I've written tons about the NBA being an unfair league to certain teams. Lord knows I'm not blaming the league system here. In a lot of cases, it merely stems from monumentally bad luck. The league was founded in 1946 as the Basketball Association of America. The BAA merged with the National Basketball League in 1949 to officially create the NBA. Since then, the number of teams in the league has grown to 30, and only half of those teams have ever been champions. Even fewer have been even remotely consistent. Most teams get small windows to take their titles before the natural order of the league is restored and the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics are killing everyone else again. Look at teams like the Golden State Warriors, a storied team that hasn't won a title since the 70's, while a newer team like the Orlando Magic managed to get to the Finals twice. The Phoenix Suns fall into that list of teams to whom NBA history has been grossly unfair.
The Suns were part of the league's 1968 expansion, along with the Milwaukee Bucks. They were the first professional sports team in the state of Arizona, a distinction they held until the arrival of the NFL's Phoenix Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals) in 1988. The creators of the Suns were taking a major chance; even the then-commissioner of the NBA, J. Walter Kennedy, said Phoenix was a desert wasteland which was too small, too hot, and too far away to be a successful NBA market. I don't know anything about this J. Walter Kennedy character, but he was clearly an idiot. In 1968, the city of Phoenix proper was pushing 600,000 residents, and the area in general had recently broken seven digits. It was rapidly growing, like it still is. The argument that it was too far away was nullified by the fact that built-in geographical foes would easily be found in the San Diego Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, San Francisco Warriors, and Seattle Supersonics. As for it being too hot in Phoenix, that was entirely true but it has little to do with basketball. So the league gave in and gave the city their team, using a name the team contest to come up with the name Suns. It beat out a list of names which actually wasn't too bad, which included other very appropriate titles like Scorpions and Rattlers. There were others, but those are too boring and generic to mention.
Jerry Colangelo and Red Kerr were lured from the Chicago Bulls to be the respective first general manager and coach. They had had great success in Chicago, a team which had been formed just two years earlier and had set the bar for expansion success by making the playoffs and setting records for wins by an expansion team. Lightning didn't strike twice. The Suns went 16-66 in their inaugural season, missing the last playoff spot by 25 games. On the upside, Gail Goodrich and Dick Van Arsdale were both selected to the All-Star Game. The record resulted in the Suns flipping a coin against the Milwaukee Bucks for the rights to the first draft pick in the 1969 draft, and therefore the rights to a UCLA center named Lew Alcindor, better known today as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Milwaukee won and took future-Kareem and his mighty Sky Hook to the 1971 NBA Championship and 1974 Conference Championship. Phoenix settled with Neal Walk. There's a reason you've never heard of him, but the Suns did improve in a big way, finishing with a respectable 39-43 record and making the playoffs. The next two seasons, the Suns failed to qualify for the playoffs despite winning 48 and 49 games respectively. They wouldn't qualify for the playoffs again until 1976.
The 1976 year was big in Phoenix. They got Paul Westphal in a trade with the Boston Celtics and Gar Heard in a trade with the Buffalo Braves. In the draft, they picked up Ricky Sobers and Alvan Adams, who eventually became a fan favorite. The season itself was very strange. The Suns started 14-9, went 4-18 in another stretch, and finished 24-13 for a total record of 42-40. This time, it was enough to make the playoffs, where the Suns beat the Sonics in the first round and then moved on to a seven-game series against the Golden State Warriors, whom they beat to catapult themselves into the Finals for the first time. The Celtics awaited them, and the fifth game is considered a classic. It ran three overtimes, with Boston eventually emerging victorious. Boston won the series too, in six games.
From the late 70's to the early 80's, the Suns made the playoffs for eight seasons in a row. Unfortunately, in the late 80's. drug problems started coming up. In 1987, the Maricopa County Attorney's Offic indicted 13 people on drug-related charges, and three of them - James Edwards, Jay Humphries, and Grant Gondrezick - happened to be players for the Suns. The charges were based on testimonies from star player Walter Davis, but none of them ended up going to trial; instead, two of them went into prosecution diversion while the third got probation. The scandal is now popularly seen as a witch hunt. The team also had a young, talented, and very promising center named Nick Vanos who was killed in a plane crash. All that didn't make for a whole lot of good court production.
In 1988, things began looking up again. The team got Kevin Johnson from the Cleveland Cavaliers, along with Mark West and Tyrone Corbin. All-Star Tom Chambers also became the first unrestricted free agent in NBA history, and guess what team he chose to sign with! In the 1989 season, the Suns were back in the playoffs, and they upset the Lakers in five games and eventually fought their way to the Western Conference Finals before the Portland Trail Blazers managed to take them out. In 1991, the Suns went 55-27, but lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Utah Jazz. In 1992, they only won two games less than they had the previous season. In the playoffs, they started by sweeping the San Antonio Spurs, by were stopped in the second round by Portland. They clearly needed a real character to help them over the top.
