Lance Stephenson — face of the Pacers’ new era

A little more than three months ago, Lance Stephenson was on his couch in Brooklyn rehabbing an ankle injury. He had just come off a part-time, non-guaranteed job — a 10-day contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

He began the 2016-17 season with New Orleans. Played six games, needed surgery to repair a torn groin (ouch!), and was waived. Then, he joined Minnesota on a 10-day contract. Played six games, suffered a grade II ankle sprain, and did not get another contract.

Stephenson longed to get back to Indiana. During his rehab, his representatives checked in with the Pacers each month to see if the time was right.

“Man I could fit in so well right now,” he kept thinking…

Stephenson, meanwhile, caught as many Pacers games as he could. He missed Indiana … “home,” as he calls it. He had sold the house from his first stint, but he still had plenty of roots and good friends in Indy. It’s where he grew up and where he earned his first paycheck. He stayed in touch with ex-teammates via text and video games.

Then in late April, Stephenson’s iPhone rang. (Despite leaving Indianapolis in 2014, he had kept his 317 number.)

“‘Hey, Lance … you ready?’

“I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m Born Ready. Don’t every ask me am I ready.’ So I got the call and I’m like, ‘I’m going back home?’ I was so excited.”

From 2014: Examining the Lance Stephenson Era

Fast-forward to the end of July. To the near-west side of Indianapolis on a warm summer day. The Pacers were set show off their new branding, which included new uniforms, court design, and secondary logo.

The first player to take center stage was Stephenson. Then four others joined him.

Finally, the much-anticipated Nike uniforms were unveiled — first on video — and Stephenson served as the model.

With so much roster turnover, just six guys remain from last year, Stephenson was the face of this new campaign. Which says a lot about both Stephenson and the Pacers.

“It feels awesome,” Stephenson says of his new circumstances. “I’ve been working really hard and I can’t wait ’til this season starts. I’m just happy.”

As Lance says, “The fans love Born Ready.”

Although he has an endorsement deal with AND-1, you would think he’s with Nike for how much praise he gave to the new uniforms.

Like they’re so light that “I feel like I got nothing on,” which led to laughter from the half-dozen media members surrounding him.

Stephenson, by the way, is on an offseason health kick. He’s dropped six pounds and intends to lose seven more.

“I’m almost there,” he said. “The game is changing. Everybody is quick, everybody is explosive running up and down. The game has definitely changed and I need to fit into that category.”

The other real option to promote the uniforms would have been 21-year-old Myles Turner, who has been in the league for two seasons. At this point, he’s the only one seemingly guaranteed a starting position for 2017-18, but Pacers officials also don’t want to put too much pressure and responsibility on Turner just yet, despite him being mature beyond his years.

Lance is electric, he’s captivating. You don’t want to turn away. His number one strength and number one weakness is the same: His emotion.

“When Lance came back last year at the end of the season, he really gave a jolt of energy not just to the team, but also to the fan base,” Todd Taylor, the Chief Marketing Officer of the Pacers, said. “I think it’s interesting, there were differentiating opinions from both sides earlier on, but I think like all of us in like, when you have a little bit of perspective and distance, you find out that this is where you should have been all along. We love the edge that he brings, the energy. He’s been great in the community, he’s been great for us.”

Glenn Robinson III, who is from Gary, Indiana, understood all the love for Born Ready.

“It’s crazy,” said teammate Glenn Robinson III. “I told him that earlier. I said, ‘No matter where you go in Indiana, you’re always loved.’ These people love him, like right now.

“That’s what I love about his game and really respect about him. Every day he comes in with that amount of intensity.”

Playing in six regular season games last spring, Stephenson provided the Pacers with a much-needed jolt of energy to an otherwise stale locker room. True team chemistry was absent all season. For whatever reason, and perhaps it was too many guys with a similar personality, they never clicked.

With Stephenson and a late-season surge by Paul George, the Pacers won their final five regular-season games to secure a playoff spot.

“We all know Lance is crazy,” Kevin Pritchard said in May after being promoted to president of basketball operations. “When we met with him, he was so hungry to get back here. And he was so appreciative to be back at the place where he had success. I think everybody felt the lightning bolt that came back into the arena when he stepped onto the court.

“We don’t make the playoffs if Paul doesn’t amp his game up the last six weeks and we don’t sign Lance.”

What the Pacers gave to Stephenson was confidence. Like none of the other five teams he suited up for, the Pacers allowed Lance to be Lance. Take the good with the bad, support him through and through, and allow for him to play with the ball.

“When your teammates believe in you and the organization believes in you, the game becomes easy,” Stephenson said after signing a three-year deal to return.  “… When you got a coach that is behind you and an organization that is behind you like that, you get your confidence back.”

Across social media, there had been a push to bring Lance back. To bring him home. I must have received a question about him at least once a week. He had hoped for it to happen last summer, to no avail.

Stephenson, the acting face of the franchise, is a good lesson on two fronts: Don’t leave a good thing, and be persistent. It ultimately paid off.

“During the whole process, all of the Pacers fans were like, “Man, forget that team. Come here.’ So the whole time, Pacers fans were on me. ‘You’re going to come back, don’t worry. Just get through this year, you’ll come back.

“And I’m here.”

3 Responses to Lance Stephenson — face of the Pacers’ new era
  1. […] almost there,” he told Scott Agness of Vigilant Sports. “The game is changing. Everybody is quick, everybody is explosive running up and down. The game […]

  2. Michael L Bradbury
    August 2, 2017 | 8:56 am

    LOL, you said Lance is the face of the Pacers, LOL.
    You know he’s been dumped by 3 teams right?

    • Scott Agness
      August 2, 2017 | 3:21 pm

      Correct. I explained all of that above. And the Pacers showed that he’s the face of the team right now by using him for their new branding campaign. Their decision.

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