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Larry Bird has not been a member of the Indiana Pacers, technically, since sitting in on the team’s observance of the NBA’s summer leagues in 2012. Citing health reasons and a need for a break after nine years of running the team, Bird stepped down from his position as Pacers el jefe last year, handing the keys over to longtime Pacers boss Donnie Walsh. Bird’s imprints are all over this rugged Pacer team, and his insistence on sticking with hybrid guard Lance Stephenson helped put Indiana into the conference finals on Saturday night, their first appearance in the third round in nine years.
Excited at the thought of his no-name Pacers taking down the rife-with-names New York Knicks, Bird reached out to Indianapolis Star Pacers beat writer Mike Wells in the moments following Indy’s conquest:
My phone went off again early Sunday morning. It was Bird, who has kept a low profile since stepping down as a president last June. Bird was offering up nothing but praise this time about the team he put together.
“Those who play together stay together!” Bird wrote in the text.
Bird is right, the Pacers stuck together all year. They stuck together when Danny Granger was ruled out at the start of the season. They stuck together when they got off to a slow start. They stuck together when Granger came back and then went down again for the rest of the season. And they stuck together when they opened the second round of the playoffs as the underdogs against the New York Knicks.
You can easily picture someone like Larry Bird – with a flip-phone, Dad-style – pushing hard on those numbers, finding the right letters, tossing in a few exclamation points after locating the digit that gives you the potential for punctuation.
This sort of image, however inaccurate, is part of Indiana’s problem.
Bird, the team’s biggest star, may someday return to these Pacers, once again working in tandem with Donnie Walsh to sustain a winner in Indianapolis. For now, though, the player with the biggest Q score on the team is Roy Hibbert, only by way of a lone All-Star appearance during the lockout year, and several cameos on a television show that not nearly enough people are watching in real time. The Pacers may be well known to the basketball cognoscenti, all full of wonderment about where Orlando Johnson’s minutes went and why Gerald Green is allowed to wear shoes that don’t match his uniform, but the viewing public knows precious little about the team that is about to attempt to knock Miami off its perch.
All of which is bad news for the NBA’s viewing numbers. The league’s ratings improved this season, but a combination of unfortunate factors – injuries, Miami’s quick and cable-based run through the first two rounds, the Lakers’ suckitude, poor timing when it came to which teams were available for Sunday afternoon – has led to declining ratings for the national TV broadcasts.
The NBA threw another batch of unknowns onto ABC on Sunday, those grinding Memphis Grizzlies, alongside a San Antonio Spurs team big audiences have historically been averse to. And though the NBA has spaced out the Eastern Conference finals, it’s hard to anticipate a massive national audience tuning in for Game 3 this weekend, in Indianapolis. On basic cable, no less. Up against a litany of shows (your men that are mad, your thrones that are involved in other games) that the basketball cognoscenti is years behind watching, mainly because they’ve been paying attention to Orlando Johnson.
Maybe if Larry Bird decided to make a late May visit to Indiana’s Game 3, this could change. What would really make a ratings difference is if Indiana stole the home court in Game 1 or Game 2. They’ll have Bird to thank if such a steal happened for the second year in a row.