Phoenix Suns: 50 Years of Basketball

In 1968, the Phoenix Suns entered the NBA as an expansion team with general manager Jerry Colangelo and head coach Johnny “Red” Kerr leading the way. They selected Dick Van Arsdale from the New York Knicks in the expansion draft. Van Arsdale would score the very first point in Suns’ history on October 18th 1968 against the Seattle SuperSonics. Here are some of the great moments in Suns’ history over the last 50 years.

The 70’s – In 1970, Phoenix lost on a coin flip that would have landed them UCLA legend Lew Alcindor. The Suns were able to bounce back from the bad luck by acquiring Paul Silas and Connie Hawkins nicknamed “The Hawk” with the second overall pick and considered one of the greatest in franchise history. After starting the season 15-23, general manager Colangelo took over as head coach and he led the Suns to the playoffs with a 39-43 record. They faced the Lakers and had them in a 3-1 hole, but lost the series. The next season featured a brand new head coach in Cotton Fitzsimmons, under his leadership the Suns improved, posting a 48-34 record. However, due to the realignment, the Suns would finish in third place in the Midwestern Division and miss the playoffs. The 71-72 season featured Hawkins and Van Arsdale averaging 20 points a game each. Over the new few seasons, the Suns would go through a series of coaches including Bill Van Breda Kolff, followed by John McLeod in 1973. That brings us to the 1976 season a magical year for the Phoenix Suns and their fan base. After starting the season red, hot 14-9, they cooled off posting a 18-27 record, but in the second half of the season saw they got hot again, 24-13, finishing as the third seed for the playoffs. They were led by Hawkins, Van Arsdale, new comers Paul Westphal and Garfield Heard, and the NBA Rookie of the Year Alvan Adams.  The Suns defeated Seattle in six games, reaching their first ever Western Conference Finals against the reigning NBA Champion Golden State Warriors. The Suns would battle the Warriors all seven games and in the end would get past the Warriors and win their first ever NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics. The Celtics would take the first two games of the series only to see the Suns bounce back at home in game three and four setting up a pivotal game five in the famous Boston Garden. Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals might go down as one of the greatest games in NBA History. Phoenix was down by two points with one second left as Heard received the inbound pass from Curtis Perry and threw up a shot that went in to tie the game at 112, sending the game to a third overtime. However, the Suns would run out of gas in the third overtime, losing to the Celtics 128-126. Game six saw the Celtics defeat the Suns 87-80 taking home their 13th NBA Championship. In 1977, the Suns drafted Walter Davis who would have a great career with the Suns.He became a member of the Suns “Ring of Honor” and also have his number six jersey retired.

The 80’s- During the 1980-1981 season, the Suns traded Westphaul to the Sonics for guard Dennis Johnson. DJ would lead the Suns in scoring that season helping the Suns win their first ever division title with a 57-25 record, losing to the Kansas City Kings in the second round of the playoffs. During the 1985-1986 season saw Adams and Davis reached 12,000 points for their NBA career a very impressive feat.  In 1987, Colangelo became the new owner of the Suns as he purchased the team for 44 million dollars. During that season, they made a few trades that would help their team in the long run. The first one was at the NBA trade deadline when Phoenix traded Ed Pinckney to the Sacramento Kings for Eddie Johnson. The biggest deal came on February 21st, when The Suns sent Larry Nance, Mike Sanders, and a first round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Mark West, Tyrone Corbin, and Kevin Johnson. KJ is too must considered one of the greatest Suns of all-time a major fan favorite as well. His number seven jersey is retired by the team and is also a member of the “Ring of honor.” Fitzsimmons, the team’s GM at the time, would also take over as head coach during the 1988 season. They would sign Tom Chambers away from the Seattle SuperSonics. 1988 also saw a breakout season from KJ, averaging 21 points per game as a rookie while Dan Majerle averaged almost nine points. The Suns made it to the conference finals, but were over matched by the Los Angeles Lakers. KJ would take home the Most Improved Player award, Eddie Johnson took home Sixth Man of the Year, and coach Fitzsimmons won Coach of the Year.

The 90’s-  In 1991-1992, the Suns had their fourth straight 50-win season, going 53-29 finishing. They swept the San Antonio Spurs in the first round, but were halted by Portland. That season marked the end of Cotton’s coaching career handing the job over to former player Paul Westphaul. They also played their last game in Arizona Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum known as the Madhouse on McDowell.  The following season, after moving into America West Arena, the Suns made a huge splash trading Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang, and Tim Perry to the 76ers. They acquired Dream Team Member Charles Barkley. “Sir Charles” would have a great season for the Suns averaging 26 points to go with nine boards, helping the Suns to the best record in the NBA at 62-20. He became the first Suns’ player to win MVP. After losing the first two games to the eighth seeded Lakers, Westphaul made a guarantee that the Suns would come back to win the series and sure enough they did. In the next round against the Spurs, Barkley hit one of the biggest shots in Suns’ history when he hit 20-footer over the towering David Robinson with 1.8 seconds left. They would face a familiar foe in the Sonics in the WCF. A back and fourth series went down to the seventh and final game where Phoenix would reign supreme with a 123-110 victory over the Sonics. The MVP came up huge in game seven with 44 points and 24 rebounds. They would go on to face the back-to-back NBA Champion Chicago Bulls and superstar Michael Jordan.  After losing the first two games in Phoenix, the Suns would take game three in a wild three overtime game 129-121. They were led by Majerle’s 28 points as he hit six threes. They would split the next two games making it 3-2. In game six, the Bulls would take home the title when John Paxson was left wide open for a game winning three.

