The best Christmas gift a weary and downtrodden Indianapolis will receive is the start of the NBA season on Dec. 26, bringing a winning sports team back to the city after the most hapless season in Indianapolis Colts history.
Even non-fans should acknowledge that the Indiana Pacers have the ingredients of a good-to-great team this year. Their young lineup should have the stamina to weather a schedule that packs nearly an entire season's worth of games into five months. They may, in fact, have the most talented Pacers team in almost a decade.
Even if they didn't, though, the Pacers should still command the respect and loyalty of every resident of Indianapolis. It was the Pacers' successes in the early 1970s that led to the construction of Market Square Arena, which anchored the revitalization of downtown and showed that using pro sports as economic stimulus made good business sense.
With no Market Square, there might have been no Hoosier Dome, no Circle Centre Mall, certainly no Conseco Fieldhouse or Lucas Oil Stadium and probably no downtown renaissance. A generous soul might even credit the Pacers with saving downtown Indianapolis.
More than that, the Pacers have nurtured and honored their history and traditions. Conseco Fieldhouse is a living museum dedicated to the evolution of the Pacers from the mid-1960s until now, chock full of memorabilia from its humble beginnings in the American Basketball Association to the team's near-destruction in the Great Detroit Battle of 2004.
The Pacers have not yet won an NBA championship; playing in the same division as Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls didn't help; nor did the rise of the New York Knicks in the mid-1990s. The Los Angeles Lakers with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal derailed the team's only chance at a title in 2000.
But there have been enough exciting moments in the team's history to make up for that. Their ABA team, powered by the muscle of George McGinnis, the grace of Roger Brown and the scrappiness of Billy Keller, brought championship banners to the team's original home at the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum.
And no Pacers fan will ever forget Reggie Miller scoring eight points in the same number of seconds against the Knicks, or, even better, his shoving Michael Jordan out of the way and making a game-winning three.
Naming the Pacers' greatest player often leads to heated debate. Miller and McGinnis would top most lists. But the team's classiest player isn't up for debate. Clark Kellogg deserves that honor by acclamation. As a first-round pick out of Ohio State in 1982, he averaged a double-double and was on his way to a Hall of Fame career until knee problems forced his premature retirement.
He didn't have the skills of Jordan or the swagger of Bryant, but he had an understated grace and brilliance, a quiet determination that nobody who saw him play will ever forget. He almost never made a mental mistake on the court. He was a player's player, as poised and elegant as a 6-7 man can be.
For the past 22 years, he's been an analyst on Pacers television broadcasts and was even better behind the mic than he was as a player. He never made a mental mistake on the air, either. He was just simply the best pure analyst of the game in the business. He never hogged the mic and he always let the action on the court speak for itself.
Unlike many of his peers, Kellogg has always been a role model in his behavior and actions. A family man with a strong Christian faith, he's always led by example and never found himself in any personal scandal. Even when playing one-on-one with a trash-talking Barack Obama at the White House, as he did for CBS, he managed to be graceful, respectful and dignified.
If he ran for governor or senator from Indiana, he'd probably win. If personal morality and honesty were the qualifications, he'd definitely win.
Last week brought the sad news that he's stepping away from his broadcasting position with the team in order to devote his full attention to his job as vice president for player relations for the Pacers. It is a massive loss for the fans but a bonus for the team. The Pacers' young players will have a true role model and mentor available to guide and develop them.
For all his contributions to the franchise, and to allow the fans to show their appreciation for his nearly 30 years of service to the Pacers, his No. 33 jersey should be retired and a banner hoisted to the rafters, immortalizing him as one of the all-time greats on and off the court.
It would be a fitting tribute to the classiest man on one of the classiest franchises in sports. Meanwhile, it's time to play ball. Merry Christmas and go Pacers!