On Saturday, Chris Copeland returned to Bankers Life Fieldhouse. He was dressed in the rival’s colors of green and white and sat in a corner of the visitor’s locker room. Still, Copeland remembered the warm hospitality from the Indiana Pacers and how the team offered facilities and resources to him at a time when they could have considered him a stranger.
Last April, Copeland suffered injuries to his abdomen and left elbow in a stabbing attack outside of a New York City nightclub. The incident left him briefly hospitalized and effectively ended his season. Though Copeland apologized for “bad choices” – the attack occurred in the wee hours of a game day – it would stand as the last significant event of his Pacers career as he entered the summer as an unrestricted free agent.
Still, over the offseason, Copeland remained in Indianapolis for physical rehabilitation with the Pacers’ athletic staff.
“I was just blessed to have guys like Larry Bird and the training staff who stuck with me way past when they had to,” Copeland said. “Legally by July 1 they’re not obligated to do anything, but those guys took care of me. They did more than they needed to. That’s why I’m forever in their debt. I appreciate the type of people that I was (around) for the last two years.”
Copeland described the rehabilitation process as taking months, and even now he undergoes some “tweaking” but remains healthy enough to play in his fourth NBA season. Though the front office made no attempt to re-sign Copeland, the team still extended to him its training staff, which includes head athletic trainer Josh Corbeil, strength and conditioning coach Shawn Windle and assistant athletic trainer Carl Eaton. This courtesy would be hard to find in professional sports where the focus begins and ends at the bottom line.
“Everybody chipped in and helped me in my rehab process,” said Copeland, who also credited the interns. “I couldn’t have done it by myself, so I appreciate that.”
Coach Frank Vogel was pleased to see Copeland healthy and in uniform for Saturday’s game. Vogel said it was important to him, and the rest of the organization, that Copeland was given all the resources necessary to make a quick recovery.
“You just want to do the right thing with guys,” Vogel said. “He was part of our family when he was on our team. He didn’t know what was going to happen with free agency, but we just wanted to treat our players the right way.”
Copeland played most of the fourth quarter during the Pacers’ dominating 123-86 win over the Bucks. Copeland had not played in three of the previous four games. That’s because in Milwaukee, the minutes belong to the youth. With players like 20-year-olds Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, the small forward who bumped Copeland out of the rotation, Jason Kidd coaches a roster full of fresh talent, the fourth youngest in the NBA at an average of 24.4 years of age. So in the Bucks locker room, Copeland finds himself as a wily old veteran.
“It’s a super weird feeling but it’s cool, especially to be around at this stage in my career,” said Copeland, 31. “J Kidd expressed to me that he wants me to talk about my experiences on and off the floor. I try to guide guys in ways that I can. Typical older guy stuff. I just try to be that guy as much as possible.”
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