INDIANAPOLIS – The emotion and passion from the leaders of Indiana’s two major professional sports league has been quite evident this week.
First, it was Colts GM Chris Ballard sharing how the Colts have put football on the backburner this week. On Friday, it was Pacers President Kevin Pritchard, holding back tears while sharing real stories from his team of social injustice.
Here is what Pritchard had to say:
-Opening statement: “Today, I want to talk about something that is a little bit more challenging (than basketball) for me to talk about. And truly, I’m getting out of my comfort zone. I’m mad at myself. But at the end of the day, I want to be part of the solution and I want to the Pacers to be a part of the solution. Right now, I’m angered and pained to see the images of racism in our country. The core of all humanity should be love and peace for one another and not violence and prejudices. The horror of George Floyd’s death was incredible. I can’t imagine if that was a family member. I was just on the phone with Steve Kerr. Steve and I have a lot of things in common. We played college basketball (together) got into the pros and competed against each other. He gave me some great advice and some of the things that are sticking with me right now. Our league is a great league. And it’s a league that has many different backgrounds, race, color, nationality, all kinds of backgrounds. Putting all those differences aside to try and come together, and achieve a goal as one is something I think we do really well. Within the Pacers organization, we believe in 3 Ts—togetherness, toughness and trust. And every single day, we try to bring people together. While it’s very difficult to win in this league, it’s not difficult to treat each other equally. It really isn’t hard of a task. And the fact that some of the individuals can’t do this is very painful. Black lives matter. Social injustice is happening. Police brutality is awful and we are seeing it in the black communities. And we can’t have that. I’m part of white. It’s been easy being white. And I’m talking to all these people, David West, Carl Nix, Nate McMillan and I’m seeing how they’ve had to live and it’s very difficult seeing my friends having to live that way. So we have to be part of the solution. One of the things we did hear recently was have a townhall meeting—(Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon, Pacers guard T.J. McConnell, Fever player Erica Wheeler, Fever GM Tamika Catchings). It was the most powerful hour I’ve ever had in my entire life. They talked with raw emotion about what they are going through and how their lives have been and what their day-to-day lifes look like. It was awful to hear, awful to hear. I want to personally thank someone from the bottom of my heart, publicly, not privately, publicly, and that is when Erica spoke she broke down, she cried. From what I know, little of her, she gives back so much to her community. We as a society, we as the Pacers, me personally, has to do something. One of the things that I’m most concerned about is that in the short-term we get all excited about this and we come together. We have to make societal changes. It’s not just on us. Malcolm has been unbelievable. I’ve talked to Malcolm every day through this. He’s been unbelievable saying there’s systemic issues and that we all have to get behind and chip away at it. We all have to educate ourselves. We are all going to have to do a lot better. I truly felt all their pain during that call. I can tell you this, we have their backs. We will do more with (Pacers Sports & Entertainment). I think there’s some things we’ve done okay and I think there’s some things we haven’t and we have to do much, much better for our communities moving forward. I think one of the positives I’m seeing and feeling right now is I’m watching and talking to Malcolm Brogdon every day. He is a superstar. He’s not a star. He’s a superstar. When I first met him after we signed him, I walked out of the first meeting and said, ‘That guy is a president. He is truly a president.’ What he is doing in the community, I think this organization is so proud. We are watching him and his platform is growing, and he wants it, and that’s something we can get behind. I feel like we can do a couple of things. I think first of all, we can learn, we can listen and then we can take actions with our brothers. I’m extremely proud to stand next to our Coach, extremely proud. Nate (McMillan) and I joke sometimes, we argue like brothers. We disagree about things and then we get mad at each other, and we don’t talk to each other for a week. But him and I have a saying together and it’s been pretty powerful, we agree, we disagree and then we unite. That seems to hit me as hard as anything. I’m really proud of the guys in our locker room. They’ve expressed a desire to be part of the solution and I stand here today ready to listen, learn and take action. And this is our younger generation. Our younger generation is so powerful right now, Malcolm (Brogdon), Myles (Turner), Justin (Holiday), Aaron (Holiday), the Fever players, they are so powerful right now. And we need to listen and let them lead and then we can be a part of the solution. I know I have a lot of ideas. I know this is not easy. This is out of my comfort zone but I am going to get out of my comfort zone. I’m mad at myself because I haven’t seen this. I’ve been ignorant to this. I’ve had best buddies who I’ve been African American with, who I’ve spent every day practicing, playing basketball, playing outdoors and was unaware. I want to end by saying this, I had a long conversation today with one of our scouts, he’s a local scout. He’s truly a great human being (gets choked up). He told me of a story that he doesn’t feel comfortable going to the grocery store. I’ve never had that problem and my white privilege makes me feel guilty. So I’m going to do everything I can possible to help this person feel good in any community and I promise you we are not sitting idly. We are not thinking short-term. We are thinking long-term and we want to be a pillar to this community. We need to be the first. We need to shout out loud and be next to our brothers and I guarantee you, if you need someone to listen, to learn and take action with, we have it. Malcolm Brogdon is incredible. Myles is incredible. We have those people and I’m so proud of them. Emotions are very raw right now. We are all having these very raw emotions, but Nate said it the best to me. He said, ‘You know you have a good heart. You know when people don’t. Your job is to stand by, to listen, to learn and then activate next to people. When you see it, call it out. So we are going to do that. We are going to do that to the best of our ability and we are going to stand up for what’s right.”
