With the season quickly going south as even prediction-guru John Hollinger left the Suns with 1.7 out of 100 chances of making the Playoffs I believe it could be the perfect time to wander into the grand scheme of things. While I’m not planning to reflect on the meaning of life or the passing of time – at least not yet, I’m waiting the Draft for that - I spent a few days reading one of the greatest basketball books ever written while asking myself what place can the Suns claim in the history of the game.
The book in question is The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History, written by that group of geniuses known to the World as The Free Darko High Council. Those same authors gave us another little gem in the Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac in 2008 and one great website @Freedarko.com.
The History is divided into decades as each chapter captures the spirit, the style and the great characters who made this game from the obvious, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Lew Alcindor, Doc. J, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson (and so on to MJ and Kobe) to those who changed the game silently or tragically, the likes of Maurice Stokes, Connie Hawkins and David Thompson (who added the vertical dimension to the game) to those who left too early like the immense Drazen Petrovic who made the NBA a global game.
While being informative and very accurate (Where else could you find a detailed map of fights between players from 1980 to 2009* or Total Hair Growth for NBA players in the 70’s as a result of a detailed analysis of 1,522 basketball cards) the book’s lyric approach to the game is quite evident: “The ball leapt out of Jordan’s hands as if imbued with his spirit, understanding for the first time what the rest of its life would be like” (p. 120). This is William Faulkner, 50 years later.
Two Suns teams stand out in the game’s history: The 1992-93 Charles Barkley Suns and of course the “0:07 seconds or less” edition of more recent memory. Both came within moments from the greatest glory as adverse destiny took the form of John Paxson (with a little help from Mr. Jordan) and Robert Horry (with a little help from Mr. Stern).
The 1993 Suns were “an NBA Haley’s comet that emerged for but a season never to reappear” but they were an amazing group of characters nonetheless: Oliver Miller (“the roundest man ever to play the game”), Dan Majerle, Tom Chambers, Richard Dumas, Cedric Ceballos and, of course, KJ and Sir Charles himself.
The 2007 version of the Suns are still an open wound to our collective soul. As we all know too well history will one day make justice to the greatest injustice in the history of the game: The 2007 Spurs-Suns playoff series that prevented our Suns from entering immortality, and claiming a championship to prove that you could win with speed and joy and that eventually good could prevail over evil (forever dressed in silver and black).
“Only Robert Horry’s body check on Nash – resulting in the weirdest suspension in league history, with the Suns losing both Diaw and Stoudemire – caused the system to fail” (p. 191).
“This was basketball in its purest but most clearly belligerent form. And would it become a standard by which all other up-tempo teams would be judged” (p. 190). I miss the joy of watching those Suns every night…
As my passion for books is possibly on par with the love of the game I can’t resist a good basketball book, and this is a really good one, well worthy of 25 USD and a few days reading: “We ain’t here for a long time, we here to have a good time” as Barkley’s been known to say (p. 129).
Luca the Steve Fan
* in case you wonder, Rick Mahorn and Bill Lambeer are off the chart!