The red, blue and white sign above the modest storefront on East 38th Street in Indianapolis reads: HOME OF HOOSIER HYSTERIA PROFESSIONAL STYLE. Lest an out-of-state passerby think the place is a center for crazy psychiatrists or deranged dentists, a smaller sign saying INDIANA PACERS also hangs above the sidewalk. Indianans themselves need no such translation to understand that the little building is the home office of their American Basketball Association team. In their special thesaurus, hysteria is a synonym for basketball in its unique Hoosier form, a form which brings the game out of the gym to kitchens, dens and bars and lends it vitality long after the echo of the last dribble of the night has died.
Indiana's love affair with basketball has lasted 50 years and more. It remains the abiding interest of country crossroads, towns and cities; it is the fulcrum of wintertime social life around which cocktails are drunk, dinners celebrated, romances begun and marriages made happier. This life-style was once reserved for high school and college games, but during the ABA's five-year history the citizens of Indianapolis have transferred much of their affection over to the Pacers. Their nights for dining, drinking and dancing are now often fixed months in advance, predetermined by the little yellow blocks on the Pacers' schedule that denote home dates.
Last Saturday night's game in Indianapolis was surrounded by typical heartiness, pro style. Tom Lugar (his brother Dick is mayor of Indianapolis) and his wife Sally invited five couples over for pregame drinks and dinner. A few blocks away in the same affluent northeastern section of the city Janet Carr, whose architect husband Mike designed their spacious, five-bedroom home, threw an open house for 20 or so friends after the game. Meanwhile, younger, single people assembled at Neto's, the bar owned by Pacer Forward Bob Netolicky, or headed for the outskirts of town to Never on Friday, the private nightclub where the lighting is bad, the beer costs $2.25 a pitcher and local rock jock Reb Porter does not even bother to get the discoth�que really rolling until after the game is over.
But Saturday's enthusiasm also had an extra edge, elevating the whole affair to, say, the level of pandemonium because the Pacers were playing the Utah Stars in this year's seventh smash showing of what has become the newest—and best—traditional old rivalry in the pros. Since the Stars added Zelmo Beaty to their roster and moved to Salt Lake City at the start of last season, Utah and Indy have played 26 games. After the Pacers' 119-113 victory Saturday, each had won 13 of them—and the average difference in scoring per game between the two teams was 0.81 points in favor of the Stars. Last season they met 19 times. Utah won 10, the extra victory coming in the seventh game of the divisional playoffs, a contest that might still be going on had not the Stars somehow managed to shoot 74% in the third quarter. They needed every one of those baskets to pull off a seven-point win. Memories of that game are particularly bitter to Pacer fans because, although Indiana had led the Western Division by a slim one-game edge during the regular season, the playoff loss prevented the Pacers from a shot at winning their third consecutive league championship. And as if that were not enough to push things toward pandemonium, the first six Indiana-Utah games this season certainly added the fuel. Each team won three games, and four of them were decided by three points or less.
"Even though Kentucky is our real natural rival I know my friends have built up a bigger hate for the Stars," says Pacer President Chuck DeVoe. "They really feel it for Utah's Willie Wise because of the battles he has with our Roger Brown. They appreciate Wise's defense; they respect him as a player. He's sort of the guy they love to hate."
"They're a great team, you gotta admit that," said 30-year-old salesman Dave Scott, gulping down another beer at the Never on Friday. "But we hate their butts. The city of Indianapolis hates their butts."
Rarely have two professional teams matched players position for position as closely as the Stars and Pacers. At center Indiana's 6'9" Mel Daniels, quick and springy, plays Utah's 6'9" muscular and crafty Beaty. Last season Daniels edged Zelmo for the ABA's Most Valuable Player award. At one forward modestly mod 6'9" Netolicky faces 6'8" Red Robbins. At the other forward Indiana's 6'5" Brown, a master of one-on-one offense, used to match up with 6'6" Wise, superb at one-on-one defense. When Brown shifted to guard a few weeks back, it seemed that his battles with Wise would be over, but when the Stars took the floor in Indianapolis Saturday, there was Willie playing guard on defense.
Even the addition of talented new players has not seemed to disrupt the fine balance between the Pacers and Stars. Utah's backcourt is now led by Jimmy Jones, a heady floorman and defender. Indiana countered by signing 6'8" Indiana University dropout George McGinnis, a 21-year-old, 235-pound strongman of surprising speed. The dimensions of McGinnis' physical skills can best be measured in that maneuver the pros call "taking the baseline." One of the most effective one-on-one tactics, it requires both speed and strength as the offensive player moves from the wing to the basket by curling an arc down the sideline and then along the baseline to the goal. "You've gotta have some quickness to get a step on your man when you first start your drive," explains McGinnis. "Then you have to be strong and block with your body to make sure your man doesn't head you off when you make your turn along the baseline. You gotta be pretty strong, too, when you get to the basket—because by that time the big guys on the other team have seen you coming and they're all on their way to stop you." McGinnis is already better than most pro forwards at this play—so good, in fact, that several times against Utah he seemed to have bulldozed a freeway to the basket even though the Stars were aware that this is one of his favorite moves.
Wise, who scored his professional high of 44 points in the game, had other evidences of McGinnis' strength. While Willie mauled the rest of the Pacers he was held without a shot for nine minutes in the second quarter when McGinnis guarded him—and Wise scored only four points against McGinnis in the final 6:12 of the game. In the first 5:48 of the fourth quarter the other Pacers attempting to stop Wise allowed him to score 21 points. In the pros defenders are permitted to put their hands on the men they guard, but cannot hinder the movement of the offensive player without drawing a foul. According to Wise the apparently congenial laying on of hands by McGinnis packs such heavy muscle that even though the referees cannot detect anything illegal, the offensive player feels as if he has a collapsed lung whenever he tries to go in a direction other than the one McGinnis has chosen for him. "The refs think I'm just putting my hand up against a guy—that I'm barely touching him—but really I'm putting the pressure on him and they can't see it," says McGinnis, who also was an All-America football lineman in high school. To which Wise adds, "The man's just too strong to be playing basketball."
Until three weeks ago, when Brown moved to guard, making room in the starting lineup for McGinnis, this years Pacer-Star games were beginning to look like merely a few good evenings of entertainment to spice up a runaway by Utah in the West. While the Stars were out setting a few dandy little ABA records (such as the one for the most consecutive road wins), Indiana was crippled by injuries and once dropped eight games behind in the standings. Eventually the Pacers began to believe that divine forces were against them when Captain Freddie Lewis, the key to the team's fast break, missed two games with a leg injury. Why did he miss two games? Well, his car was broad-sided at an intersection by a car driven by a nun.