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The Pacers Asian Vacation
Generally, I care very little about the NBA preseason. The play is sloppy and there is such a deviation in how much effort different players are putting forth that it’s virtually impossible to tell if young players who look good in preseason are actually going to be able to translate that promise into regular season success. How can you accurately gauge whether someone like Chris Douglas-Roberts has actually improved considerably since last season or if he just happens to be trying a lot harder than Paul Pierce because he’s ten years younger and trying to earn playing time?
Here’s how I termed my general take on the preseason in a recent Nets-related post I did for Hardwood Paroxysm.
The NBA preseason is not where amazing happens. Truthfully, it’s exceedingly stupid. Sure, there is the “Nice, basketball is almost back” factor, but it is generally such a poor indicator of how the upcoming season will transpire that there is very little that can be gleaned from watching the games other than misinformation.
Still, hoops is hoops, so I watch a little.
As part of that “little,” I really did want to catch some of the Pacers/Nuggets action from Asia during the past few days. Unfortunately, however, I didn’t see anything except the highlights. Regardless, some of my desire to watch came from the fact that I am for the first time in my life running a team-specific blog and I imagine there are a lot of people out there who are much more interested in preseason hoops than I am — and understandably so. But more so, I wanted to see the Pacers play overseas due to a few other factors.
First of all, it is both surprising and fantastic that the Pacers were one of two teams chosen to represent the league in front of its biggest emerging fan base in Beijing as well as the first-ever NBA game played in Taiwan. David Stern has made overseas games a staple of preseason the past couple of years but, still, this was only the fourth time the NBA has sent teams to China.
In 2004, the NBA became the first American professional sports league to stage games in China, with two games between the Houston Rockets and the Sacramento Kings in Shanghai and Beijing. NBA China Games 2007 featured three games between the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Orlando Magic and the Team China All-Stars in Shanghai and Macao. Last October, NBA China Games 2008 featured the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors playing in Guangzhou and Beijing.
Secondly, it seems that there is a decent chance that the Pacers are earning themselves a new legion of fans in Asia. Between Rik Smits, Detlef Schrempf, the general amazement surrounding Reggie’s heroics and the whole Hoosier mythos of Indiana, the 90s Pacers were probably one of the most beloved franchises throughout Europe. Jordan’s Bulls obviously ranked number one on the list of teams with the most foreign fans, but given the relative weakness of major market teams like the Celtics and Lakers for much of the decade, the Pacers probably ranked a lot higher on that list than most others.
Now, between the Pacers playing in both mainland China and on Taiwan, and Danny Granger being the guest of honor for the first-ever NBA event in Indonesia last summer (something that was meaningful enough to spur the U.S. embassy in Jakarta to issue an official press release about him showing up), there are likely many more Indiana fans in Asia than there were at this time two years ago. And that fact is particularly notable considering the fact that there haven’t otherwise been a ton of fans jumping on the Pacer bandwagon since, I dunno, say, November 2004-ish.
Twice a year, Pacers fans will fly from different cities all over China for a Pacers fans gathering, where they will play basketball together in Pacers jerseys and shoot threes with a Reggie Miller-type follow-through. While the boys are playing basketball, the girls have another way to show their love. They will draw portraits for the Pacers, and make a cake with a Reggie Miller image on to celebrate his birthday.
The third thing that’s very cool about the team heading to Asia is that these trips are the types of things that help players bond. The monotony of an NBA season is well-documented and it can be hard for some teams to integrate new guys into the locker room through just Madden tournaments and Cheesecake Factory outings together during road trips alone. For almost all of the players — and the staff — going to China is a once-in-a-lifetime trip that will include not just amazing sightseeing and memories, but hours of downtime to get to know one another and hang out. We tend to forget that these guys are not just really tall millionaires, but actual people, so it’s great to see videos like the one below where the guys get to act like 12-year-olds at Six Flags while running around and bombing the Great Wall of China with graffitti like “Pacers Wuz Here!!!!”
As for the gameplay, I have little to offer. IndyCornrows has you covered for that on both the win in Taiwan and the loss in Beijing during which Danny got ejected. Preseason hoops is just preseason hoops, so I’m sure the on-court action was mediocrity at its finest.
But in going to Asia, the Pacers hopefully were able to gain a lot of the intangible, soft capital that can help lift any franchise, both in terms of creating new fans on the other side of the globe and creating some genuine chemistry among the players.