Team USA’s Haliburton ready to take Pacers into prime time


MANILA, Philippines — Tyrese Haliburton recites this night on the 2023-24 NBA’s upcoming schedule from memory instantly.

Jan. 30, 2024. Indiana at Boston, 7:30 p.m.

“It’s also my girl’s birthday, that’s why I know it,” he said. “But, yeah, that’s the night.”

That game is special to the Indiana Pacers star, outside of the birthday, because for the first time in his young career he will get to play on TNT, following Inside the NBA’s pregame show, and enjoy the primetime attention that comes with it.

“What! You’ve never played on TNT before?” exclaimed Team USA teammate Mikal Bridges, who was sitting nearby before a practice last week and is a veteran of dozens of national TV games.

“You knew that, bro,” Haliburton said. This is a topic for those who spend any time around him.

“I’ve been on ESPN once, we beat the Wizards last October.”

The 23-year-old will happily be on ESPN2 as Team USA next plays Montenegro on Friday in the second round at the FIBA World Cup. They finished 3-0 in first round play after Wednesday’s 110-62 victory over Jordan.

That factoid about the Pacers’ lone ESPN game last season is correct, but he didn’t need it checked because Haliburton has been keeping notes. Haliburton, whose three seasons have been played on losing teams in smaller markets in Sacramento and Indiana, has been hidden to a degree from the league’s national audience.

“You have to win to get on TV and that’s what we need to do,” Haliburton said. “It won’t change either. When we win in Indiana, we’ll get three national games.”

Haliburton says this all with a smile. He’s used to it; it has been the story of his basketball life. When he was a kid, he was overlooked compared to players from Milwaukee and Chicago because he was from Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He committed to Iowa State in 2017, his only high major offer before his high school senior season.

At the 2020 NBA draft he slipped to 12th, way below many projections, because teams were scared off by his slight frame or his awkward jump shot. The Sacramento Kings, the team that drafted him, traded him after a year.

Haliburton’s father, John, a proud Oshkosh resident and a longtime basketball referee, has told him throughout his life that if he kept working, eventually everything he wanted would find him.

TNT found him, and so did Team USA, which named him to the roster days after he signed a maximum contract extension with the Pacers that could be worth more than $260 million with incentives.

It has all worked out. Before the team started working out and playing together, coach Steve Kerr declared point guard Jalen Brunson as one of the team leaders, and he quickly earned the starting position. But guess what? Haliburton’s outstanding play off the bench has won him increased playing time and responsibility.

Along with Los Angeles Lakers guard Austin Reaves, Haliburton has played instrumental roles in the past three wins — including against Germany in an exhibition in Abu Dhabi, which is more impressive with the Germans also into the World Cup second round.

Haliburton is 9-of-13 shooting, 5-of-9 on 3-pointers, and has five steals over the past three group stage games while effectively and unselfishly running the offense.

“He’s like a quarterback who’s finding five different receivers and then if there’s no pass rush, he’ll just line up his set shot and knock it down,” Kerr said. “He’s really a unique player and a beautiful player to watch and obviously very effective.”

There are many tests ahead for Haliburton and the USA guards. There is some excellent competition in the event from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Canada) to Dennis Schroder (Germany) to Josh Giddey (Australia) among others.

Haliburton expects, even playing for Team USA, he’ll continue to get overlooked.

“That’s my basketball life,” he said. “That’s OK, it’s more fun this way.”