For the 1993 season, they got that character. He was a hell of a character! He was the King, Charles Barkley, acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers! In the 1993 season, Barkley received probably the highest accolade of his career by winning the league MVP. The Suns also picked up Danny Ainge and drafted Oliver Miller and Richard Dumas. Good old Paul Westphal was brought back, this time as the coach, and the Suns tore off to a 62-win season which tied their franchise record. In the playoffs, they wiped out the Lakers, Spurs, and Sonics, thereby taking Barkley to the Finals for the first time. Unfortunately, they had to deal with the Bulls in the Finals. Despite a dominant performance from Barkley and two games which went into triple overtime - the only two triple overtime games in NBA Finals history - the Bulls, as they were wont to do back then, took the series in six. Barkley never got that close to a ring again, and became another legend of the 90's NBA who was ruined by Michael and the Jordanaires.
Over the next few seasons, the Suns continued to bolster their roster and dominate throughout the regular season, going 178-68 during the span. They were always getting eliminated in the semifinal rounds of the playoffs, though, seemingly always by the Houston Rockets in seven-game series. After the 1995 season, the team blundered by trading one of their All-Star players, Dan Majerle, to Cleveland for John "Hot Rod" Williams. In their defense, Phoenix needed a good shot blocker, but Majerle was a fan favorite and a leader whose presence was badly missed. The team went 41-41 the next year, and were kicked out of the first playoff round by San Antonio. Then in the 1996 draft, they banked the 15th pick on a guard from Santa Clara University named Steve Nash that no one ever heard of. Fans were pissed off at the pick, and they booed. In his first two years in the league, Nash was kept in a supporting role behind Kevin Johnson and Jason Kidd. Since Kidd had the point guard role pretty well locked up, Nash was traded to the Dallas Mavericks in June 1998. In the meantime, Barkley was also traded to Houston.
The millennial Phoenix Suns were resoundingly average. The team got Penny Hardaway, but he was injured all the damn time so he never bounced off Jason Kidd the way he was expected to. Kidd was eventually let go to the New Jersey Nets for Stephon Marbury, and the draft eventually yielded Amar'e Stoudemire. Stoudemire emerged in the 2003 season and the Suns won 44 games, but they were out of the playoffs again the next year. Part of that could be because in midseason they dumped Marbury and Hardaway off on the New York Knicks.
In the meantime, Steve Nash had become one of the league's stars and premier point guards in Dallas, and upon his newfound status as a free agent, he decided he wanted to return to Phoenix, finish the job, and show the Phoenix fans what they missed. Teaming up with Stoudemire, Nash won two league MVP awards and brought the Suns to dominance while turning every game into a track meet, which was sorely needed because the league had gotten unbearably slow and foul-laden by then. They were never quite able to finish the job, though, because they shared their conference with the San Antonio Spurs, and the Spurs just had their number. Playoff runs always came up short, and they would usually come up short against the Spurs. This era lasted until about 2008, when Suns coach Mike D'Antoni signed with New York. They had ups and downs during the next few years, generally doing well but never being a real, serious contender. Although they played a more balanced style of basketball which culminated in a 54-28 record in the 2010 season, they were still getting drubbed by San Antonio.
After the 2010 season, Stoudemire was sent packing to join D'Antoni with the Knicks, and the team has been in rebuilding mode ever since. They'll clearly be out of it for at least the next few years. Their latest move was to let Steve Nash head to the Lakers, a move which Nash says was for his family but was probably also for the ring he still hasn't gotten.
Three Hall of Famers are in the Hall based on significant contributions to the Phoenix Suns: Charles Barkley, Connie Hawkins, and Dennis Johnson. The Suns also once had NBA coaching legend Pat Riley during his brief playing career. The team has more retired numbers than Hall of Famers: Dick Van Arsdale, Walter Davis, Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle, Tom Chambers, Alvan Adams, Charles Barkley, Connie Hawkins, and Paul Westphal all have their numbers in the rafters. While Hall of Famers run few and far between, the Suns do have several team faces which have helped them carve out their niche. Johnson, Adams, and Majerle appear to be the biggest ones.
Individual awards, though, run rampant throughout the team's history. Charles Barkley and Steve Nash have both been MVP, with Nash winning that award twice. Alvan Adams, Walter Davis, and Amar'e Stoudemire have all been Rookie of the Year. Four Sixth Men of the Year, a bunch of First Team people, a bunch of Defensive First Team people, and hell, Barkley and Nash have both won the fucking ESPY for Best NBA Player!
Every first weekend of October, the Suns play an exhibition called the NBA Outdoors in Indian Wells, California. It's a cool tradition, even if it is the preseason. It's also a hell of an identifying mark which scores high with me. Other than that, though, the Suns have traded away a lot of their good players before they really got good, and a lot of their marquee names were acquired when the mileage was starting to appear. The Suns are a team that seems to be a developmental team for the entire NBA, no matter how good they're doing. They're going to take your favorite players and probably trade them, where they'll become big time players, and eventually stars and media names in some other place like Dallas or New York City. It's really no surprise they haven't won that elusive Championship yet. On the upside, they're currently known for being the breath of fresh air the NBA needed back when Steve Nash made his grand return.
Get used to a firm conviction that the Phoenix Suns will someday pull through, despite not having any evidence that they're going to do so. They always seem ready and loaded. Going back to the first paragraph and some of what I said there, the Suns actually have the fourth-highest winning percentage in NBA history, made the playoffs 29 times, and posted 19 seasons in which they won at least 50 games. They're the best team in the NBA to have never won a Championship. They always seem like they're loaded and ready to explode, but adopting fans should eye the Phoenix Suns with a bit of caution.
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About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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