MAAAAAN COME ON!!!! -- The Story of the 1990s Phoenix Suns

Why are the Phoenix Suns the Chicago Cubs of the NBA?

I'll tell you why. Because they're cute, they're adorable, they have a cool uniform, a cool mascot, and work harder then any team in sports to never, ever, ever win a championship. You really gotta give it up for the Suns. They are some likeable losers. I thought the Orlando Magic and the Seattle Supersonics were likeable. Na. Phoenix.

Today it's alot more sugary and sweet then in the 90s which we'll get to in a moment. But let's explore what they're like currently. Oh what sweethearts. What good friends. Let's average 144 points a game and lose. That is absolutely acquaintance-ready and loyal of you Steve Nash. What a good buddy.

The last act of toughness from the Phoenix Suns came around 1999ish? Yes, Danny Ainge is in this blog too. He's all over this blog. He was the Forrest Gump of sport legends. Everytime you turn on the TV you see the same goofy, half-confused image magically imprinted alongside Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, then Isiah Thomas, then Michael Jordan, then Charles Barkley, then suddenly Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen?!

Danny Ainge was head coach of the Phoenix Suns and the star player on his team was Robert Horry. He bitched at Horry about something, and so Horry threw a towel in his face. This moment was famous because the whole world came down on Horry's side. NOT Ainge's. Horry, they said, simply is not a leader and is better when he's allowed to be himself, they said. Imagine the conversation that went on in grade schools all over America. The teachers try to present Robert Horry as an example of bad sportsmanship...only to remember that Ainge can be one irritating human being.

Danny Ainge would unfortunately be at the center of the Suns's biggest failures in the 1990s. People remembered that it was Ainge who left John Paxson open on the wing for Horace Grant to kick the ball out to. Paxson had no respect from Ainge. Not in 1981 when he drove past him for the legendary end-to-end lay-up to beat Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament, and definitely not when the Bulls were down by 2 in the final seconds of Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals.

So let's begin where we should begin. The Phoenix Suns were an expansion team around the early 1970s. They almost beat the Lakers during that season where they won 69 games with Chamberlain and West. They made the NBA Finals by 1976 and were so drained after a triple-overtime game in the Boston Garden to fall 3-2 in the series that when the series went to Game 6 in Phoenix they were almost too drained to compete.

Cotton Fitzsimmons is the crown jewel of the West. Forget the Lakers. Fitzsimmons singlehandly brought the Suns into the NBA spotlight in the late 80s with a sheer keen eye. He drafted Dan Majerle and pretty much told a round of booing fans to keep booing, they'll feel stupid about it when you see Majerle play. He took Kevin Johnson from California who turned into one of the very best players of all time. He got Tom Chambers. Jeff Hornacek. Eddie Johnson.

In the 1989 season, the Suns got to the Western Conference Finals. The problem is they had to play the Lakers. This was a special time for the Lakers because it was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's final season, and everybody in the league was giving him prices and speeches and commemorations. They were inspired to get Cap back in the Finals (they called him Cap like "Captain" and you know that movie Peter Pan with Captain Hook? They got him a boat called the "Captain Skyhook"). Anyway the point is -- they swept the hell out of the Suns.

In the 1990 season with Kareem gone, the Lakers had two guys at center -- Mychael Thompson who they had forever, and a guy from Yugoslavia named Vlade Divac. One of the great pleasures you can have as a fan is watching Vlade Divac grow into a major league asskicker. He entered the league and Magic Johnson was immediately nice to this awkward kid who was not only one of the first European players in the pros, but he was being thoroughly ignored by one of the other players -- Drazen Petrovic -- because they were from warring factions. But Magic helped Divac adjust and made him feel at home, threw him the ball all the time, included him in card games and strip clubs, they taught him trash talk, it was nice. And when Magic got the HIV virus, if you saw the faces on the Lakers at the press conference, the one guy who seriously needs a Kleenex box is Vlade Divac. Well fourteen years later, Divac is confidentally LEADING the Sacramento Kings into a pounding of Shaq and Kobe's Lakers, saved only by crooked officials and Robert Horry. Everyone on the Kings loved Divac.

