Even die-hard basketball fans can fall in love. Whether it's with your wife, a long-term girlfriend, or just the Lieutenant Uhuru-shaped plush doll you bought at that last Star Trek convention, most of us have experienced the burning desire to be a part of something bigger and better than ourselves.

It's that very same sense of hopeless longing that inspires us to follow a our favorite sports team, even in the worst of times. But, as with any love affair, the fan-to-team relationship can be a double-edged razor blade that slits the wrists of your hopes and dreams. Your girlfriend may be the bootylicious goddess of your darkest fantasies, but she might also hate your friends and throw your porn collection in the trash. So yeah, you can love someone or something without necessarily loving everything about them.

And so we continue to rip on our most hated former Pacers.

A legend in his own mind
by The Almost Fan

Chuck Person was supposed to be a savior of sorts for the Indiana Pacers. After a relatively distinguished career at Auburn (in which he averaged almost 20 points and 8 rebounds a game over four seasons), he was selected fourth overall in the first round of the 1986 NBA Draft. He came out gangbusters that first year, averaging 18.8 points and 8.3 rebounds a game, winning the 1987 Rookie of the Year award, and leading the Pacers to a more-than-respectable 41-41 record...a 15-win improvement over the previous year's dismal 26-56 campaign. Considering that he was chosen after other more well-known college phenoms like Brad Daugherty and Len Bias (who died less than 48 hours after getting drafted by the Celtics), he far exceeded anyone's expectations for him.

But here's the problem: he never got any better.

All things being equal, the Pacers should have improved drastically over the next few years, what with Person and the infusion of quality players like Reggie Miller, Detlef Schrempf, and Rik Smits. Instead, they just got progressively worse, going 38-44 and then 28-54 in the two seasons following Chuck's rookie year. The light began to shine during the 1989-90 season when the team finally racked up a winning recod (42-40), but they were promptly swept out of the playoffs by the eventual champion Detroit Pistons. In that series, Person averaged 13.3 points per game while shooting 37 percent from the field, including a horrific 1-10 from beyond the arc (his supposed specialty). It wasn't just the Piston defense, either; he hit only 41 percent of his freethrows too.

Bird and PersonThe team took a step back in 1990-91, winning only 41 games. But they snuck into the playoffs as the seventh seed and pushed a much better Celtics team to the limit, losing in the final seconds of game 5 by the score of 124-121. That series was Chuck Person at his absolute best. He led the team with 26 points per game, shooting 53 percent from the field and an amazing 54 percent from downtown. He even improved on his notoriously bad freethrow shooting, hitting 81 percent from the charity stripe. Every game, even the losses, seemed to feature some incredible feat by Person -- ridiculous fade-away rainbow shots, three-pointers in the face of tenacious defenders, improbable 35-foot bombs to beat the buzzer -- highlighted by Game 2 in which he scored 39 points and hit on a then-record seven three-pointers. Chuck abused Larry Bird throughout the series, talking trash and announcing to the media that he, Chuck Conners Person, was now the "greatest basketball player in the world." It took a truly legendary peformance from Bird, who returned from a concussion in Game 5, to hold the Pacers and Person off down the stretch.

Big things were expected from the Pacers in 1991-92, but they regressed again, going 40-42 and drawing the Celtics in the first round for the second year in a row. The Celtics were without Bird and starting point guard Dee Brown, but the Pacers couldn't capitalize and got swept. The general consensus was that the Pacers were the better team but they either underachieved, or choked, or both. In truth, the Pacers biggest problem was Person, who averaged only 17 points on 40 percent shooting. He had guaranteed a victory before each game, but except for a 32-point outburst in Game 2, he simply didn't produce. What's more, his rebounding and defense were atrocious: he averaged only 3 rebounds while his Celtics' counterpart, Kevin Gamble, lit him up for 21 points and 6 boards a game.

By the time the final horn sounded in that series, Chuck had come to symbolize everything that was wrong with the Pacers. He didn't play defense. He didn't post up or take it strong to the hoop, which meant he rarely got to the line. And even when he did get fouled, it was usually a wash since he was a below-average freethrow shooter. His rebounding dropped dramatically after his rookie year, falling from 8.3 in 1986-87 to only 5.3 in 1991-92. Moreoever, he seldom showed the drive and effort it takes to succeed in the NBA. He didn't dive for loose balls, he didn't take charges, and many times he seemed to sleepwalk through entire games, unless he was facing a superstar like Bird, Charles Barkley, or Michael Jordan. Unless he had a compelling one-on-one matchup "worthy" of him, he just didn't seem to care.

To top it all off, Chuck like to talk. A lot. He talked junk to everybody: opposing players and coaches, referees, ball boys, even his own teammates sometimes. To make it even worse, he particularly delighted in doing this on the road, which usually fired up the other team and their crowd. And who knows how many games his lackadaisical attitude and overactive jawbone cost the Pacers over the years? Not surprisingly, Chuck was traded to Minnesota before the 1992-93 season. And while he still had a couple productive seasons left in him, that was pretty much the death knell of his career. And the Pacers? The post-Person era has been kind to them. Within three years of his departure, the Pacers had back-to-back 50-win seasons and made it to the 7th game of the Eastern Conference Finals twice. They've been a top-tier team ever since, even though Ron Artest has tried to single-handedly destroy the franchise.

And so ends the Story of Chuck, my least favorite Pacer. He was best known as "The Rifleman," and he lived up to that nickname, leaving the NBA in pretty much the same way he entered it: as a man capable of incredible displays of long-distance shooting and little else. What a waste.
Blogger Basketbawful said...
I have to defend the Rifleman, I own his gd jersey for pete's sake.

Sure, he was inconsistent at times and got his ass handed to him in the playoffs, but...

1. "never got any better" Admittedly, Person never had much upside development-wise. He wasn't very athletic and this became obvious over time. He couldn't get to the cup or block shots or stop the dribble, and his rebounding numbers got worse every year. But Chuck had his 2 best scoring years in '89 and '90, his 3rd and 4th years in the league. His scoring dipped because Reggie, Rik, Detlef came into their own.

2. Pacers regressed and went 28-54 in '89. Pacers lost both Steve Stipanovich and Wayman Tisdale that year, but went 17-15 after the Herb Williams-Detlef Schrempf trade. Person averaged a nearly 22 ppg that year, this was hardly his fault.

3. "To top it all off, Chuck like to talk" ...and that's why we loved him! His misplaced overconfidence gave Pacers fans hope when we had little reason to have any. He'll always be remembered in Indiana as the guy that refused to back down from Larry Bird.

4. "shooting and little else" In his worst year (92) Chuck averaged nearly 5 assists per game, the only forwards to top that were Bird and Scottie Pippen.

5. "What a waste" Everyone's entitled to an opinion, regardless of how wrong it is. But what do the people say? http://www.pacersdigest.com/forums/showthread.php?t=19113

What's shocking is that the Rifleman earned a 3 page hate-fest and George McCloud is left untouched.