Cedric Ceballos on '93
Posted: June 4, 2003
A key member of the 1992-93 Suns, Cedric Ceballos suffered a knee injury in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the Seattle SuperSonics and was forced to sit out the '93 NBA Finals matchup with the Chicago Bulls.
Suns.com caught up with the retired forward during a recent workout at the Suns' practice facility, where he talked at length about that disappointing injury and that amazing season of 10 years ago.
Suns.com: Can you believe it’s been 10 years since the 1992-93 season already?
Cedric Ceballos: It’s been a short 10 years. I don’t think Charles (Barkley) has got any gray hairs yet. It was a great season. Most of my closest friends come from that team. The way the city responded to that, they’re still kind of riding that, but we’re due to go back deep into the playoffs.
Suns.com: With the new arena, new uniforms and the trade for Barkley, the season was set up for something special already. What were your expectations heading into the year?
Ceballos: It kind of rode itself out. Jerry (Colangelo) played it to perfection and the timing was perfect. Charles was looking to leave a year before that but we couldn’t make the deal or I don’t know if they were even trying to make the deal. Taking the chance of giving up Jeff Hornacek, one of our great players and making that trade. It was just perfect.
Everyone had a great year. (Dan) Majerle played unbelievable. Kevin (Johnson) played a great year that year. He got hurt a couple of times and came back. We had a great bench with me and (Richard) Dumas, big Oliver (Miller), Mark West. It’s like we were building up for that year and it’s a real disappointment that (John) Paxson hit that shot to kind of kill us (in Game 6 of the Finals).
Suns.com: Do you still consider the season a success overall?
Ceballos: It was a successful year. Obviously, we wanted to win a championship really, really bad. At that time it was Mike’s (Michael Jordan) last game even though he came back a couple more times. It was a great time, a great experience. It was a great time for basketball, for the city of Phoenix, Arizona. I can just recall riding around and the city was just on lockdown.
When we were on the road playing, I talked to my family here and they said it was like a ghost town. Everybody was connected to the tube, connected on a radio listening to Al (McCoy), trying to figure out what was going to happen. It was so intense, especially that San Antonio series. When we played in that San Antonio series you really saw people saying, “Okay, we’ve got something really special here, let me go ahead and participate.” Obviously our record showed how good we were in the regular season, but when we started performing well in the playoffs, that’s when people in Arizona really knew that we had something special and knew we were going to go all the way.
Suns.com: Were you even surprising yourself in the playoffs?
Ceballos: We were a little bit because of the opportunities for us to take advantage of what was going on. The regular season was great, but that’s the regular season. A lot of players on our team had never really gone past that second, third tier, so it was new basketball for us and we really didn’t understand that. My first years here, we went first, second round and that was fine, but we hadn’t gone past that.
Once we hit San Antonio, we knew we had something here and we could roll. We had two more series and we could get to the Finals, and hopefully we could win it. It was a real wakening that maybe we were just a regular season team when the Lakers came in here and got us twice (in the first round). Once we woke up from that, that was a big surprise.
Suns.com: What did you think when Westphal predicted a series victory over the Lakers after losing the first two games to L.A. in Phoenix?
Ceballos: That was pure Westphal. That’s how he was the whole season. He never really worried about leads. He never worried when we were down or up. He wanted to drill everybody we competed against. If you were on the opposite team, if you weren’t wearing the same colors we were wearing, Westphal had confidence that we were going to kick your butt and his prediction just let everybody else know where his mentality was. We already knew that he was there.
He never sweated it. He knew that it was a fluke and that everyone had the jitters. They were playing out of their league because they’re the bottom team and they’re trying to show they’re not as bad as their record was. He just said, “Calm down.” He didn’t change anything up, he didn’t make any switches in the lineup and he didn’t make any different speeches. The only thing he said was to let everybody know how confident he was that we were going to win. That’s what we had been seeing the whole year.
Suns.com: What was it like to be here in town during the Finals?
Ceballos: Chicago’s a big city. Obviously, they had won two championships before and they didn’t even see the reaction that we saw here. I mean, come on, we lost and we had more people at our parade than maybe they had at theirs and they won. You really felt the energy from everybody and the support if you were an opposing team coming in here. Tattoos on the fans’ faces, coloring the back of their cars, the murals. You had Charles, Dan and KJ going around with their faces on city buses.
Everybody felt it and I think the great thing about it is that everybody was participating and they really felt the highs and the lows. It really was a city win and a city loss. You look at the videos now after that shot (by Paxson) and even though the Bulls are celebrating, you see our fans just sitting on their seats like they just lost a kid or something. Like one of their babies had just run away from home. That’s how we felt. The whole city all mourned that same kind of feeling.
When we were high, we all were. You walked around town and all you heard was good, encouraging words. Everybody kind of pulled in and that’s the love that Phoenix has. It’s ironic because I saw that spark when the Diamondbacks were on their quest and they got their World Series ring. You saw the fans doing the same thing, so it’s about this town and I really think that we were a small part of it. We might have been the spark of it being a team.
All we had to do was win a couple of games. The fans were hungry for it. They were wanting something to cling onto. They wanted the opportunity to clasp onto a group of individuals that had spirit and heart, and we were those individuals and now it just continues. It continues with the baseball team, they’re supporters of the hockey team, if we can get the football team to do the same thing. They’ve been clinging to the Rattlers, too. It was just a matter of time for our city to be one of the big powerhouses in sports.
Suns.com: How disappointing was it for you to break your foot and miss out on the Finals?
Ceballos: It was tough. We were waiting for it. Right before the All-Star break I cracked my foot. The doctors and coaches were just waiting on it. The doctor said it was going to break eventually. You can rehab it and sometimes that messes it up or you can just play on it until it breaks and it just broke.
You don’t know if it was meant to be that way. Was I the big piece? Because Michael was retiring and he lost his dad, was that a better reason for him to win? You really don’t know. There’s a lot of stories that could be put together, but I think ours was great and it would have been a great ending to put it to a championship, but it’s also a great ending any way because we did come up and surprise a lot of people.
Suns.com: What do you think the legacy of that season left behind?
Ceballos: We put ourselves on the map. All those players, the camaraderie from the fans and us to kind of stick together, and I think it’s going to be talked about in the next 10 years. They’re still going to be talking about it and they’re still going to love it. I know they still talk about the triple-overtime when they went to the Finals in 1976.
It’s great to see some of the people that have had season tickets from the beginning and way back in the day when I first got here. I know that’s not a long time, but they’re still here, still supporting, still pushing. They still want to see the same success for each and every one that puts on a uniform here. Every time I came home, I got a standing ovation. Jeff, Dan, everybody that came back home, that team right there, they always give that love and respect and I think that it’s just going to go on and I hope that continues.