Saturday, December 12, 2015

How to Be a New York Basketball Fan In Indiana -- 2015-16 Edition

Next Friday night, the Brooklyn Nets travel to Indianapolis to play the Indiana Pacers. It will be their only visit of the season. The New York Knicks visit on February 24 and April 12.

Before You Go. Indianapolis is about as far south as Baltimore and Washington. Despite being in the Midwest, it is not on a Great Lake, bringing strong winds and "lake effect snow." So the weather won't be substantially different from what we get in the Middle Atlantic States. The website of the Indianapolis Star is predicting low 40s for next Friday afternoon, but mid-20s for the evening. Bring a winter jacket.

Indiana used to be 1 of 2 States, Arizona being the other, where Daylight Savings Time was an issue; however, since 2006 -- 4 years after a West Wing episode lampooned this -- the State has used it throughout. There will be no need to adjust your timepieces.

Tickets. The Pacers averaged 16,864 fans per home game last year, less than 93 percent of capacity. So, despite Indiana's reputation as a basketball-crazy State, tickets shouldn't be hard to get.

Seats in the lower level are $168 between the baskets and $92 behind them. In the upper level, they're considerably cheaper: $56 between and just $26 behind.

Getting There. It's 714 miles from Times Square in Manhattan to Monument Circle in the center of the City of Indianapolis. Knowing this, your first reaction is going to be to fly out there.

This may not be a good idea, as you'll have to change planes in Chicago, which is further west, and fly back east to Indianapolis. Or southwest to Charlotte, then northwest to Indianapolis. But with the right times of day on your flights, you can get there and back for under $400 round-trip. The Number 8 bus is a 45-minute ride from the airport to downtown.

If you take Amtrak, it will be simple to go out: You would board the Cardinal at Penn Station on Wednesday at 6:45 AM, and arrive at Union Station in Indianapolis on Thursday at 5:20 AM. Unfortunately, the Cardinal only runs 3 times a week, so you'll have a day and a half to kill in Indianapolis before the game. Going back, you'll leave Indy at 11:59 PM on Sunday (a wait of over 26 hours after the game ends), getting back to New York at 9:58 PM on Sunday. Round-trip fare would be $236.

Union Station is at 350 S. Illinois Street, corner of South Street, 6 blocks from the Fieldhouse.
Indianapolis' Union Station

Greyhound runs 7 buses a day from Port Authority Bus Terminal to Indianapolis, although 4 of these require you to change buses, mostly in Pittsburgh. The fare is $335, but it can drop to $102 with advanced purchase. The station is at 154 W. South Street, at Illinois Street, around the corner from Union Station. (That's right, "West South Street," but that's South Street, west of downtown.)

If you decide to drive, it’s far enough that it will help to get someone to go with you and split the duties, and to trade off driving and sleeping. You’ll need to get on the New Jersey Turnpike, and take Interstate 78 West across New Jersey, and at Harrisburg get on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which at this point will be both I-70 and I-76. When the two Interstates split outside Pittsburgh, stay on I-70 west. You’ll cross the northern tip of West Virginia, and go all the way across Ohio (through Columbus), and halfway through Indiana.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and 15 minutes in New Jersey, 5 hours in Pennsylvania, 15 minutes in West Virginia, 3 hours and 45 minutes in Ohio, and an hour and 15 minutes in Indiana. That’s going to be 11 and a half hours. Counting rest stops, preferably 6 of them, and accounting for traffic in both New York and Indianapolis, it should be about 14 hours.

Once In the City. Indianapolis, named (as was its State) for the Native Americans, was founded in 1821, and is home to over 840,000 people -- making it the 2nd-largest city in the Midwest, behind Chicago -- with a metropolitan area of 2.4 million. The centerpoint of the City, and indeed of the State, is the 284-foot-high Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument inside Monument Circle, at Market & Meridian Streets.
The State House

The sales tax in the State of Indiana is 7 percent. There's no subway, but IndyGo offers a $4.00 all-day pass for its buses.

