by Scott Agness | @ScottAgness
December 26, 2013
Ten of the 30 teams around the NBA played on Christmas Day in a nationally televised showcase, as families sat at home together to watch. Though the Pacers are tied with Portland and Oklahoma City for the best record in the league (23-5), they were left off the schedule when it came out in August. Portland was as well.
Part of it is about earning the right to play, though it is typically targeted to showing off big-city teams with superstars. And while every player asked would’ve liked to play, they made the best of the situation. Many Pacers players went home, or at least had family in town.
One Indiana player, however, had a surprise in store.
After the Pacers’ win in Brooklyn on Monday, Paul George chartered a jet to Los Angeles so he could be home for the holidays. Rookie Solomon Hill, who’s from L.A., also tagged along with the assist to George. The only down side was taking off at 5 a.m. Thursday morning to be back for practice.
“First time being home around my parents [while in the league], my sisters, my little ones, nieces and nephews,” George said. “It was an exciting moment for me.”
The best part about it, beyond him making the effort and footing the bill, was that it totally caught his family off guard. They had no idea.
“It was a true surprise,” he said. “I called them at Walmart and I was weaving through aisles trying to surprise them, and it worked. They was completely shocked.”
Hill is just a rookie, but the four-year player out of Arizona understands from his teammates and following the league that having two days off over the Holidays is rare. He’s not expecting it again anytime soon.
“Especially in the situation we are in right now,” he said. “More than likely we’ll be scheduled to play on Christmas next year so it was definitely a good feeling to get home. I’m very thankful for PG for doing that for me.”
George also looks forward to playing on Christmas Day for the first time one day.
“That’ll be an honor,” George said. “All the other guys think [highly] of playing on Christmas. It’s a special moment. It means a lot to the organization and to this team if we could be able to play on Christmas Day.”
Lance Stephenson, who stayed in his hometown of Brooklyn, agreed.
“With the team we got, we’re definitely going to play on Christmas next year,” he said.
More than 40 friends, family members and neighbors watched the 17-point beat-down by the Pacers, and Stephenson shine in the spotlight by posting 26 points and seven rebounds.
“It was definitely great to be at home and spend time with my family,” said Stephenson. “I know we don’t get to do that during the season so I was real happy to do that and I got two days off to take my kids out and have fun with them.
“I was Santa this year. I don’t really think I need anything. I gave my kids and my family all types of stuff. I told them don’t get me nothing. I was Santa. I put on the Santa hat … (and said) ho ho ho to my kids. We had a fun time.”
Chris Copeland and Ian Mahinmi were among the players that hosted family to their homes. So, too, did Roy Hibbert, who refused to talk about Christmas Day games after Thursday’s practice — even before a question was sent his way. Hibbert spent the short break with parents and fiancé.
Besides sweaters and the usual Christmas garb received, there was one very special item that Hibbert singled out. His parents framed his first three paychecks, which were from his high school days when he worked as a camp counselor one summer.
“I was surprised they kept those things,” Hibbert said.
Low Grades for the Jerseys
There was more to be seen than just the five games on Christmas Day. Every player was wearing the NBA’s new short-sleeve jersey, rather than the traditional tank-top jersey.
The move was done in part to please fans, who are likely more apt to buy a better-fitting jersey, and advertisers. Don’t be surprised if teams have a patch on their game jerseys, much like the NFL practice jersey, in the next few years.
Most of the reviews were negative.
“I don’t like them,” Hibbert said, “but here I am wearing [a] tight shirt [underneath my practice jersey]. It’s practice. I’m more a traditional jersey type of guy. Everything changes. In college, they had real jerseys, then they went to those skin-tight sleeveless jerseys. Things change, but hopefully I don’t have to wear that anytime soon.”
Paul George takes pride and puts a great deal of time into his fashion. It’s unique, that’s for sure. For the first time of his four-year career, he has a couple of stylists, including one of his sisters, Teoisha.
“No, I wasn’t a fan of the sleeves in general, but then the big logos,” George said. “I wasn’t a fan of them.”
Though every team has a BIG logo short-sleeve jersey, most teams aren’t scheduled to wear them this season, the Pacers included. The Pacers’ white version can be purchased at the team gift shop for $110.
Stephenson’s All-Star Bid Gaining Traction
Paul George maintains his second position in the East with 712,808 votes, about 150K shy of top-vote getting LeBron James. George is essentially a lock to make his second straight All-Star appearance. Voting concludes on Monday, Jan. 20 and starters will be announced that Thursday.
Roy Hibbert is fourth amongst frontcourt players in the East, garnering over 304,000 votes.
In the backcourt, Pacers point guard George Hill is still eighth (66,030). Lance Stephenson, who is playing the best ball of his career, is beginning to see the votes reflect that. He has jumped into the top ten, slotted at No. 9 behind Hill (50,444).
When asked about it, Stephenson worked his way back to talking about the team, which shows his maturity. But like every player, he’d love to take part in the event.
“I’m just playing hard, man,” he said. “My talent will show where I’m at. I just keep playing hard and if I get in, I get in. My goal is to help my teammates win.”
When informed of the recent voting numbers, coach Frank Vogel was happy — but not surprised.
“That’s great,” Vogel said. “I think he deserves it. He’s worked really hard and his play warrants that.”
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