Phoenix Suns: Forty Years of Wandering in the Desert
This is more of a preseason article, but I was only recently plucked out of the blogosphere in rapture-like fashion by the geniuses at HoopsVibe. In the process, they told me I was begrudgingly chosen because I am a Suns fan. I say “begrudgingly” because the Suns team is – apparently – a popular bandwagon to jump on. This can create quite a dilemma because while capitalism says you need to please the masses, there is a natural aversion to front-runners.
Frankly, I feel their pain. I have spent the majority of my life fighting the urge to judo chop all the front-running Lakers’ fans living in my vast metropolis. The same thing happened around here in the 1992-1993 season after Sir Charles demanded to be traded out of Philly. I remember reading quotes in the local paper from “true fans” that had been following the team since 1990 (the first year we got past the Lakers in the playoffs).
Persons jumping the bandwagon now simply do not know our pain. Pondering ideas for this first article, I realized that we have been wandering in the desert for the last forty years. But we have no Moses, no manna from Heaven, no Holy Covenant with the Lord. At least the Hebrews had that going for them.
For anyone who wants to jump on the bandwagon, I am extending a hand to help you get on. Consider it an abridged version of my pain – a shortcut through Hebrew School – where I explain to the world’s repeated attempts to crush our spirits. Only if you live through the ring-less Nash-Stoudemire and stick around for the next incarnation of the Starbury can you truly be a fan. But, before that day, I hope to provide you with tools necessary to empathize with me, thus making you a true fan and giving you the necessary knowledge to not appear to be a bandwagon fan.
Our covenant is not with God, but with the Devil. There has been a long and destructive history tied to the Dark Lord. The Evil One has given us only false promises and false hope. The Faustian Connections are clear if you look around. I have decided to go by topic instead of chronologically because it makes more literary sense. I apologize to everyone who will have trouble putting the timeline together, but let’s just blame your short attention spans on MTV and/or ESPN’s extensive use of the highlight reel.
1968: The Suns began their existence by putting the hopes of the franchise on a game of chance. They lost the coin flip and the Bucks took Lew Alcindor. To this day, the worn-out and not-so-funny joke is that the Suns have needed a big man since they lost the coin flip.
2007: Once again, the Suns gamble in the lottery. With a 62% chance of taking Atlanta’s pick (so long as it didn’t end up the top three), the Suns pin their hopes of a deeper bench on another game of chance. Stern kills two birds with one stone by punishing the tankers and the bench-clearing-but-still
2007: Tim Donaghy. Although Stern has reneged on his promise to be “transparent” in the investigation, I cannot cry shenanigans over game three of the Spurs series because the blogosphere has set forth some pretty convincing evidence that the other two refs actually did a worse job. It still stinks, though. The thing is that Stern had a “zero tolerance” gambling rule but then decided not to enforce the rule, claiming it was too harsh and some common sense needs to be applied. I am not sure how to comment. When you see someone get hit by a bus, what can you say besides, “That poor bastard just got hit by a bus!”? What is there to say? How are we to react?
1968: The Suns’ first head coach is Johnny “Red” Kerr. Enough said.
1983: “Red” Auerbach dupes JC (Jerry Colangelo) into trading NBA Championship MVP, All-Defensive Team and high-scoring Dennis Johnson for Rick Robey because the Suns needed to “bulk up” in the post. Part of this must have been at least a partial belief in the 1968-based joke.
1996: I guess the slogan this year should have been, “If you can’t beat’em, trade’em your best player.” Could we fans have expected anything less than a trade demand from Sir Charles? After giving up a 3-1 lead to the Rockets (who wear red) and giving up on Championship hopes, the Suns were reduced to Danny Ainge pelting Mario Ellie in the back of the head with the ball. Fortunately, the Suns did pick up Robert Horry in that trade, who stuck around until he threw a towel at coach Ainge for not giving him more PT at a game in Boston, the home of “Red.”
