The last time I entered the Indiana Pacers’ locker room prior to last week was in early 2007. It only took a few minutes in that room on that night long ago to know one thing — the people inside it hated one another.
Those were the dysfunctional days of Jermaine O’Neal, Jamaal Tinsley, Steven Jackson, David Harrison and others who made up a toxic mix that helped bury the Pacers in the minds of those who once wholeheartedly supported them.
For me, a lifelong fan of the organization, the brief walk through that evening led me to not bother with the team in any capacity between then and when I moved away in 2008, something once inconceivable considering the access I had. With no Reggie Miller and no group character, I had better things to do.
I walked into the same room last week after Indiana’s 39-point demolition of Denver, and it was everything I hoped it would be. Gone were the looks of distrust and disdain directed from player to media, and player to player.
You could see these Pacers are a family.
Danny Granger was 23 the last time I saw him. He was drafted a month after Miller’s retirement, and was an unfortunate passenger on the crazy train that officially left the station before his arrival, on Nov. 19, 2004, in Detroit.
I’ll always remember standing next to Granger’s locker as he was asked about the team, and glancing over to Jackson, who glared at him with psychopathic-looking eyes, something you’d see out of a theatrical villain.
Last week, I asked Granger, now 30, about this locker room, and how it compared to those earlier in his career.
“We all pull for each other and want to see our teammates succeed,” Granger said. “We get along with each other, go to movies together, go bowling together, spend holidays together and that’s unique on an NBA team.”