2014 Pacers flashing back to 1969 Cubs

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses Indiana’s late-season swoon

Cue the black cat at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

It really is the only thing left, a symbol of the rotten luck that befallen the Indiana Pacers lately — well OK, poor performance is the real culprit — but more so a link to the sort of sports swoon the Pacers are experiencing as they flail to finish the 2013-14 regular season.

It’s a famous picture – an ominous black cat set loose at old Shea Stadium, scampering past the visitors’ dugout as Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo gawked from the on-deck circle. And it has served ever since as shorthand for the collapse of the 1969 Cubs, one of the worst ever in U.S. team sports history. And one that seared itself into the memory of a mere lad whose sports enthusiasm was just beginning.

Right: Mine. Growing in the near-suburbs, my family had taken me to Wrigley Field a few times that summer, which wasn’t so much a baseball season as it was a festival. Of Ernie Banks‘ smile, of day baseball, of ivy-covered walls, of Santo and Billy Williams at the plate, of the Bleacher Bums, of Ferguson Jenkins’ work from the mound, of Ken Holtzman‘s first no-hitter and, mostly, of winning. The Cubs grabbed first place with an 11-inning victory on Opening Day and held it for 155 days, slipping to second with just 20 games left in the 162-game season.

Their nosedive had begun a month earlier, though, their nine-game cushion in the NL East saving them for a while but dialing up the stress, too, as it dwindled. On Aug. 13, the Cubs were 74-43, nine games up on St. Louis and 10 in front of the soon-to-be “Miracle” Mets. Chicago went 18-27 the rest of the way while the Mets finished 38-11. It wasn’t even close – an eight-game gap – by the end.

The Pacers, at the moment, look to have passed their tipping point. Rock bottom has come yet again, the 107-88 mess against Atlanta in which Indiana scored 23 points in the first half and couldn’t get out of its own way, either on the court or on the side. That’s where center Roy Hibbert, a sensitive fellow, splayed his 7-foot-2 frame on the bench for most of the game after being yanked by coach Frank Vogel. The body language, the blank stare, the lack of interest in his teammates’ comeback quest or Vogel’s timeout huddles – you’d have sworn Hibbert had seen a black cat cross the Pacers’ path.

Still to come, perhaps: One Pacer airing out another in public, the way Santo screamed at centerfielder Don Young after a game-busting dropped fly ball.

It’s too early to rank what’s happening in Indiana among pro sports’ all-time collapses, such as the 1995 California Angels, the 2007 Mets, the 2003 Minnesota Vikings or others. The NBA and the NHL are tricky that way, because a front-runner like Indiana that loses its way – the Pacers had staked out the No. 1 seed from the get-go and looked capable of going wire-to-wire until a few weeks ago – still ends up qualifying for the playoffs.

That gives it a chance against a lower-seed team to right itself, and avoiding a first-round upset tends to restore some measure of confidence. In the NBA, it’s the teams that cough up potential success in the postseason that get remembered for their big fails. Like the 1993-94 Seattle SuperSonics (losing to No. 8 seed Denver), the 1999-2000 Portland Trail Blazers (blowing a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 7 vs. the Lakers) or the 2006 Dallas Mavericks (up 2-0 in The Finals before losing four straight to Miami).

But who’s kidding whom? Indiana’s game has gone south in almost all areas, offensively and defensively. The trust level in the locker room has bottomed out, and Vogel’s job security now is a daily topic in local and national media – anything less than a return to the East finals, or maybe The Finals, might bring a pink slip, insiders say and outsiders speculate. The Pacers are 13-13 since the All-Star break – there’s been no “Miracle” out of Miami, 16-9 in that time, but it has been enough to chase down a front-runner gone sideways.

It’s still a swoon rather than a collapse, but if the Pacers don’t already feel enough pressure to fix all that ails them, they should know this: There are little kids throughout Indiana on the brink of being traumatized for life as sports fans.

What, you say that isn’t likely to help the situation?

9 Comments

  1. Indy says:

    I think some of you are blowing this a bit out of proportion. No, the Pacers are not doing great right now, but the funny thing is they are 13-13 since the all-star break. That’s .500 – a record several playoff teams don’t have. As a Pacers fan, I’m pretty ticked off that they lost the 1st seed (and probably won’t get it back) but I still can’t see any other team making the ECF.

  2. blaz says:

    Larry Bird has his point too. Being Pacers fan, I understand that team spirit and chemistry is build on people. But those people are professionals, they play not only for themselves, but for City, state and us – fans. And Danny Granger ( I am a big fan of that player) is also not John Saley to be sited on bench for seasons just to satisfy another players. No bussiness for him, nor the Pacers.
    Players are not machines, I agree. But the competitive spirit is there, or it is not there, regardless of management. MJ could barely exist in the same room with Bulls executives, but he would have to had his legs cut off to be stopped from getting to the court and dominating the game, with everything he had.
    Comments on nba.com are mostly connected to the pacers having nightmarish first-half offensive production, but I don’t think its the main point. The main point is, that they were beaten in first quarter by 22 points. You can have bad (real bad) offensive night, but you have to keep going after your oponents. Pacers are no Show-Time-Lakers, to belive their offense will do it. They have to just keep the score low, until they get something going.

  3. lbj says:

    People are blaming the players for what is going on but they haven’t taken a look at who started this foolishness. I’m a heat fan, well a lebron fan and I was getting alittle worried about the pacers but then Larry went and traded Danny granger and got andrew bynum when his team was already number 1. Then his comments were that the players need to do their jobs. Dude these aren’t machines they are people theres a psychology that goes into a winning team in the respects that you have to bring everyone together for a common goal. Larry stated that he wasn’t trying to bring anyone together he was trying to bring a championship. You cannot have one without the other. Example Seahawks this year pete Carroll encouraged his players and infused the power of belief into a group of 4th and 5th round draft picks into believing they were better than they thought. And a championship followed. The funny thing about it is that Larry bird is acting like bobby knight the coach he walked away from at Indiana when he was younger. It doesn’t really make any sense. These guys are millionaires who have giant egos and pride, its what makes them good at what they do. You can’t go into a room full of alpha males and tell them to shut up and do their jobs, their gonna turn around and tell you to shuv it. You heard it hear first Pacers will lose to the heat this year and they may not even make the eastern conference finals. If the bulls slip into that 3 seed the pacers are going down. There darn lucky they don’t have to play Brooklyn also. The pacers are finished and this team will be broken apart next year or even this summer.

  4. okc2014 says:

    Imagine that, if the Bobcats beat the Pacers in the 1st round? What will Larry Bird do? What will his “team statement” be? Can’t blame it on Andrew Bynum.

    • Celtics fan says:

      so what if the Bobcats beat the Pacers? they’re not the same team that made the worst record in nba anymore. Al Jefferson can dominate Roy Hibbert.

  5. DoCJ says:

    individuals killing indy at he mo……..cats 4-2

  6. Oakley34BLAM says:

    It’s true, the Cats present an awful matchup for the Pacers, especially in their current funk. They defend damn well, and they can easily make scoring points (Indiana’s achilles heel) much harder than it already is. On top of that they have a very reliable scorer and post player in Jefferson and much better perimeter play from Walker than anyone the Pacers. Add in wild cards of Douglas-Roberts and Henderson, and I can see Indiana falling in 5 or 6, especially if the Cats can steal the first one. Gonna love me some further Pacers collapse.

  7. Shawn Kemp no. 1 says:

    The Bobcats will sweep them hahahaha