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Scott Howard-Cooper

The Suns appear set to make the desert trip a regular part of the preseason.
P.A. Molumby/NBAE via Getty Images

Proof that outdoor hoops could become lasting event

Posted Oct 12 2009 7:48AM

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- This was the night that playing an NBA game outdoors became a brilliant idea, with Suns-Warriors al fresco no worse than countless preseason contests that get sloppy even with a roof, with the fun of basketball under the sky, and with the weather cooperating in c-c-c-contrast to the winter festival the Suns and Nuggets endured a year before.

If the 2008 exhibition was the concern of what could wrong in the first time the league tried the outdoors since 1972, Saturday under the lights of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden was the affirmation that it could easily become a lasting event. It was Golden State 104, Phoenix 101 before 14,979 in the desert, it was the marriage of basketball and marketing in David Stern's dream world.

"It was a lot of fun, weather permitting," Channing Frye said after finishing with 19 points and eight rebounds, both team highs, for the Suns.

One more game like last year and the idea could have died a hypothermic death. Instead, temperatures were mostly in the 70s after sundown and every indication from the Suns was that they would be back, maybe indefinitely until further notice, a particularly welcome development for a region that estimates the game is worth $3 million for the local economy in everything from hotels and restaurant spending for visitors to stadium use.

Rare as the chilled temperatures of the 2008 game were, as players from both teams puffed hot breath into their hands to stay warm, the Suns were concerned enough about a frosty repeat that they received permission from the league for a rare uniform adjustment and had long-sleeve shirts made for both teams to be worn under the jerseys. The extra layer was never needed -- a beautiful afternoon in the low-90s gave way to an ideal evening and a 6:40 opening tip with barely so much as a windbreaker or sweater spotted in the stands.

Not merely a benefit of the moment, the return to normal October conditions in the Palm Springs area, about 125 miles east of Los Angeles and 250 west of Phoenix, was a welcome sign that at least Mother Nature would not stand in the way of the event becoming annual. The year before had been that bad -- the mercury in the 60s around the fourth quarter, both teams shooting poorly -- and another night of cold and winds could have brought into question the value of returning in 2010.

Instead, the Suns appear set to make the desert trip a regular part of the preseason.

"I'm not sure there's anywhere else in the country that could do this," president Rick Welts said. "We have such a limited window of when we could do it. If you move 120 miles to Los Angeles, it's 20 degrees cooler there than it is right here. This time of year, that's a little risky. I really believe this is the only facility in the country where this could actually take place. Assuming we have another great experience for the players, another great experience for the fans, I think we're definitely inclined to continue to come back on a regular basis."

The Suns had giant video scoreboards installed on the top of each deck behind the baseline in the 16,000-seat stadium that has a lower bowl, two levels of suites and an upper section. Two smaller scoreboards were also brought in and placed at two corners of the bottom level. And, one of the Phoenix courts was brought in for the occasion, updated with decals to promote the host city and "NBA Outdoors!"

One problem remained: the game. The Warriors committed 19 turnovers in their third preseason contest and the Suns shot 40.4 in their first against NBA competition, following the Tuesday home game against a club from Yugoslavia, and neither could blame the conditions.

"Interesting," Golden State coach Don Nelson said of the setting. "The last time I played outdoors, I was with the Celtics and we were in Puerto Rico. We played two games there, I believe, outdoors. Very different."

That's the idea.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here.

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