Going In. The official address of Bankers Life Fieldhouse is 125 E. Georgia Street, at Pennsylvania Street. Built in 1999 as Conseco Fieldhouse, the Pacers' new arena was designed to be a throwback, "the Camden Yards of basketball," if you will. (A little ironic, but at least this time they only took Baltimore's idea, not it's team. Then again, Washington, D.C. already took the Bullets, now Wizards, in 1973.)
Actually, it looks like one big old gym and one smaller old gym.

In particular, there is a strong resemblance to "Indiana's Basketball Cathedral," Hinkle Fieldhouse. It seats 18,165. The court is laid out north-to-south.

In their first season at the new arena, 1999-2000, the Pacers reached the NBA Finals for the first time, but got swept by the Los Angeles Lakers. They have not gotten back since.

Minor-league hockey's Indianapolis Ice also play at Bankers Life. However, you should not expect an NHL team to play there: Due to the layout, the capacity for hockey is just 12,300, and some of the seats end up being obstructed view. The place was built for basketball. The WNBA's Indiana Fever play there, and it has regularly (but not every year) hosted the Big Ten Conference Men's Basketball Tournament.

Food. Indiana is in the heart of the Midwest, right-smack-dab in the middle (or what used to be the middle, before Penn State, and then Nebraska, Rutgers and Maryland, were admitted) of Big Ten Country, where tailgate parties are practically a sacrament. So you would expect there to be great food inside the Pacers' arena.

Coors Light Beer Wagon (if you're willing to say that Coors Light is "beer") can be found at Section 2; Mr. Smoothie at 3, 14, 207, 220 and 226; Snack Shoppe at 4, 16, 202 and 217; Dippin' Dots at 4, 208, 220 and 229; Crossroads Tavern at 5 and 15; Homestead Favorites (including the evil Papa John's Pizza) at 5, 15, 208 and 224; Union Smokehouse at 6, 14, 215 and 231; Sno Zone (cotton candy and snow cones) at 6, 17 and 222; Sun King (local craft beer) at 6; Nacho Cart at 7 and 213; Gluten Free Cart at 8; Hardee's at 10; Red Burrito at 10; Salt & Lime Bar (margaritas) at 10; Golden Kettle (popcorn & pretzels) at 11 and 212; Merchant Bar at 13; Street Taco Cart at 13 and 232; Sun King (local craft beer) at 13, 216 and 224; Bud Light Lima-A-Rita at 16; The Amazing Potato Chip Company at 18 and 225; Blue Moon Tap Room at 19; Philly Cheese Steak Cart at 19 and 201; Capital Sausage Cart at 207 and 226; Scratch Food Truck at 224; and Indiana Ale House at 231.

And there's a Dunkin Donuts inside the Fieldhouse, in the Entry Pavilion, on the building's north, Pennsylvania Street side, next to the Pacers Home Court Gift Shop

Team History Displays. The Pacers were the most successful team in the American Basketball Association of 1967 to 1976, reaching 4 Finals, winning 3. (The Nets went 2-1, and no other team reached 3 Finals or won 2 titles.) Since joining the NBA, the exciting moments have been many, but the achievements have been few. Indeed, they had no 1st-place finishes for 22 years (1973 to 1995).

The Pacers hang banners for their 1970, 1972 and 1973 ABA Championships; their 2000 NBA Eastern Conference Championship; and for their 1995, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2013 and 2014 NBA Central Division Championships. They do not, however, hang banners for their 1969 and 1971 ABA Eastern Division Championships.
Photo taken before their 2013 and 2014 Division titles

The Pacers honor 6 men with banners: Former owner Mel Simon (no number on the banner), former head coach Bobby "Slick" Leonard (529, for the number of games he won as Pacer coach, not counting the postseason and the 3 ABA titles), and 4 players. Naturally, they honor 1990s-2000s guard Reggie Miller. The other 3 are from the ABA days: Forwards George McGinnis (30) and Roger Brown (35), and center Mel Daniels (34).
The Fieldhouse also includes banners for the Indiana Fever's 2012 WNBA Championship, and their Conference titles in 2009, 2012 and 2015.
In 2007, Pacers fans chose a 40th Anniversary Team. In addition to Miller, Daniels, McGinnis and Brown, they chose guards Billy Keller, Billy Knight (now general manager of the Nets) and Mark Jackson (the ex-Knick, now ESPN NBA analyst), forwards Clark Kellogg (former CBS college basketball analyst analyst, also working in the Pacers' front office), Dale Davis, Antonio Davis and Jermaine O'Neal, center Rik Smits.

