By CLIFF BRUNT
Note: The author covered the Indiana Pacers for The Associated Press for seven years.
Frank Vogel is just Daddy to his daughters, Alexa and Arianna.
After leading the Indiana Pacers to the second round of the NBA playoffs and finishing third in the NBA Coach-of-the-Year balloting, Vogel was caught being an average Joe on Friday. I spotted him hanging out and having fun with his kids, his wife and his mother-in-law at Snapperz in Carmel.
Yep, instead of watching film, he was wearing a t-shirt and cargo shorts, expressing a mix of wonder and frustration about the fact that the mechanical hand wouldn’t pick up the furry little toy his daughter so desperately wanted.
I shared that I had pondered the same thing, though I can proudly say I have won a few of those toys for my kids. Regardless, those machines are an excuse for perfectly sane people to waste their money. Sounds like free agency, but I digress. And for the record, I think the Pacers spent their money wisely, much more so than many other teams.
So, how did the unscheduled meeting happen?
On a whim, I planned to take my kids and meet up with my friend, Craig Dragash, and his son, Vaughn. Once we got there, within the first five minutes of arriving, Craig, Frank and I were just hanging out like three dads trying to figure out which way was up.
The situation offered an example of Vogel’s charm. He is a genuine person. I didn’t even see him at first because I was so focused on my own kids. He called out to me. There was no crowd around him, and the only attention he got might have come from the fact my voice involuntarily went up a few levels because I was so shocked to see him.
I was equally shocked that no one recognized him. Can you imagine Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers or even Rick Carlisle walking into a Snapperz without getting mobbed? No way.
Since I had him there with no other reporters around, I got a sudden urge to ask Vogel if he still thought the Miami Heat were soft, but I somehow repressed it. On this day, he was soft. In a good way.
I’m not silly enough to think this will happen again. One more season like the last one and he won’t be able to walk out his front door without cameras clicking. Frank won’t change, but the fans will.
Perhaps that’s why I wanted to immortalize the moment in print. It was rare, both in the fact that an NBA coach was just hanging out, and that he was so cool about it and treated my friend so well. Trust me, I’ve met a lot of people with egos in my career who would have acted like they never saw me. I now understand why his players call him a players’ coach and would walk the plank for him.
For the record, he looked like a natural as a parent. It’s clear he has real relationships with his daughters, and that’s good to see from someone in a role-model position in society.
There are other examples of strange, decent behavior that often go untold in the world of sports.
Once, while standing on the court after a non-conference game at Purdue’s Mackey Arena in 2005, I was getting ready to head home when I heard a voice from the seats. It was coach Matt Painter yelling to get my attention. And instead of just talking about basketball, he offered to go to the media room to get me a soda. I declined, but that conversation in an empty arena was a memory that was etched forever.
Or, there was the time I intervewed Roger Penske at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2011. I went into his custom trailer for a one-on-one interview, and the next thing I know, he asked if I wanted something to drink and he brought me a Coke. The man is a billionaire and he brought me a Coke. Any one of the tons of people who would do anything for him could have gotten it for him, but he did it himself. From what I’ve been told, that humility and respect for others has a lot to do with his success in life. And, by the way, the empty Coke can is sitting in a case in my mancave as a reminder of the example he set that day.
I don’t mention these things to put people on pedestals for doing the kinds of things everyone who has been raised right should do. I mention them because there are too many examples out there of celebrities who think those sorts of things are beneath them.
Sorry, there is no breaking sports news in this story. It’s just a real story about good people, the kind that doesn’t get told enough in this world of gotcha journalism.