Oh right...back to my point about the Suns...well the Lakers in 1990 with Divac and Thompson ended up with an even better record then they did with Kareem...are the number one seed again and destined for a Magic-led rematch with the Pistons....and the SUNS BEAT THEM!!! THE SUNS BEAT THEM!!! It was the first time since 1981 that the Lakers had failed to reach the Western Conference Finals.

But they lose to Portland.

Then in 1991 and 92, they're muscled around by who I don't remember I'm a Knicks/Bulls/Pistons/Celtics kid.

But then in the fall of 1992, everything changes. We trade Hornacek and two draft picks for Charles Barkley. And he's in his prime. Add to that we get a sixth man named...Danny Ainge. Instantly, they're kings of the NBA.

The starting five was Oliver Miller, Charles Barkley, Richard Dumas, Dan Majerle, Kevin Johnson

Shawn Kemp, sit down.

Chris Mullin, sit down.

Oh, Portland huh? Maaaaaan sit down.

Utah...nope. Barkley could take Shaq in this era, what's Karl Malone gonna do?

So the Phoenix Suns got to the playoffs. They were 62-20, best record in the league, and if all went according to the records, it would be a Suns and Knicks NBA Finals.

Then all of a sudden, they're losing the first two games to the Lakers at home. This would be repaired the Suns would go on to beat San Antonio on a last second Barkley shot over David Robinson in Game 6 in Texas, and then a hard-fought series victory against the Seattle Supersonics because Majerle had 8 three pointers in Game 5 and then Barkley had 44 points and 24 rebounds in Game 7.

We ended up playing Chicago in the Finals. And unfortunately, Michael Jordan was the new Big Red Machine. He was robotic. See, Majerle had gotten alot of hype around the league at this point, and so Jordan just took it to him at every moment. So Bulls took Game 1.

Then in Game 2, with the Suns down by three with about 18 seconds left, Kevin Johnson decides he's not going to stand in the way of Scottie Pippen and set a pick for Ainge to shoot. Johnson stands still, lets Pippen brush him aside, and then Ainge puts up a 3 and Pip blocks it and steals it. The Bulls went up 2-0 and had three games in Chicago.

The fans and reporters would express just how extraordinarily pissed off they were at Kevin Johnson that Friday night. Nobody thought the Suns would return. And Charles Barkley would famously tell the fans "if you're not gonna help us out when you come to the arena, stay home. 'Cuz we don't need you. If you're only gonna cheer for us when we win, stay home."

But Paul Westphal put Kevin Johnson on Michael and he stayed on him for the extent of a 63-minute triple-overtime Game 3. He would redeem himself, and Phoenix took 2 out of 3.

Game 6 was crazy, and the Bulls took Phoenix out of it pretty early. They went into the fourth quarter up by 8 and it looked like Chicago would indeed have his three-peat. Michael Jordan was averaging 41 POINTS A GAME in these Finals which was flipping unheard-of. It was in this very series that so many Chamberlain fans FINALLY said "yeah, Jordan's the best ever." Literally nobody was even going to give another person a distinction as his rival that day in October, 1993 when he retired. And a big reason was what happned in that very fourth quarter of Game 6. yes, everyone remembers the John Paxson shot that won the championship (it was amazing) but something else happened in that quarter to put the dramatics in place for Paxson...the Suns had not only caught up, they had FIGURED THE BULLS OUT. THE BULLS WERE ABSOLUTELY DOOMED. I WOULD HAVE BET THE HOUSE THAT THE SUNS WOULD HAVE WON GAME 7 IN PHOENIX. THEY WERE SO COMPLETELY ONTO THAT TRIANGLE STUFF. THE BULLS COULDN'T MOVE THE BALL IN THE FOURTH, THEY MADE DUMB DESPERATE PASSES, THERE WAS ONE TWENTY-FOUR SECOND VIOLATION AFTER ANOTHER. THE SUNS, OUT OF ALL THE TEAMS IN THE 1990S, were the only team...the ONLY team that had figured out to beat a non-coming-back-from-baseball Michael Jordan. Of all six times in the NBA Finals, the Bulls were 6-0 and only these Suns ever put them in serious position to have it be 5-1.