Miller was the only Pacer named to the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players in 1996. Brown, Daniels, McGinnis, Donnie Freeman, Freddie Lewis and Bob Netolicky were named to the ABA All-Time Team. Tamika Catchings of the Fever was named to the WNBA's 15th Anniversary 15 Greatest Players in 2012.

Stuff. The Pacers Home Court Gift Shop is located in the Entry Pavilion on the building's north side, on Pennsylvania Street.

Despite nearly half a century of history with some success, there aren't many books about the Pacers. Your best bet is probably Nate Frisch's entry about the Pacers in the NBA's A History of Hoops series, publishes earlier this year.

As part of its 30 For 30 series, ESPN produced the documentary Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks. Other than that, the most notable DVD about the Pacers is the NBA's official Indiana Pacers Greatest Games collection. Two Playoff games against the Knicks (including that one), two against the Chicago Bulls.

During the Game. A November 13, 2014 article on DailyRotoHelp ranked the NBA teams' fan bases, and listed the Pacers' fans at 18th, in the lower half. They site low attendance as a reason. Or, it could be that Indiana, while a great State for high school and college basketball, simply isn't one for the pros. (See also: Neighboring Kentucky, neighboring Ohio, North Carolina, which, for all their hoop mania -- 7 legendary college basketball programs between them -- have a combined total of 2 NBA teams.)

Because of their Midwestern/Heartland image, Pacer fans like a "family atmosphere." They don't much like New York, but they won't bother Knick or Net fans just for being Knick or Net fans, or for wearing Knick or Net gear in their arena. As long as you don't say anything bad about Reggie Miller or former Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight, you should be okay.

The Pacers hold auditions for National Anthem singers, instead of having a regular. Their mascot is Boomer the Panther, although what a panther has to do with pace (the cheetah is the fastest land animal) or Indiana is unclear.
Pacers player Paul George sang lead on a new theme song for the Pacers, mixing in the team colors: "Blue Collar Gold Swagger." You likely won't hear any fan chants more imaginative than, "Let's go, Pacers!" But the fans do have a tradition of wearing yellow team jerseys and T-shirts, providing a takeoff on the "whiteout" effect seen at some basketball and hockey games.
After the Game. Indianapolis is a big city, bigger than most people realize, and has every problem that comes with that, including crime. But since the stadium is right downtown, this will probably not affect you. As I said, leave the home fans alone, and they'll probably leave you alone.

There are several eateries near the arena, with, at the least, interesting names. Howl at the Moon is 2 blocks away at 20 E. Georgia Street. Kilroy's Bar & Grill is across from it, at 201 S. Meridian Street. Cadillac Ranch (named for the Amarillo, Texas pop art display that also inspired the title of a Bruce Springsteen song) is inside Union Station. Although connected to a different Indianapolis team, the Indianapolis Colts Grille is at 110 W. Washington Street at Illinois Street, and is festooned with local sports memorabilia.

I can only find one reference to a bar in Indianapolis where expatriate New Yorkers gather to watch their teams: Claddagh Irish Pub, at 234 S. Meridian Street, corner of Jackson Street, 3 blocks from the Fieldhouse, is said to be the local headquarters of Jet fans.

If your visit to Indianapolis is during the European soccer season, as we are now in, your best bet to see your club is at Chatham Tap, 719 Massachusetts Avenue, on the northeastern edge of downtown. Bus 17.

