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Tyrese Haliburton explains his passion for WWE, looks forward to Fastlane in Indy
As the Pacers flew to Memphis, Haliburton stayed behind on Saturday so he could attend — and potentially participate — in the WWE event. Plus, camp notes.
As Tyrese Haliburton made the walk from the north east tunnel at Gainbridge Fieldhouse to center court to celebrate and discuss the maximum contract extension he had just signed with the Pacers on July 6th, the team had a special video playing.
It’s not very often that a player will stop in his tracks to soak it all in. But that’s what Haliburton did at one corner of the giant video board, which was lowered from the rafters to provide a significant backdrop that matched the commitment level for the moment.
Highlights of his season-plus with the Pacers were played over the top of Triple H’s “The Game” theme song for WWE. This was a franchise demonstrating that they know the player beyond his on-court contributions.
“That was crazy, huh,” he said afterward. “I laughed about it. I enjoyed that, that was funny.”
The WWE is in Indianapolis Saturday hosting its Fastlane event and, of course, Haliburton made sure he could be present. So six weeks ago, not only did he tweet John Cena — his favorite WWE personality — to request his presence, he also told head coach Rick Carlisle that he needed to be there.
Once again, recognizing the moment for their young star, his wish was granted.
The team’s charter flight Saturday afternoon departed without the face of the team, bound for Memphis ahead of their first of four exhibition games. But make no mistake, he’s made travel arrangements to join his teammates in Memphis in time for Sunday morning shootaround.
“I’m very curious to see what they have in store for him tonight,” Carlisle said. “As long as they don’t put him in the sleeper, it’ll be good. I’m sure that will be entertaining.”
Haliburton said he’s not sure what his role will be — or he couldn’t share — but he looks forward to being backstage and meeting some of his idols growing up. This has been a passion of his for as long as he can remember. He doesn’t tweet much anymore, but he does on big WWE nights.
His late uncle Gary sparked this lifelong joy.
“When I was a kid, he used to come to my house and we always watched it together,” Haliburton shared. “Every time I watch, I think about my uncle Gary. He knew my mom would pay for the pay-per-views. They used to be pay-per-views, now they’re PLEs. My mom would pay for it if I cried hard enough for it. It’s a memory I have with him and my dad always took me to it whenever they came to Wisconsin. Every WWE event, I always take my dad (John) so I’m looking forward to it tonight.”
Some of you reading this may be like me and completely ignorant to this entertainment industry. I never watched growing up. So I asked Ty to put this night/event/match into context.
“It’s a premium live event. PLE they call it, there’s like one a month in WWE. It’s not like a major, top-three one. Imagine like the first-round of the playoffs, that’s what these are. It’s still a major event with major matches, but it’s not like the conference finals or finals.”
I’ve only watched highlight clips because of former Colts punter Pat McAfee’s involvement — first as a TV analyst, then an occasional participant in the ring. McAfee plans to attend, assuming his charter flight from the Cotton Bowl makes it back in good time, and he can reconnect with Haliburton. Or maybe team up? They talked briefly at the Colts game last Sunday.
They’ve got a custom WWE Fastlane IndyCar ready to go at The Fieldhouse, based on this tweet from Triple H. It all begins at 8 p.m. ET on Peacock (subscription required).
What About Camp?
The Pacers wrapped up their fourth camp practice on Saturday after having Friday off. Yes, just four practices before their first exhibition game Sunday night in Memphis. It doesn’t seem like enough, but they’ve been productive.
“We’re doing things with a purpose,” said guard T.J. McConnell. “We’re not sitting there talking about the defense for 40 minutes and getting bored with it. We’re sitting there for five-minute stretches and doing things quick and with a purpose, and then going to the next thing. And then coming back to it.”
That’s by design, and something they’ve done for a while. It’s the coaches adapting to players today with their short attention spans, etc. Give assistant coach Jenny Boucek a ton of credit for her work on this front, connecting with players and meeting them where they are.
Another coach, Lloyd Pierce, was more active and talkative than we’re used to seeing after practice as media watched.
“Lloyd’s always had a big voice,” Carlisle said.
The Pacers’ top assistant coach worked with some of the young guys — rookies Isaiah Wong, Ben Sheppard, Oscar Tshiebwe and Jarace Walker, plus Kendall Brown and Jalen Smith — to get them up to speed (as you see above).
“The green team is a younger group and they had a few challenges,” Carlisle said. “So Lloyd grabbed them afterward and they’re running through stuff. A lot is getting thrown at them in a very short period of time. We virtually have an entire NBA system in in four days of practice. In college, you have over a month of practice and stuff before you play your first non-conference game.
“This is different. It’s a lot for these guys. We have to be patient, but they have to keep making progress. And they will.”
Backup point guard Andrew Nembhard stayed behind and will not be on the two-game road trip after he had a kidney stone removed on Friday. He was at practice in black sweats, but he’ll take it easy for the next few days. He’s also dealing with a sore neck. Both sound painful.
That should lead to more minutes for McConnell, who says he’s ready to play after tweaking his ankle last week. Carlisle declined to share his approach to playing time. “As we used to say in television, stay tuned,” he said.
From lineups to rotations, new defensive instructions to how it plays out — there’s a lot to look forward to Sunday night. The Grizzlies held an open practice on Saturday.
“They’re a young, veteran team with multiple years in the playoffs,” Carlisle said of their opponent. “They have a smashmouth approach and that’s what we need right now. We need to go against physical teams.”
Changes defensively will be easier to understand once we see it played out on the court versus just being talked about. The transformation began in summer league, especially in their second game.
Haliburton called it more of a traditional style. Instead of giving up a lot around the free throw line and then kick-outs, they want to rotate less, communicate more, and improve on how they handle the two-man game.
“It’s different for me,” he said. “I’ve never played defense this way or guarded it this way, but I do see the perks in it. Playing against it, you’re not always getting the shots that you want.”
Again, stay tuned.
The Pacers will then remain on the road and travel to Houston for a matchup against the rising Rockets on Tuesday.
Other than Nembhard, no other players will miss Sunday’s game due to health.
I thought this remark from Haliburton interesting: “They haven’t really allowed me and Bruce (Brown) to play together a ton, but he’s look really good.”
On growth needed from Bennedict Mathurin: “I think for him now, it’s about growing more as a communicator and as a vocal guy. Benn’s very reserve and a quiet dude, and he doesn’t have to say much, but being able to say the right things and speaking what’s on his mind will help.”
Ring the bell: Mathurin (3), Toppin, Nwora (3), Nesmith (2), Turner (3), Walker (2)