When players act like cowboys

TrueHoop reader Neil is currently reading the book on the American Basketball Association -- Terry Pluto's hilarious and amazing Loose Balls -- and has made me aware of a relevant chapter from the Pacers' history. Some edited excerpts:

Pacers trainer Dave Craig: "The more those teams won, the wilder some of the guys got. In the early 1970s, [Mel] Daniels, [Roger] Brown, [George] McGinnis and some of the other guys started to think they were cowboys. Mel was from Detroit, but when he went to college in New Mexico, he got interested in horses. ... Then they started dressing like cowboys, and I'm not just talking about hats and boots. They wore pistols and holsters like something out of 'Gunsmoke.'"

Pacer Billy Keller: "We had a valuables bag where we stored our rings, watches, wallets and that kind of stuff. When those guys got on the cowboys kick, Dave Craig would open that valuables bag and you'd see a couple of holsters and 6-shooters right in there with all the wallets and watches. A couple of times, I walked into the dressing room and there were Mel and Roger, pulling pistols on each other like it was the O.K. Corral. They never shot at each other, but they waved the guns around, sometimes even wrestled with each other on the floor."

Craig: "These guys were playing 'Cowboys' as if they were kids. They would hide behind corners, or climb on top of the locker, draw their guns and do the 'Bang, bang, you're dead' routine. Finally, I told [Pacers head coach] Slick [Leonard], 'We've got to get these guns out of the dressing room before somebody gets hurt.' Slick thought the whole thing was pretty funny and said, 'Nah, those guys are using guns that aren't loaded.' But one day, the guys were messing around and one of the guns went off. Thank God no one was hurt, but then we had to pass a rule that if you brought your gun to the game, you had to check it at the dressing room door."

Pacer Bob Netolicky: "People who didn't know us thought our locker room was a little spooky, what with all the guns hanging on the wall. I mean, you'd walk into our dressing room and run into Mel Daniels holding a .45 -- it makes you wonder."

Pacers legal counsel Dick Tinkham: "As owners of the team, we wondered if the guys were getting out of hand with all the cowboy stuff, but then we said, 'Hey, we're winning. The fans loved them. We don't care what they do as long as they play hard and don't shoot each other.'"

Neil, quite reasonably concludes "My how times have changed!" in noting the stern reactions to tales of much milder stuff from Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton.

There are a few differences. One is that the world sure feels like a more dangerous place now, doesn't it? In a world of Al Qaeda, weapns in crowded public places are less funny than ever. Also, the media is pervasive now -- these episodes are tough to hide from the public, which means even children are learning about them in more or less real time.

Maybe a bigger point is that the people who run the NBA now are far more business savvy, and factor in the dollars lost when fans grow fearful of players.

If you were in the NBA's offices in New York, and reading the passage above, you might also reasonably conclude: "The ABA, isn't that the league that went out of business?" The NBA does things differently, and in so doing have been a little heavy handed, but also wholly successful.