For the first time since Danny Granger’s appearance in 2009, the Indiana Pacers have a representative in the NBA All-Star game. Roy “Big Dawg” Hibbert (as he now likes to be called) is averaging a near double-double with 14 points and 9.7 rebounds per contest. He’s the facilitator on offense with the ball usually starting in the post and distributed from there either to a slasher or a shooter on the perimeter. It’s served the Blue and Gold well as they’ve jumped out to a 21-and-12 record at the All Star Break…good enough for a four-seed in the East if the playoffs began today. While the All-Star nod is a terrific honor and one that Roy hopes won’t be his last…the big fella has to treat this weekend as one small step in a long journey. There have been countless players in years past that have treated the All-Star game as a destination…or (to use football terms) a “touchdown” instead of a “first down.” Jermaine O’Neal was one of the best players in franchise history. He’s fifth in career points in a Pacers uniform, sixth in rebounds, and first in blocks. He was the Most Improved Player in 2002, and a six-time NBA All-Star… But do you know what I remember most about Jermaine?? I recall Jermaine being absent in big games and his innate inability to lead or elevate the play of his teammates. I remember Jermaine scoring 30 points in game one of the 2002 postseason against New Jersey….then scoring a combined 38 points the next three games of the series. In 2003 Jermaine made a better effort to score, but never trusted his teammates enough to pass out of the post. He finished with four assists in six games in an early postseason exit against Boston. The Pacers had there moments with Jermaine as their “leader”…but those teams never reached their full potential. This is why when we reminisce about JO…his All-Star appearances are the last things that come to mind. Roy Hibbert can’t allow himself to head down that same path. He should enjoy every minute of his All-Star experience…and learn as much as he can from the other veterans and participating superstars. At the same time, his teammates need him to keep in mind what’s most important…and that’s the success of this Pacers franchise that needs him to develop into the leader he yearns to be. Participating is Sunday’s All-Star game should pale in comparison to the challenge of eliminating Joakim Noah and the Bulls or Dwight Howard and the Magic from postseason play should these teams meet in April or May. So congratulations big fella... We all look forward to seeing you and Paul George represent the city well in Orlando this weekend. But the best way to represent the city and the franchise is by finishing the regular season strong and raising hell come playoff time….where “real” stars are born.
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