So many people have posted so many great thoughts after last night, I almost feel as if everything has been said. But, in a way, part of the reason for this forum is so that each of us can lay out our thoughts and so come to terms with our own feelings of joy and disappointment.
Nights like last night are really the reason why I can't imagine being anything other than a Pacers fan. For all of the emphasis on winning in our culture today, I still remember that one of the reasons for playing sports when I was growing up was to learn how to lose well. Like it our not, we all fail, and our reactions when we fail are the true mirrors of our character.
The final score did not indicate the reality of the game. Until Reggie's last shot failed to fall, the Pacers still had a chance - but once the game went back to two possessions it was all over. That was best - would you have wanted to have a last second shot take the season away like the Spurs did to Seattle?
In my heart, though, I knew the game was over as soon as the Pistons hit a 5 point lead the first time. Our offense just wasn't good enough to put us ahead a that point. As it became more obvious that this wasn't just my own natural pessimism, the tears filled my eyes. In the last two minutes, I lost it. A middle-aged man, sitting alone in a Phoenix hotel room, bawling like a baby over a game - not a game, really, but the fact that Reggie's chance to win ring was officially over.
I went through all the stages of grief in that few minutes. Anger - I cursed the rest of the team for not being good enough to get into the lane, I cursed the lack of Ron. Denial - I saw that last shot by Reggie to bring it within three and for a brief moment thought we might have another miracle in us. Bargaining - OK, well, I didn't have anything to bargain with, but go with the rest of the analogy here. Depression - why did a pending loss in the second round that we weren't supposed to even make it to hurt so much more than so many of the other critical losses in the past? Finally - acceptance.
Acceptance that was helped by the crowd reaction when Rick called the timeout to take Reggie out of the game. Acceptance that was helped by the actions of Larry Brown and the Pistons in honoring Reggie's last game. Acceptance that was helped by the realization that even in this loss Reggie went out on top of his game.
I watched the last minute of the game, I fired up the laptop to get to nba.com for the post-game conferences, I called my wife who told me that she and my daughter had also spnt the last minutes of the game crying.
I've told the story before of how I discovered my wife actually liked basketball after 7 years of marriage and having to watch games with the sound turned off because she couldn't stand the sound of the shoes the way they mic'ed the games. How I got tickets for the Pacers' very first appearance in the second round in Atlanta and asked if she wanted to come - out of marital duty, really, figuring she'd say no and I'd pass the extra ticket on to a buddy - and she said "of course". How she saw Reggie for the first time and fell in love with his shot. How she became such a dedicated Pacers fan that we travelled to opening night at Conseco Fieldhouse, to so many Thanksgiving night games, and to game after game when the Pacers appeared in the Basketball Hell that is Atlanta. How my stepchildren have slowly been indoctrinated into the cult as well.
Thanks, Reggie, for giving me another thing I can share with my family.
I jokingly asked my wife last night if she was still going to be a Pacers fan now that Reggie was gone. She laughed and said "of course".
I've been a fan from the beginning of the ABA days, so I won't be leaving any time soon. I was there before Reggie (in the "Dark Times") and expect to be there for years to come.
If an era is considered to be a major period in the life of a person or organization, then this is truly the end of an era. Not the end of the organization, certainly - in fact, even with Reggie gone I feel better about this team than I did about the Finals team that lost to LA in 2000 - but a line that will forever separate our memories into "back when Reggie was on the team" and "after Reggie retired."
It's an appropriate time to thank the team for playing the right way, the ownership for thinking the right way, and my fellow fans for cheering and believing the right way.
We'll have many more arguments in the months to come, but at the base of all our attitudes and opinions we are all still Pacers fans.
Now ... can we have a Forum gathering at Thanksgiving sometime so I can be there? Huh?