Part of the shift, [outside marketing honcho Tom] Hirschauer said, is because many Pacers fans in this "conservative market" don't identify with the "hip-hop" culture some in the NBA have cultivated in recent years.That's why, this fall, the team's ads and billboards don't depict players. Instead, it's coach Jim O'Brien and sometimes, Hoosier legend and shaky GM Larry Bird. Henry suggested that race might be an issue here. To me, that seems pretty self-evident; for people who don't know about or follow "hip-hop culture," that phrase is basically a stand-in for "young African-Americans I don't understand."
But then, Mr. Abbott went on to ask whether these fans would feel the same way if they had LeBron James or Dwyane Wade--"hip-hop," but also huge basketball assets. Compare that with the Pacers, who are semi-shopping their franchise player, Jermaine O'Neal.
My take: What does it mean if it takes LeBron or Wade to make some people okay with "hip-hop?" Maybe something along the lines of the totally effing obvious "you've got to work harder to get praised as a black quarterback?" There's a middle ground between outright racism and supreme tolerance, and it's called a double standard. If Indianapolis only wants to see its (predominantly black) players if they're winning, you've got to ask why they don't feel that way about Larry Legend--who, after all, doesn't have the New Sheriff aura that O'Brien could claim. Bird has as much to do with the franchise's woes as Shawne Williams, but somehow hope springs eternal from him.