1970: You know that stat you always see whenever a team goes down 3-1 in a best-of-seven series. Yeah, the Suns were on the losing end of a high majority of those. After acquiring The Hawk, Connie Hawkins, the Suns took a commanding 3-1 lead against the Lakers and blew it. Side note: How unfair is it that the Suns get the biggest playground/ABA legend for just the last four years of his career? He was Dr. J’s tutor and all the Suns fans got were his waning years. It’s kind of like dating Pamela Anderson now instead of in the mid-nineties (I’m looking at you, Kid Rock).
1976: JC has publicly stated that after the ’76 Boston series, he figured the Suns would be back soon and often. In fact, there were his words of wisdom to the D-Backs going into the 2001 World Series. He would not get back to the Promised Land until 1993 and has yet to return. “Red” strikes yet again, so this could go into that category, too.
1993: Have you ever dated someone who is cheating on his/her spouse/significant other? If so, why do you think they’ll do anything different with you? Are you really such a better catch? Why did we think Sir Charles would have been any better? It was yet another Faustian Deal. He put us on the map, but failed to deliver the goods. True story (well, it’s hearsay but the story-teller says it’s true): The night before game seven of the 1993 Seattle series (conference finals), a friend saw him at a bar. She asked him if he shouldn’t be at home resting for the game. He told her not to worry, that he would be okay for the game. Granted, they won that game, but stunts like that were the reason that LA took them the distance, San Antonio took them to six, Seattle took them to seven and they could not win game one or two at home against the Bulls.
2004-2007: In an attempt to “open up” the style of play in the NBA, JC convinces Stern, et al., to change the rules. Examples include the elimination of hand-checking, the protected circle under the rim and the eight-second half-court rule. However, for some reason, the referees officiate under the old set of rules during the playoffs. I understand the argument that if the refs made a foul call on every play, then tons of players would be fouling out in the first half. I get that. But what happened to “zero tolerance” – headbands, emotions, standing up, laughing while sitting on the bench, gambling (well, maybe not gambling)? If a bunch of players fouled out, they would change they way they are playing. Then, we would see playoff basketball that looks like regular season basketball. It is not that difficult to understand.
1987: The worst moment of my childhood occurred when “Sweet D” Walter Davis held a press conference to announce that he was addicted to drugs. Everyone knew the mid-eighties Suns players had a pervasive drug problem. South Beach invaded the downtown Houlihan’s before Crocket and Tubbs could break up the party. But, Walter Davis? I know he says he got addicted to pain killers after his back injuries, but … Walter Davis? It was just crushing.
1999: Not really his fault, but a sleep aid almost killed Tom Gugliotta. It’s not that I believe in curses or anything, but Spinal Tap drummers seem to have more luck than the Suns players. After that, he endured I don’t know how many knee surgeries. He never quite lived up to his “the next Larry Bird” hype coming out of UNC, even though the Suns paid him as if he was that guy.
2001: On my law school soccer team, my mates called me “JK” because they knew I was a big Suns fan and Jason Kidd was running all over the floor at the America West Arena, as it was known at that time. His relationship with Joumana has been fairly well documented. He probably should have been on Paxil or some similar drug.
1993: A.C. Green was one of the most hated Lakers ever. He was a Suns killer. Then he came to us and his game dropped off precipitously. That happened more than once (see, for example, Kurt Rambis). I can only assume that Satan sapped Green’s powers for his religious convictions.
Danny Ainge: Red cursed Ainge for leaving the Boston Celtics. He allowed Ainge to go to the Finals with the Blazer and the Suns just to taunt Ainge. The above-referenced Horry-towel-throwing incident occurred in Boston. Horry would go on to win a couple of times in LA and hip-check his way to a championship in 2007.
If I were a numerologist and/or some kind of mystic, I’d say this is the Suns’ year. After all, we fans have been wandering in the desert for forty years. Perhaps we can find the Promised Land in that biblical year. But wait, there is more. JC was recently put into the “Ring of Honor” at the gym. The original general manager and former owner became the twelfth person put in the Ring of Honor.
As all mystics are aware, twelve is a number of completeness. There are twelve signs of the Zodiac (and twelve months), twelve tribes of Israel and twelve Apostles.
Now, the hopes of the Suns fans rest on the broad shoulders of a self-proclaimed “Black Jesus.”