But Majerle missed an easy close-up shot, Paxson hit a 3 because Ainge left him, and then Horace Grant stuffed Kevin Johnson. That was it for Phoenix in 93.

And Richard Dumas.

This fantastic rookie would be banned from the league for coke or something like that. We never saw him again. Dumas was magnificent.

But they would come back, and with no Michael Jordan, it looked like it would Suns vs. Knicks for the rest of the decade. I was down with that.

-----

A few months earlier

America West Arena, Phoenix


Crappy Carl and I are watching the Knicks game, they're playing the Suns. Crappy Carl is pissing me off because he got in a fight with his dad? or something, and now he has to go to another high school and what the f*ck am I electing to live in Chicago for then if you're just gonna live in Morton Grove or whatever but anyway...he says, and I quote -- Hubert Davis and Doc Rivers will never be all-stars, they're like butt buddies.

About half an hour later, at the end of the second half, Kevin Johnson...simply helps himself to Doc Rivers's manhood. Right before our eyes, Knicks vs. Suns goes beyond personal like it always had been. We just watched something from a detention room surveillance camera.

Rivers is in shank-my-assaulter mode full blast not even three seconds into this brutal and dominating assault by Kevin f*cking Johnson who I always told people I wanted to be like and they kept insisting I needed to just stick to my Woody Allen screenplay bullshit and shut the f*ck up Danny Ainge John Paxson's your butt lover and whatever.

And who should jump in to give Kevin Johnson a cheap shot that should have banned him from the league -- a car-wash of elbows right to his face? Hubert Davis.

Knicks vs. Suns would have saved the league and rendered Michael Jordan to be tested in ways that Kareem and Bird and Magic and Isiah simply couldn't provide being simply too old and pinned up while Kevin McHale and Bill Laimbeer were too old and taped up.

And don't make bets with Crappy Carl. Even if he insists on never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ceasing to ask.

THE 1995 PLAYOFFS

It looked especially promising for Phoenix because Seattle would be stunned in the first round by Denver. Phoenix now had only one serious opponent for the Western title, and it was Houston.

They go down 18 and 22 respectively in Games 1 and 2 in Houston.

They win both said games.

YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!! Look at Barkley, he's jumping up and down.

But the Rockets came back. They sustained that dunk that Kevin Johnson laid on Hakeem Olajuwon to beat us in 7 games.

Then 1995, they return with Danny Manning and A.C. Green.

Now 95 was interesting. Again, they played Houston, took the first two games from them, and managed to go up 3-1. And again Houston came back. And again Houston put them on the ropes in Game 7, this time with Mario Elie in the corner hitting a 3 to put them up 113-110. Then it gets interesting.

They foul Danny Ainge to put him at the line. He needs 3 but he's only going to get 2. This requires him to make the first shot but miss the second one.

Ainge misses the first shot.

The fans go OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

So Ainge gets ready again, and this is free throw now that he has to intentionally MISS...

It takes four bounces and goes IN!

OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

So that's it for Phoenix. With the best team they ever had.

Then about 16 or 17 games into the 1995-96 season, they fire Paul Westphal. Barkley demands a trade he's so distraught. He gets it after the season and goes to Houston.

So Miller's fat, Barkley's gone, KJ's gonna retire soon, Majerle go to the Heat and retires from there, and it was all dumb.

But fear not. The Suns still get nervous all the time, can't play any defense, and choke. But they're flashy offensive players, which makes people show up in hot yuppie Phoenix to talk on their cellphones and not know who the hell Marion, Staudomire, and Boris Diaw are.

Like I said, Chicago Cubs on the NBA.

The next blog talks about the Cubs! And not nicely!

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