by Scott Agness | @ScottAgness
October 7, 2013
The Indiana Pacers landed safely in Manila, Philippines early Sunday evening, about 18 hours since departing from Indianapolis hours after the team’s first preseason game. The Pacers are one of 12 NBA teams participating in the NBA Global Games and will be traveling approximately 16,670 miles through the air, the second-most of any team. The traveling party includes coaches, players, basketball staff and some of their families, Pacemates, the stats crew, select sponsors and distinguished guests of the franchise.
The group arrived across the world in Asia, exactly 12 hours ahead of those of us in Indianapolis on Eastern Standard Time, to a welcoming crowd of folks eagerly awaiting their arrival. These fans are thrilled that NBA teams are in town.
Donald Sloan is one player on the team that has been to Manila before and knows what to expect.
“It’s a great city,” he said before the team jetted off. “They’re very passionate about their sports, particularly basketball. These guys are already rock stars – PG [Paul George], G-Hill [George Hill], [David] West, and [Roy] Hibbert – but guys like me, Ron Howard, and Darnell Jackson, they’ll treat us like we’re Elvis. It’s amazing. I think these guys will really like it.”
The 25-year-old point guard comes to the Pacers after stops in Atlanta, New Orleans (twice), Cleveland and the D-League. His stint in the Manila was just about a month long in 2011, playing for the Ginebra Kings, one of the most popular teams over there. He says the fans are intelligent about the league and will be able to spot his teammates a mile away.
“Me being over there [before], I felt like a rock star,” said Sloan. “That was my first time playing abroad because the year before I was in the D-League all year with Reno. It was my first time going across seas and stepping on foreign soil playing with those guys and they made me very welcome.”
Sloan was excited to visit once again, this time with his new team, and had plans to hang out with some of his former teammates. Besides getting food with them at his favorite spots, he was most looking forward to going to the mall, of all places. Unusual, right?
“Trust me, the quantity and quality that they have there for the price, it’s really good,” he said.
Lucky then, for him and others in the party, that they are traveling on a chartered plane. The size and weight of their bags won’t an issue.
Chris Copeland, another newcomer, is 29, but entering his second year in the NBA. Until last year, he was a journeyman – playing with teams in Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium. He never made it through the Philippines or Taiwan, so like most of the group, he was excited for their travels.
“I’m definitely looking forward to seeing it,” Copeland said. “It’s going to be cool. I love being overseas and experiencing new cultures and a whole new world over there so I’m looking forward to it since I haven’t been to either place.”
Back in 2009, the Pacers played the Denver Nuggets in Taipei and Beijing. Roy Hibbert and Danny Granger are the only two players still around from the trip; Frank Vogel and Dan Burke were on Jim O’Brien’s coaching staff and the entire training staff is still the same. Granger, the longest-tenured Pacer on the team, believes the 18-hour flight each way plus the week together away from home will not only be enjoyable, but also be a valuable bonding experience for a team with so many new additions.
“All our wives are coming and we’re leaving all the kids at home so everybody’s happy about that,” he said with a big grin after Saturday’s game. “We’ll get to hang out with our (wives) a little bit more. Just to build on what we’ve already done.”
Frank Vogel remembers their last trip, and says the interest level in the NBA games is remarkable. A friend of the coach has family in the Philippines and they took a photo of him on a large poster last year (Vogel didn’t remember if he still had it). They told him that they saw a good number of David West and Paul George jerseys. The Pacers representation is strong, and growing.
“In some ways, they’re larger [than] life over there then they are here because they really don’t see it up close every day,” Vogel said. “When you’re coming into a country like that, it’s a really big deal.”
In addition to the pair of games – Oct. 10 and Oct. 13 – against the new look Houston Rockets (Dwight Howard signed with the team in free agency), members of the Pacers organization will participate in speaking engagements, NBA Cares events and personal initiatives. The Pacemates and Boomer are also there to enhance the environment and help bring on new fans.
Coach Vogel and the team will have to balance basketball with family time, exploring and visiting with fans. On the basketball front, their focus will be on getting closer with each other, building on their system and building winning habits necessary for when they step on the court.
“I think trips like this are really good for chemistry,” he said. “This is a business where you got to build friendships. You have existing friendships on your team when you come in with returning teammates and you got to build those. And then the new guys, you got to initiate friendships and start getting to know some of these guys. You’re going to go into battle with them and a trip like this I think will be really good for that.”
The Pacers are scheduled to return to Indianapolis late Sunday, Oct. 13th.
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