Jeff Teague is an admitted miser, so protective of his money that he's going to live with his parents as a 28-year-old point guard for the Pacers. But when it came time to declare his love for his home city, he spared no expense.
Dropping in on a tattoo artist in Atlanta five years ago, he told him he wanted to represent Indiana. The conversation went something like this:
"Are you serious?"
"Yeah, I love the Colts. I'm getting a Colts tattoo."
"We're going to make it better than that. I'm going to give you the skyline."
For starters, anyway. Before he knew it, Teague's left arm became a billboard for Indianapolis. It includes a Colts logo, a downtown skyline, a "465 West" interstate sign, a "317" for the area code, an outline of the state, a "1988" for the year he was born, and the letters "POME."
POME stands for Product Of My Environment, which defines Teague perfectly. Born and raised in Indianapolis, the former Pike High School star returns to the right place at the right time, prepared to take over as the starting point guard for a revamped team and hoping to end his career here.
He has made the city his offseason home since joining the NBA as a first-round draft pick of the Hawks in 2009, has sponsored AAU teams here for kids from grades three though 10, and never stopped hanging out with his childhood friends. While the move represents a fresh start for his life and career, it feels to him like recapturing his childhood.
"Being in the league for seven years, guys always talked how they did not like coming to Indianapolis," he said. "I'm from here, so I want to rep it. I love it. I think it's the best basketball city. It's just a sense of pride for me."
Playing in your hometown can be a mixed blessing for a professional athlete. It's one thing to have your family and close friends nearby, but quite another to have people who think they're your friends constantly asking for favors. Potential distractions are everywhere. George Hill, the Indy native Teague replaces in the Pacers backcourt, sometimes found those bothersome, and while active in the community he retreated from them at times. While playing for the Pacers, he spent part of his offseasons in San Antonio. While playing for Atlanta, Teague spent his offseasons in Indianapolis.
One thing for sure, the cost of living is going to be reasonable. He'll live with his parents in their home in Pike Township, rent-free. Of course he paid for it in the first place, so they couldn't very well charge him rent. He also learned a long time ago to say no to those friends who approached with outstretched palms, hoping for a handout from an NBA millionaire.
Tickets to games?
"I never buy tickets," he said. "If you want to come watch us play, buy a ticket."
"I'll sell them to you."
Teague is so tight with his money a friend gave him the nickname Nacho, because he was always offering to sell whatever people wanted from him.
"You're always trying to make some cheese, I'm going to start calling you Nacho," the friend said.
Teague doesn't mind.
"I'm a tightwad," he said. "If you like something on my feet, you can buy them."
That's what helps make this the right time for Teague to return home. Had he been drafted by the Pacers in 2009 after two seasons at Wake Forest, as he was hoping, he might not have had the maturity or motivation to deal with his suddenly elevated status among so many acquaintances. He might not have become the player who established himself as one of the NBA's better point guards, one who made the Eastern Conference All-Star team in 2015.
"I think if I had come here as a rookie, being so close to home, I would have had that comfort zone," he said. "I don't know if I would have worked as hard, knowing my friends were right there and making a certain amount of money. Now that I've had to grow and be my own man out in Atlanta, be by myself, coming back to this environment, I can handle it a lot better."
Teague is economic with his words, too. Monday's media session must have been torture for him, having to talk with so many people for so long. He handled it smoothly, but like Hill would prefer to be left alone.
Soft-spoken? "Very," he said.
That doesn't reflect his on-court demeanor, however. His competitive instincts are obvious to anyone who has seen him play, but that only provides another reason for his friends to joke with him.
"When I'm off the court, I'm just a shy guy," he said. "My friends always make fun of me. 'You act all hard on the court, you beat your chest, then when you get out of here you're scared to talk.'"
Teague grew up a Pacers fan. He turned 12 during the 2000 NBA Finals, when the Pacers lost to Los Angeles. Jalen Rose was a particular favorite. He also has fond memories of the teams "before the fight," with players such as Ron Artest and Jermaine O'Neal. He didn't get to attend many games, so Bankers Life Fieldhouse seemed a mythological place to him. The first time he played in the building was as a member of the Indiana All-Star team for the series with Kentucky.
"I got a dunk," he recalled. "I was so excited."
He played in the building 25 times as a member of the Hawks, in 12 regular season games and those 13 playoff games in 2013 and '14, when the Pacers won series in six and then seven games. Now it will be his home court, for next season and – he hopes – beyond, if a new contract can be worked out.
When he received "the great news" from Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer about the trade to the Pacers, his family rejoiced. Mom baked a ham for a family dinner. Dad was ecstatic. He and his older brother, who lived with him for five years in Atlanta, just stared at one another, smiling. Could it be?
By now he's shipped his belongings to Indianapolis and moved back in with his parents. He was photographed watching the team's games in the Summer League in Orlando, wearing a Pacers hat, even before the trade could become official. He ran on the treadmill in The Fieldhouse on Monday morning, rehabbing the torn patella tendon with which he played all of last season, and looks forward to getting with his new teammates there later in the summer.
"I'm happy," he said. "It's home."
Five Things To Know About Jeff Teague
1. Teague was a late bloomer and not highly recruited until his senior season at Pike. He visited Wake Forest, Boston College and Indiana. He hoped to land a scholarship to Purdue, but was not offered.
2. He considers Hill a good friend, and worked out with him extensively in a facility on 116th St. in the summer of 2008, when he was between seasons at Wake Forest and Hill was about to enter his rookie season in San Antonio. "He's my guy," Teague said. "I wish he could have been here, too, but I know how the business works."
3. After wearing 0 in college and with the Hawks, he'll wear No. 44 with the Pacers. That was his older brother's number.
4. His father, Shawn, played at Anderson High School, which reached the state championship game in 1979. Shawn scored 14 points in a 64-60 loss to Muncie Central. He went on to play at Missouri and Boston College, and had tryouts for the Pacers and Golden State.
5. Teague will become the ninth player from an Indianapolis high school to play for the Pacers, following Hill, Charles Jordan, Bill Keller, George McGinnis, Andre Owens, Wayne Pack, Marv Winkler and Randy Wittman.
Have a question for Mark? Want it to be on Pacers.com? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and you could be featured in his next mailbag.
Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.