After reading about George Hill's expression of dismay with Pacers fans following their game with the Lakers on Mar. 15 on The Point Forward and Truth & Rumors, it stuck both harmonious and dissonant chords.
According to the Indianapolis Star, Hill was complaining to teammate Roy Hibbert about the lack of support at the game from Pacers fans:
"It sucks. It was 70 (Lakers fans) - 30 (Pacers fans) out there. These are the same people that wants autographs after the game. We're out there in the community. We're doing our job, doing what we're supposed to do on and off the court. Something has to change. I tip my hat to this team. We've been trouble free. Been out in the community shaking hands, we're winning. It shouldn't feel like an away game, especially with an important like this. Tonight, that's what it felt like."
From my experience at Pacers games, Hill has a point. Lack of support for the Pacers was evident when I attended the Bulls-Pacers game on Feb. 4 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. At least half of the people in attendance seemed to be Bulls fans as there was just as much cheering whenever the Pacers made a basket as when the Bulls did. Even more telling was that when I left the game, I didn't encounter anyone wearing Pacers gear, but I saw at least ten people in Bulls attire.
But as a fan of both teams, I can't criticize Bulls fans for showing their support for the team, and it was a dilemma for me as to what colors to wear to the game. Since it was a Pacers home game, I opted to wear a white shirt with navy and yellow polka dots.
Another issue I have with Hill's statement is that members of Hill's and Paul George's G2 Zone cheering section went along with members of Hibbert's Area 55 cheering section to Detroit to cheer on the Pacers at their Feb. 23 game, according to the Pacers website. I don't see the difference between Bulls fans showing up at a Pacers game to cheer on their team and Pacers fans traveling to cheer on their team.
In a follow-up interview with Phillip B. Wilson of the Indianapolis Star, Hill acknowledged that people have the right to root for whomever they want:
"I'm not saying you can't be somebody's fan," said Hill, an Indianapolis native who went to Broad Ripple High School and IUPUI. "I was a Michael Jordan fan growing up, but when I did go to the games, I always rooted for my hometown team.
"You root for who you want to root for, but I know one day that we're going to get it like it used to be at Market Square Arena. That's my dream, that's my goal from when I first got here, to help bring fans back. That's all I'm trying to do."
While it's admirable that Hill and his teammates are trying to get fans to come out to game through their play on the court and activities in the community, it's not necessarily a lack of interest in the team that keeps them away. For me, it's a combination of the cost of tickets coupled with the cost of the gas it take to drive 75+ miles to a game. Additionally, the 7 p.m. start time of most games is problematic for me to get to a game on time since I leave work at 5 p.m.
And because the Pacers were out of the playoff picture for a number of years, it could take some time to build up the fan base again. Beginning in 2001, I attended at least one game every year when they had winning teams. When the Pacers stopped making the playoffs, I turned my attention to teams that were more competitive and stopped making an annual trek to Indianapolis to see a Pacers game. During that time the Spurs became my favorite team in the Western Conference, and I started following the Bulls when Derrick Rose joined the team.
I didn't know that the Pacers were having a good season last year until I happened to overhear a conversation in a local drug store about how well they were doing. That prompted me to follow the Pacers once again and make a trip to see a Pacers game after several years of not doing so. It was one of the biggest sporting thrills in my life to be at the game at which the Pacers clinched a playoff berth. This year, I've been to three Pacers games and will be attending the April 12 game against the Nets.
The reason I'm attending the April 12 game is that there was a 24-hour ticket sale where tickets were offered for $12, and for each ticket purchased, a ticket was donated to a charitable cause. If there were more deals like that, I would attend more Pacers games.
Another way to get people to wear more Pacers blue and gold gear in the stands is to have an event like my employer, Indiana State University, had. Our president, Dan Bradley, was dismayed by students wearing T-shirts from universities other than Indiana State. In response to his concern, the Student Government Association hosted a T-shirt trade-in where students exchanged T-shirts from another school for and ISU T-shirt. UniversiTees in Terre Haute also will exchange T-shirts from other universities for ISU ones at no charge.
But the best thing the Pacers can do to get more fans to come to their game dressed in blue and gold and cheering on the Pacers is to continue to perform well on the court and be a positive force in the Indianapolis community.