Sidelights. Indianapolis is often said to be boring: Its most common nickname is "India-no-place." But there are some things worth visiting, particularly for a sports fan. Helpfully, the city's new NFL stadium, new NBA arena, and new minor-league ballpark are within a few blocks of each other downtown.

* Victory Field. This 12,230-seat ballpark opened in 1996 as the home of the Indianapolis Indians of the International League (formerly in the American Association), one of the oldest and proudest minor-league franchises. While the Indians have won just 1 Pennant since moving in, in 2000, they are still a legendary franchise, winning 10 International League Pennants.

There have been 10 future Hall-of-Famers who have played for them: Napoleon Lajoie, Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown, Rube Marquard, Ray Schalk, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Gabby Hartnett, Al Lopez, Harmon Killebrew and Randy Johnson. Three others managed them: Luke Appling, Joe McCarthy and Al Lopez. In addition to McCarthy, Yankee Legends associated with them are Roger Maris, Don Zimmer and Aaron Boone.

Considering their name, it is a bit odd that they were only briefly, from 1952 to 1956, a farm team of the Cleveland Indians. They contributed players to the Pennant winners of the 1939 and '40 Cincinnati Reds, the 1948 Boston Braves, the 1954 Indians, the 1959 Chicago White Sox; and the Reds again in 1970, '72, '75 and '76. Currently, they are the top farm team of the Pittsburgh Pirates. 501 W. Maryland Street & West Street.

* Bush Stadium. This was the Indians' home from 1931 to 1995. It was first known as Perry Field, after the Indians' owner. In 1942, he took his own name off it, and, in line with the war effort, renamed it Victory Field, a name brought back for its replacement. In 1967, it was renamed Owen J. Bush Stadium, in honor of "Donie" Bush, a former major league shortstop from Indianapolis who had managed the Pirates to the 1927 National League Pennant, and also served the Indianapolis Indians as manager and team president.

Like Wrigley Field in Chicago and Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, Bush Stadium had ivy on its outfield walls. In 1987, it was dressed up to resemble both Chicago's Comiskey Park and Cincinnati's Redland Field (later Crosley Field) for the movie Eight Men Out, about the 1919-21 Black Sox Scandal, as it was one of the few remaining pre-1920 ballparks left. (Comiskey Park was still standing, but it didn't yet have an upper deck in 1919, so it was unsuitable for the film.) Interestingly enough, both the White Sox and the Reds had the Indians as their top farm team for some time (though not, of course, at the same time).

The Indians won Pennants at Bush Stadium in 1949, 1956, 1963, 1982, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1994. Peak capacity was 15,000. Parts of the stadium have been preserved and turned into housing. 1501 W. 16th Street, northwest of downtown. Number 25 bus.

Across W. 16th Street, at 1502, is Kuntz Stadium, a 5,257-seat soccer stadium. The U.S. national team played 3 games there in the late 1980s. That shows you how far that team has come: They couldn't even sell out 5,000 seats. If they were to play in Indy now, they would sell out the 62,000-seat Lucas Oil Stadium.

Don't expect Indianapolis to get a major league team anytime soon: The metro area would rank 29th in Major League Baseball. It would actually rank higher in the NHL, 24th, but who thinks of hockey when they think of Indiana sports?

The nearest MLB teams to Indianapolis are the Cincinnati Reds, 112 miles away; the Chicago White Sox, 178 miles; the Chicago Cubs, 188 miles; and the St. Louis Cardinals, 242 miles. But according to a recent New York Times article, the most popular team in and around Indianapolis is the Cubs, with the Yankees 2nd, and the Reds and the Boston Red Sox battling it out for 3rd. Why? And why not the much-closer White Sox or Cardinals? Because of the media, particularly the influence of Chicago's superstation WGN, and ESPN and Fox constantly showing the Yankees and Red Sox.

* Lucas Oil Stadium. Home of the Colts since 2008, the stadium looks like red brick, as do a lot of buildings in the city. Actually, it's made out of Indiana limestone -- as is the decidedly not-brick-looking Empire State Building. This makes it look more like an oversized version of an old-style gym.

