Feisty (adj) – Full of spirit or pluck; frisky or spunky
This one hurts, perhaps more than losing Robbie Hummel to graduation and Peyton Manning to the Broncos. Those two brought wins, even championships.
Neither of them brought IT like Jeff Foster brought IT.
Growing up a Pacer fan, there’s no doubt that Reggie Miller is a hero of mine. In all honesty, though, Jeff Foster has always been my favorite player. And my favorite player retired from the game of basketball today, citing chronic back injuries. The news hit me like pile of ice to the face. It’s over. The hustle, hard work, scrappiness, passion, and downright feistiness is finished. The old guard of the Indiana Pacers has lost its last remainder. And I’m left to sit here and reflect on all the great memories. That’s what you do when your favorite player retires.
Where to begin?
How about my earliest memory of Foster. It came on October 23, 1999. I was a young kid at a Pacers exhibition game against the Jazz. It was the last game ever played at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. Jeff Foster, young kid from Texas, scored the last points at MSA, with a two-handed flush. Even if that was his last accomplishment in the NBA, I would have remembered him. Luckily for all of us, he had plenty more to bring to Pacer fans.
Foster played all 13 years of his career for the Pacers, and during that time the Pacers were never without an established presence of toughness and grit. That was Jeff Foster’s impact. And in a small market with fans who appreciate “pure” basketball, Foster was a no-doubt fan favorite.
Defense and rebounding. Nothing else. Nothing. The guy passed up thousands of wide open looks so that he could get in better position for the offensive board. Shooting the ball only happened as a last resort. He averaged 8 points and 12 rebounds per 36 minutes in his career. “Foster” is Australian for rebounding.
In between shifts on the court, he wouldn’t sit on the bench. He would sneak around to the side of the bench and ride a stationary bike to keep warm. Always, the hardest worker, Foster just could not keep still.
Jeff wasn’t afraid of anyone out there, and many times a “hard foul” of his was misunderstood. This happened several times, but the most well-known instance came last year in the playoffs against the Bulls and Derrick Rose. I was the most proud when I was able to wake up the next morning and see that “Jeff Foster” was still the number 1 trending topic on Twitter in the Chicago market. I knew Jeff had made it.
Why do I love Jeff Foster so much? I admire players who close the athleticism gap with intangibles. Foster was a player with perhaps the least amount of athleticism in the league, and yet he made a 13-year career for himself through intelligence, awareness, role-playing, hard work, and determination. Greg Maddux and Peyton Manning are two others who have similar qualities, but Foster is the best example.
What is my favorite Jeff Foster memory? I’m glad you asked. It was a game against the Pistons in the 2005 playoffs. It was one of the rare but epic times in which The Feisty One took over a game, and this time it was a comeback in a huge playoff game. Obviously we all hated the Pistons, and to see an un-athletic role player steal the spotlight late in a playoff game at the Palace was just bliss. I still remember him getting an entire conversation on Sportscenter later that night, with a highlight reel of hustle plays back-to-back-to-back. Unbelievable!
But it’s all over now. The Feisty One has retired, and is moving on to new endeavors (maybe front office?). Whatever he does next, I’d bet the house on the fact that he will go after it with the same intensity and determination he took to the hardwood every time.
If I got to meet Jeff anytime soon, I would have this message for him: Thank you for all of the great, great memories. Your philosophy of hard work has been inspiring and a delight to watch. You are the most consistent player I have ever watched, and I will forever be one of your biggest fans. Thanks for defining Pacers basketball for over a decade.