Quick to hold a grudge yet molasses slow to forgive an enemy. That will be my epitaph. It also explains why I’m having a difficult time with the Phoenix Suns these days.
The Suns were a big reason I moved west in 1995. They had Charles Barkley, upon whom I had spent much of my grad school stipend buying cheap seats in Philly’s old Spectrum arena. If Phoenix was good enough for Chuck, hey, who was I to argue?
Two years after Suns fans had their hearts broken in the 1993 NBA Finals by Michael Jordan’s Bulls, I moved to Phoenix armed with all manner of purple hats and regalia. Over the next 15 years, I watched, listened or attended the next thousand Suns games in a row.
True story: I so loved the 2007 Steve Nash-led Suns, I traveled to San Antonio for games three and four of that franchise-changing playoff series against the loathsome Spurs. I was in the stands when Robert Horry hip-checked Nash into the scorer’s table. The ensuing mayhem caused Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw to leave the bench — earning each a one-game suspension — and required me to be physically restrained from punching a Spurs fan in the postgame taxi line.
Not my finest moment as a human. And the Suns losing to the Spurs remains my biggest heartbreak as a sports fanatic.
The Purple Gang never really recovered from that debacle. They won 55 games the next season but again lost to the Spurs in the playoffs. Coach Mike D’Antoni left; front-office bumbling began.
By 2010, owner Robert Sarver had parlayed the mythic “Seven Seconds or Less” squad into a sub-.500 bunch that wasted Nash’s prime. I shared season tickets with a buddy that year and seeing Sarver strut about so annoyed me. I began to give my seats away — and skip watching games.
By 2012, I couldn’t have picked most Suns’ players out of a police lineup, a useful attribute when the team’s roster featured Marcus and Markieff Morris.
Then, a couple years ago, a strange thing happened: This franchise somehow found its way. Sarver slipped into the background, perhaps having realized that being a quiet disliked rich guy who owns a winning team is more profitable than being a loud disliked rich guy who owns a loser.
They drafted Devin Booker, who scores at will; inked world-class human Monty Williams as coach; and landed Deandre Ayton, a 6-foot-11 mountain with Shaq-esque potential.
This iteration of the Suns grabbed the NBA’s attention by going 8-0 in last year’s COVID-19 “bubble,” then traded for point guard Chris Paul, a sure Hall of Famer.
With the playoffs looming, Phoenix has the league’s second-best record. Few pundits are shouting “title contender,” but with LeBron James gimpy, anything is possible in this odd, pandemic-mired season. I find myself wanting to care about the Suns again, but wary, on guard, over-cautious.
Will Sarver bust out his old foam finger? Will Manu Ginobili, age 133 and fully bald, come out of retirement to join the Lakers, then flop the entire Suns team into foul trouble at a critical moment?
Or will the Suns end up in the finals against the Brooklyn Nets, who appear to have signed every All-Star in NBA history and are coached by — wait for it — Steve Nash?
Imagine that storyline: The prodigal son returns, accompanied by his assistant coach — wait for it again — Mike D’Antoni. Will they get their revenge on Sarver? Or will the unthinkable happen: Will the Phoenix Suns finally win an NBA title after zero championships in 53 seasons?
Finally, another Suns series I wouldn’t miss for the world.