In spite of its retractable roof, the stadium has artificial turf, specifically FieldTurf. While fully enclosed, behind each end zone is a large window that can be opened; however, there's not much of a view to speak of, since Indianapolis isn't exactly loaded with interesting skyscrapers.

Lucas Oil Stadium hosted the NCAA Final Four in 2010 (Duke beating Butler despite Butler playing in their hometown) and 2015 (Duke winning for the 5th time, the 3rd time in Indy, over Wisconsin). Indianapolis is where the NCAA keeps its headquarters, and after 4 Final Fours were held at the Hoosier Dome, they've decided to make sure the Final Four is held in Indianapolis at least once every 5 years. For this event, the stadium can be adjusted into a 70,000-seat configuration. It has also hosted the Big Ten Football Championship since its first game in 2011, and is under contract to do so through 2021.

500 S. Capitol Avenue. It is bounded by Capitol, McCarty Street, Missouri Street and South Street. It's downtown, with Union Station only a block away.

* Site of Hoosier Dome/RCA Dome. The 60,000-seat building that, along with Bob Irsay's greed, made the move of the Colts to Indianapolis possible hosted only 24 seasons of NFL football, from 1984 to 2007. The building, whose name was changed in 1994, hosted 4 Final Fours: 1991 (Duke's 1st title, shocking defending champion UNLV and then beating Michigan's Fab Five), 1997 (Arizona's only title to date, over defending champion Kentucky), 2000 (Michigan State over Florida) and 2006 (Florida over UCLA).

The stadium was demolished in 2008, and its fabric roof was recycled to make hundreds of new products. An expansion of the Indiana Convention Center is now on the site. 100 S. Capitol Avenue at Georgia Street.

* Site of Market Square Arena. Home of the Pacers from 1974 to 1999, this 16,530-seat arena had a weird egg shape, possibly the result of a Seventies-inspired drug haze. It also hosted minor-league hockey, and the World Hockey Association's Indianapolis Racers from 1974 to 1979. This was the first major league team of Wayne Gretzky.
It also hosted the NCAA Final Four in 1980 (Louisville over UCLA), and what turned out to be Elvis Presley's last concert, on June 26, 1977. 300 E. Market Street at Alabama Street.

The closest NHL team to Indianapolis is the Columbus Blue Jackets, 174 miles away. The Chicago Blackhawks are a little further away, 184 miles.

* Hinkle Fieldhouse. Formerly Butler Fieldhouse, and renamed for longtime basketball coach Tony Hinkle, this gym was built for Butler University in 1928, and has hosted countless Indiana basketball memories, including the State high school championships. Most notably, it hosted the 1954 Final, which saw Milan defeat Muncie Central, inspiring the film Hoosiers, which filmed on the same court and used the original announcers. (Milan had also been to the Final 2 years earlier, with some of the same players, so while it was an upset, it wasn't like Milan was a total unknown. An underdog, yes; a tremendous longshot, no.)
The NBA team known first as the Indianapolis Jets, and then as the Indianapolis Olympians, played there from 1948 to 1953, but the 1951 collegiate point-shaving scandal implicated some of its players (who had also played in the 1948 Olympics, hence the name change), and doomed them to the trashcan of history. And after the Fort Wayne Pistons moved to Detroit in 1957, not until the 1976 ABA-NBA merger would another NBA team play in the most basketball-crazy State of all.
Seating 15,000 at its peak (a sellout of which at the 1987 Pan American Games becoming, to this day, the largest crowd ever to attend a volleyball match in America), modernizations, including wider seats, have reduced capacity to 10,000. But it still stands, and is one of the oldest remaining buildings to have hosted one of the 4 major sports leagues in North America. 510 W. 49th Street, north of downtown. Number 28 bus, then walk west on 49th from Illinois Street to Rookwood Avenue.

