Greg Hansen: Titleless Suns nevertheless an unqualified success

2011-08-24T00:15:00Z 2011-08-24T12:27:25Z Greg Hansen: Titleless Suns nevertheless an unqualified successGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 24, 2011 12:15 am  • 

In celebration of Arizona's centennial, the Star is featuring our picks for the 100 best athletes, moments and teams. Throughout the summer, we have been showcasing our list. Here is the fifth of Greg Hansen's top 10.

PHOENIX SUNS

The Phoenix Suns lost the two most significant games in the 43-year history of the franchise, both at home, both in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

They have never won an NBA championship. They lost a coin flip that would have given them the right to draft Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Nine times they have fired a coach in midseason.

Yet the franchise that was launched with a $2 million investment from Tucson businessmen Donald Pitt, Richard Bloch and Don Diamond is now worth an estimated $425 million, and only the Celtics, Lakers and Spurs have a better franchise winning percentage.

"The only thing we've never gotten," Pitt told the Star, "is that gold ring."

In length of time, the Suns' championship-less history is nothing like the curse of the Chicago Cubs or the UA's inability to win a football championship. But as each decade passes without the Suns cutting down the nets, the reputation grows.

The original owners of the Suns are now in their 80s; the club is operated by 50-year-old Sabino High School and UA grad Robert Sarver, whose powerful teams of 2004-05 and 2006-07 combined to win 123 regular-season games but seemed to invent ways to lose.

Examples? In '07, finishing 61-21 in the regular-season, Suns star Amare Stoudemire was suspended for harmlessly stepping off the bench in Game 5 of the conference semifinals when teammate Steve Nash was elbowed into the scorer's table by a San Antonio Spur.

Minus Stoudemire, the favored Suns lost Game 6 at home and were eliminated.

If you eliminate the failure-to-win-a-ring thing, the Suns have been an unqualified success, an entertaining, up-tempo franchise rarely without an identifiable superstar, be it Charles Barkley, Steve Nash, Walter Davis or Connie Hawkins.

They own the place, Phoenix, that is, which is a Suns town the way Dallas is a Cowboys town.

The Suns began so modestly that they spent just $200 with a Tucson printer for the teams' original logo. They even played regular-season games at Tucson's Catalina High School, drawing as few as 2,616 fans here.

More than 28,000 people entered a "name the team" contest in 1968. Of the many names suggested, 18 had sun-related themes. Sun Angels. Sun Beams. Sunbursts. Sunspots.

No one suggested Sunblock, which, in times of crisis, seems to be a working theme.

After losing an epic Game6 to Michael Jordan's Bulls in the 1993 NBA Finals at America West Arena (now US Airways Arena), the Suns scheduled a 2-mile parade in downtown Phoenix.

Remember, this was the losing team.

On a brutally hot June day, 300,000 Phoenicians swarmed the Suns. Barkley, the year's NBA MVP, was so overwhelmed by the reaction that he had to be rescued by security and taken to a platform above the masses.

"I had no idea what to expect. It was 115 degrees," former Suns megastar Dan Marjerle told Phoenix reporters 10 years later.

"You never know how many people are going to show up. I remember standing on the balcony of America West Arena looking down and just being awestruck by the number of people. It was ridiculous."

The Suns seem to be stuck on almosts.

The first "almost" arrived in June 1976. That's when the Suns won an improbable Game 5 at the Boston Garden, in triple-overtime, with Garfield Heard throwing in a desperation 35-foot jumper as the clock expired. Phoenix won 128-126.

Two days later, in Phoenix, the Celtics won the title 87-80.

The second "just about" was in late June 1993. After winning a triple-overtime - déjà vu, right? - game in Chicago, the Finals slipped away even though Kevin Johnson scored 55 points in Game 4, and the Suns rallied to win Game 5.

In Game 6, with the Suns leading in the final five seconds, about to force a winner-take-all showdown, Bulls guard John Paxson was, hauntingly, left alone to swish a three-pointer.

The Bulls won 99-98.

A parade followed for both clubs.

"It was great drama," Johnson said. "You had the greatest basketball player on arguably the greatest team going for its third straight championship against a team with the best record in the game.

"The road team won five of the six games, including the triple-overtime thriller, and the series was decided on a three-pointer with only four seconds left. For entertainment value, it couldn't be topped - unless, of course, the Suns had won."

And that's an appropriate legacy for 43 years of Suns basketball: "Unless, of course, the Suns had won."

Contact Arizona Daily Star columnist Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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