The next two seasons saw the Suns would reach their conference finals only to lose to the eventual NBA Champion Houston Rockets in seven games in both seasons. During the 1995-1996 season, Phoenix traded away fan favorite Majerle to Cleveland for big man John “Hot Rod” Williams. Also, Westphaul was fired and Fitzsimmons would make his third go around as the head coach. They finished 41-41 that season and got swept by the Spurs. Subsequently, Barkley was traded to the Rockets. The nexy year Fitzsimmons would only last eight games as former Suns guard Danny Ainge took over as the head coach. Phoenix would start that season 0-13 on before acquiring Jason Kidd from the Mavericks for Michael Finley, AC Green, and Sam Cassell. After only one game with the Suns, Kidd broke his collarbone as they lost him for some time. The Suns would amazingly make the playoffs as they finished the regular season 40-42. However, they were knocked out of the playoffs in five games by the Sonics.

The 2000’s- In 2000, the Suns traded Kidd to the New Jersey Nets for Stephon Marbury. In 2002, they made a risky decision by drafting Amar’e Stoudemire out of Cypress Creek High School in Orlando, Florida. That decision paid off as Amar’e would be a force on the boards during his rookie season with nine boards per game also being named NBA Rookie of the Year, beating out Yao Ming. In 2003-2004, season after a 5-12 start to the season Frank Johnson was fired and replaced by Mike D’Antoni. They finished that season 29-53 after the season the Suns would be back via free-agency signing point guard Steve Nash and Quentin Richardson as well. Next season the Suns finished with the best record in the NBA going 62-20 a complete turn around from 29-53 the year before. They matched a team record for most wins in a season set by the 1992-1993 team. D’Antoni’s “seven seconds or less” offense paid off as they led the NBA in scoring averaging 110 points per game. D’Antoni would be named NBA Coach of the Year and Nash would be come the second Sun to win the league’s MVP.  Phoenix would advance to the conference finals only to lose to the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs in five games.  They would lose to the Spurs in the playoffs the following year and Nash won another MVP. The 2006-2007 season saw the Suns, for the third time in franchise history, record 60 wins going 61-21 advancing to another WCF against the Spurs. There was bad blood written all over this series. In game four, they tied the series with 101-81 victory over the Spurs, but Robert Horry slammed Nash into the scores table causing a scuffle between the two teams. Stoudemire and Boris Diaw got off the bench and entered the court and because of a questionable NBA rule both were suspended for game five. The Spurs would win the series eventually.

The 2007-2008 season new general manager Steve Kerr would make his first big move as trading Shawn Marion to the Miami Heat for future Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal. The Suns would finish that season 55-27 record which was sixth best in Western Conference setting up a first round match up with the Spurs losing in fives games. After the season, D’Antoni would leave to coach the New York Knicks and he was replaced by Terry Porter. In 2010. they lost Stoudmire to free agency as he left to go join his former coach in New York. From 2011 to the present, the Suns have not made the playoffs and have gone through head coaches Porter, Alvin Gentry, Lindsey Hunter, Jeff Hornacek, Earl Watson, and current interim coach Jay Triano. In 2014 and 2015,  a ray of hope was sent the Phoenix Suns way as in 2014 they selected T.J. Warren out of NC State who led college basketball in scoring in 2014. In 2015, they selected, at lucky number 13, Devin Booker the sharp shooting guard out of Kentucky. 2016 would feature two more young pieces to the puzzle or “The Timeline” when at number three they selected Dragan Bender the 7 footer out of Croatia. After a trade with the Kings, they University of Washington’s Marquese Chriss.  They selected Kansas forward Josh Jackson with the fourth overall pick in 2017. With the timeline in place, the future does look bright for the Phoenix Suns only time will tell if they can return to the elite ranks.

Fun Interesting Facts

2- NBA Finals Appearances (1976, 1993)

9- Conference Championship Game Appearances (1976, 1979,  1984, 1989, 1990, 1993, 2005, 2006, 2010)

6- Division Championships (1981, 1993, 1995, 2005, 2006, 2007)

29- Playoff Appearances (1970, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010)

7- Hall of Famers (Charles Barkley, Jerry Colangelo, Gail Goodrich, Connie Hawkins, Dennis Johnson, Gus Johnson, Shaquille O’neal)

11- Retired Numbers: #5 Dick Van Arsdale, #6 Walter Davis, #7 (KJ) Kevin Johnson, #9 (Thunder) Dan Majerle, #13 Steve Nash, #24 (TC) Tom Chambers, #33 Alvan Adams, #34 (Sir Charles) Charles Barkley, #42 (The Hawk) Connie Hawkins, #44 Paul Westphaul, #832 Cotton Fitzsimmons

2- Coach of the Year Award Winners (1989 Cotton Fitzsimmons, 2005 Mike D’Antoni)

3- Rookie of the Year Award Winners (1976 Alvan Adams, 1978 Walter Davis, 2003 Amar’e Stoudemire)

3- Most Valuable Player Award Winners (1993 Charles Barkley, 2005 and 2006 Steve Nash)

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