* Fairgrounds Coliseum. Opening in 1939 as part of the Indiana State Fair complex, this was the Pacers' first home, from 1967 to 1974. It was their home when they won the American Basketball Association Championship in 1970, 1972 and 1973. It still stands, and now hosts the Indianapolis Fuel minor-league hockey team. 1202 E. 38th Street, northeast of downtown. Number 39 bus.
Indiana University is in Bloomington, 50 miles to the southwest. Purdue University is in West Lafayette, 68 miles to the northwest. And the University of Notre Dame, easily more popular in Indianapolis than either IU or PU, is in South Bend, 149 miles to the north.

* Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The most famous building in the State of Indiana, and the largest sports facility in the world, has nothing to do with basketball or football or baseball. It's the home of the Indianapolis 500, held there every year (usually on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend) since 1911 (except for the World War years: 1917, '18, '42, '43, '44 and '45).

The track opened in 1909, and has spread the name of the city all over the world, as drivers from as far away as Britain (Dan Wheldon and Dario Franchitti), Brazil (Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan), Australia (Scott Dixon) and Colombia (Juan Pablo Montoya) have won the 500 in recent years.
The permanent seating capacity of "The Old Brickyard" is 257,325. Infield seating can push it to over 400,000 -- and the Indy 500 sells out every year. Although the mailing address is "4790 W. 16th Street, Speedway, Indiana 46222," it's within the city limits of Indianapolis, 5 miles northwest of downtown. Number 25 bus.

* Michael Carroll Stadium. This is the home of the Indy Eleven, of the new version of the North American Soccer League, the 2nd division of North American soccer. It sets 12,111. 1001 W. New York Street, a mile west of downtown. There is no bus service there. The nearest MLS team is the Columbus Crew, 178 miles away. The Chicago Fire are 183 miles away.

* Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument. Standing 284 1/2 feet high at the geographic center of the City and the State, this tower was dedicated in 1902, commemorating the Indiana military personnel of the recent Spanish-American War, the American Civil War, the Mexican-American War, the frontier conflicts that were a part of the War of 1812 (which produced several battles in Indiana), and the American capture of Vincennes from the British during the War of the American Revolution. During the holiday season, it is decorated like a Christmas tree. (If that sounds sacrilegious, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the considerably shorter Civil War Monument is turned into an artificial Christmas tree, and nobody objects.) Monument Circle, at Meridian & Market Streets.

The tallest building in the State of Indiana is the Chase Tower, with a roof 700 feet high and spires rising to 830 feet. 111 Monument Circle.

Indianapolis is not big on museums. The best-known is the Indiana State Museum, at a complex that includes the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. Washington & West Streets, downtown. Number 8 bus if you don't feel like walking.

William Henry Harrison, 9th President of the United States and former Territorial Governor (died just 1 month after his 1841 Inauguration), and his grandson, Benjamin Harrison, 23rd President (1889-1893), both lived in Indiana (as did Abraham Lincoln as a boy). But Grouseland, the house of "Old Tippecanoe," is 130 miles away in Vincennes. The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site is just north of downtown, at 1230 N. Delaware Street. Number 19 bus.

Only 3 TV shows are known to have been set in Indianapolis. Close to Home and the U.S. version of the British hit Men Behaving Badly are best forgotten. But the CBS sitcom One Day at a Time, which aired from 1975 to 1984, and starred Bonnie Franklin and launched Mackenzie Phillips and Valerie Bertinelli to stardom, was groundbreaking: It was not only the first TV show to show a divorced single mother (rather than a widowed one), but it actually made Indianapolis seem like a fun place to be.

Movies set in Indianapolis are also rare. Some early scenes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind were set there, before moving out to the iconic Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming. Last year, the cult hit The Fault In Our Stars was set there, but filmed in Pittsburgh.


Indiana is the most basketball-crazy State of them all. That love of the game extends to the Pacers, though success has been in short supply for them.

But New Yorkers love their basketball, too, and memories of past Knicks-Pacers games will keep this rivalry fresh. Enjoy yourself, but don't rub it in if you win.

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