-On any talks about the actions the Pacers players will take: “We talk with the team all the time. We do Zoom meetings every week, multiple times, at times, and we see the dialogue and issue. Myles has said today with me that he’s more encouraged today than ever because he read about the LA police and they are giving $150 million back into their communities. I think what Malcolm wants to do is get back here, get together, talk about exactly what they want and have an action plan together. I think it’s difficult through this COVID that it’s difficult bring people together. We tried with Zoom. But Zoom is still not together. You feel it. But you don’t really feel it. I know the guys want to come together. I know they want to talk as a group to government officials, like our mayor, like our governor. I think that’s a great first step. Malcolm is really big on one thing right now. He’s challenged me and everybody in our organization and that is, educate ourselves, educate on what’s really going on and what’s really happening in our communities. Listen to them when they say, Myles had a recent, and it wasn’t in Indianapolis, was pulled off and was with a couple of African Americans and as the cop approached, he was shaking in his car. He was shaking in his car. Yeah, I get nervous when the police pull me over. I’m not shaking. I know that I’m going home that day. They don’t know if they are going home, or if something bad is going to happen. That’s what we all have to change. There are times for me to when I have to lead. I feel like I’m a servant leader. There are times when I feel like I have to shut the hell up and listen to these men, to these men who want to lead, want to get out in front. So the best thing I can do is listen to Malcolm, listen to Victor, listen to T.J. The thing that I know more than anything else in this, and I give credit to (general manager Chad Buchanan, assistant general manager Kelly Krauskopf, vice president of basketball operations Peter Dinwiddie and Nate McMillan), as much as we possibly can, we choose great humans to represent the Pacers, and let’s let them shine right now, more than ever, more than the basketball. Let’s let Erica shine. Let’s let Malcolm shine. It’s a beautiful thing. And that’s what will allow this community to grow, because that’s what has to happen. This community and this state has to grow. And I’m watching. I’m taking Malcolm’s cues and there could be no better person for me right now than Malcolm. We were lucky to sign him.”
–On Pritchard’s reaction when he saw the video of George Floyd’s death: “I watched it with my family first and we watched it one other time together. I think I saw pure evil. I saw something that was so f-ing vile, that is hard to explain in words. Because if you can ever imagine that would be a family member, or a friend, or one of my teammates in college, or one of my teammates in the NBA. To me it was vile. Then I’m sad. I’m sad. On one hand, I’m a positive person. And I want to take something positive from this and I want to take it that we have an opportunity in this community. I can’t effect what happens in Minneapolis, as much as I can here. I want our community to be better. If I can be a little help. There’s a saying in basketball, ‘help the helper.’ I want to help Malcolm, I want to help Myles, I want to help T.J. Warren. I want to help Justin. I think that’s my biggest thing. What can we do to listen and to help as much as possible and not make this is a sprint. It’s not about today or tomorrow and then we go away. I heard a story from Nate that he was scared to drive through a few states. And I said, ‘Nate, this doesn’t go away, and this doesn’t succeed until you tell me that I drove through a state and I wasn’t scared. It might not happen in generation. It may happen with our kids. I live downtown and I’m seeing what’s going on and it’s all different races that is protesting and I think that’s the most beautiful thing about it. Our youth can get us through this. I truly believe that.”
-On the Pacers organization: “I think you are going to see a completely new Pacers organization. And if we are not, hold us accountable. That’s the difference. We are willing to be held accountable and we want it. Because if we do it, if we are the pillar of this community, with the Colts, with the Fever, we have the pillar. I keep telling Malcolm every day, ‘We are giving you the pillar, we are listening to you. You do it and we’ve got your freakin’ back…in our conversations, (Owner) Herb and (son) Steve Simon has been completely moved, floored, emotional, and ready to do whatever is right for the community first, so I feel an amazing amount of resources that can be put behind this, and an amazing amount of support from Herb and Stevie. Stevie is going to get his hands dirty. You are going to see it. He wants it. He spoke up at the Board of Governors and I heard it was incredible and told about our Town Hall meeting and said it moved him so much.”
-On the leadership of Malcolm Brogdon: “I trust him. And what I’m telling him every day is keep doing it, don’t stop. The problem is this, it’s an emotional toll. It’s an emotional toll on all of us. But we have to. I’m not good at conflict and I’m not good at telling people how to react on racial issues, but the thing that I’m telling Malcolm is, ‘This is your time to shine. Do it. We trust you. The organization trusts you. Steve and Herbie trust you. Do it. And we got your back.’”
-On the balance of getting back to basketball amidst all this chaos: “It’s a tough question. But I called Nate this morning and I said, ‘Nate, are we going to be looked upon as insensitive if we push basketball right now?’ Without missing a beat, his first response was, ‘What the world needs right now is a little bit of love and fun.’ So his reaction is let’s get back together. I think it’s important to get our team back together. We’ve been apart for so long. Zoom can only do so much and we are doing a lot of it. We are doing it multiple times a week. And literally, 90 percent of the conversations have nothing to do with basketball. And that’s okay. That’s what it is right now. I do believe there’s a time now where we got to get back because the world needs to see beautiful, graceful, wonderful sports, competitions. We live for it. And the bottom line is, it’s unites us. Sports unites us. Yeah, you can say when the Bulls and Pacers play it’s a little divisive. But as soon as the game is over, we all talk about it in a great way. It’s in a good way. And I think the world needs sports more than ever. That’s my opinion, coming from a biased, huge sports, particular basketball, junkie. I’m watching NASCAR right now. I’ve never watched NASCAR in my life. I just want to see good competition…We can come back and still work on our racial issues and police brutality and have beautiful basketball games. It’s not an OR, we can have both. So that’s the beauty of AND.”