guests at Tuesday's dinner were able to take part in a variety of activities. Boomer and the Pacemates took pictures and signed autographs. Children got their face painted and visited with balloon artists. And at the end of the night, each guest received a Holiday Pack which includes a variety of cold-weather items including a Pacers knit hat, Indiana Fever ear band, gloves, blankets, towels, and more.
"(This is an) incredible event that's been going on for such a long time," Pacers owner and alternate governor Steve Simon said. "It really shows this organization's care for the community and how we want to be a small part of being of service. There's a lot of struggle and a lot of suffering out there."
Turner has already seen firsthand the impact that Haliburton has had in his short time with the Pacers. He's quickly become a fan favorite, not just because of his All-Star level of play, but also because of the love he shows for the city and the fans.
"I think he's embraced being in this Indianapolis community and I think that's one thing that's going to be huge for him and huge to this community as well," Turner said. "They're really embracing him, he's playing well. (It's great to) put a face with a name. It's important to come out here and show yourself out here. I think that's exactly what he's doing."