Dan Majerle On '93
Dan Majerle gave Phoenix fans a preview of the fireworks that were to come in the playoffs when, on April 6, 1993, he nailed two three-pointers in the final 23.6 seconds to secure the Suns’ first-ever regular season series sweep of the Lakers. Thunder Dan, who was inducted into the Suns’ Ring of Honor nearly 10 years later on March 24, 2003, went on to average 15.4 points and hit a club-record 54 three-pointers in the Suns’ wild playoff ride of '93.
One of the most popular players in Suns history, Majerle sat down with Suns.com recently to reminisce about that amazing run and recalls the frustration of coming oh so close to an NBA Championship a decade ago.
Suns.com: What was it like to reach the Western Conference Finals your first two years in Phoenix?
Dan Majerle: When I came to the Suns, they hadn’t made the playoffs and weren’t a very good team. They got (Tom) Chambers and Kevin Johnson, and they drafted me and four other draft picks, and they had (Jeff) Hornacek and Tyrone Corbin and all of those guys. We turned it around that first year and won 55 games, and had a big turnaround and just kept the momentum going. Then we really couldn’t get over the top until we traded for (Charles) Barkley, which we did for the 1992-93 season. Getting a player like him and the arena opening up just propelled us to the top. We had the best record in the league that year and made it to the Finals.
Suns.com: What were the expectations heading entering that 1992-93 season?
Majerle: The expectations were very high because of our success before, which was the reason we traded for Charles. We had to give up a couple of good players, a real good player in Hornacek, and Tim Perry (and Andrew Lang). Once we got Charles we expected him to be able to get us over the top and get us to the Finals, and that’s exactly what he did. He was a player that controlled the game in many ways and he was a good teammate, and we had good guys around him. It was just a perfect year because of the building being new and just a brand new start. It was a dream year.
Suns.com: How did your role on the team change with the arrival of Charles?
Majerle: When they traded Hornacek I was moved to the two-guard instead of playing the (small) forward position, so my job was to stand out there and space the floor for Charles, and when he demanded double-teams he’d kick it out to me and I’d shoot three-pointers. My game changed from being the guy who slashed and took it to the hole a lot to a guy who stood out on the perimeter and waited for double-teams, and then took the open shot and did what I had to do. I think everybody’s game adjusted to Charles, because he was such a force down low.
I was getting older and I’d played a lot of minutes. My body wasn’t the same and I wasn’t able to jump as high or slash as hard to the basket as I used to, so I think the change was good for me. It allowed me to develop in other areas and become a really good three-point shooter. It allowed me to stay in the league and be successful so much longer, because if I was just going to continue being a slasher and a dunker, obviously my body wasn’t going to allow me to do that as well as I was used to.
Suns.com: What were the expectations heading into the playoffs that year and your opening round series against the Lakers?
Majerle: We were very confident. We had a great year, won a lot games both at home and on the road. Then the Lakers came in and beat us two in a row here at home and panic kind of set in. But we had enough confidence and trust to know that we could win three in a row. We went to L.A. and we had been a good road team all year long, and won two there and then came back here and finished them off in overtime (in Game 5). It woke us up and we played San Antonio and beat them, and went after Seattle and did a good job with them, and had the Bulls in the Finals.
Suns.com: What was the reaction in the locker room to Paul Westphal’s proclamation that the Suns would win two in Los Angeles and come back to Phoenix and win Game 5?
Majerle: I think we had confidence before that, but I think it was more for the fans in Phoenix. We knew that we were able to go on the road and win games. We did it all year long. I think we had won 17 or 18 games straight, so it wasn’t something that we didn’t think we could do, especially in L.A. where we had dominated most of the year. We just had to remain confident and go out and play our style of basketball.
Suns.com: What are your memories of Barkley’s shot in Game 6 of the Semifinals to knock out San Antonio?
Majerle: It was a big shot, especially in San Antonio. Charles just isolated (David) Robinson at the top and just pulled up and shot a 17-footer, and sealed the series win. It was a big moment definitely. I had confidence in Charles. He had a big man on him and Charles had always been a pretty good shooter from the outside, and he’d always been a clutch player. We knew we were going to put the ball in his hands and I thought he made the right shot. He did a good job of backing David off and just shooting the 17-footer.
Suns.com: Then you move onto the Conference Finals against Seattle.
Majerle: That was a great series. They won a game at our place, we had to go win a game at their place. Fun series. It was always fun playing against Seattle because they did a lot of scrambling and double-teaming defenses, and I was able to get open. I remember hitting eight three-pointers in one game here at home. I think it was Game 5. That was a big memory. It was just a fun series to play in. Obviously it was intense because it went seven games and the winner got to go to the Finals.
Suns.com: What was that series like in the later stages and then going into a decisive Game 7?
Majerle: The momentum switches so many times. You win one game and the momentum’s on you. Then Seattle came in and beat us in a game, and all of a sudden they’ve got the momentum. We were able to go to Seattle and win a game there. You just can’t get too high or too low because things change so quickly. When it comes down to a seventh game, any team can win no matter what floor you’re on. It just depends on who plays better that game and how the ball bounces. That’s what makes the playoffs so great. Anything can happen at any time and the momentum switches so often.
Suns.com: What did you think about Barkley’s announcement that he would score 40 and grab 20 rebounds in Game 7 against the Sonics?
Majerle: I knew he could. He’d done it so many times. He’d carried this team so many times and that game he came out and carried us. That’s exactly why we traded for him, because he was a guy who can dominate the game and that’s exactly what he did.
Suns.com: What did you think of Tom Chambers getting the start in Game 7?
Majerle: Tom’s a big reason that America West Arena was built and the Suns turned around, so it was nice to have him involved. I’m sure that season was a little disappointing for him, because he didn’t get to play as much as he wanted to. He’s always been a great player so that was great.
Suns.com: Do you remember what the city of Phoenix was like when you advanced to the NBA Finals?
Majerle: They had been nuts all year long. I remember there being open practices that were sold out. It wasn’t just the Finals. It was all year long. They just really jumped on our bandwagon and in the Finals it just stepped up to another level, because we were playing Chicago with (Michael) Jordan. But this was just a great city to play in. They love the Suns and the fans treat you great, and it was just a lot of fun to be around it.
Suns.com: Is it possible you guys were over confident entering the Finals, because things had gone your way up to that point?
Majerle: I don’t think we were overconfident. Any time you played Michael and the Bulls you’re not going in overconfident. We had never been in that situation before and Chicago had. They came out and they played well and stung us early. We didn’t play very well and we didn’t protect our home court. But the good thing about our year was that we were able to go out on the road and win. We did that all year long and didn’t fear playing on the road. We went into the old Chicago Stadium and won two out of the next three to get us back in the series.
Suns.com: What do you remember about the triple-overtime win in Game 3?
Majerle: I think I played 59 minutes (laughs). It was an awesome game. Like I said before, the momentum changed. One guy would come down and hit a shot, then another guy on the other end would come down hit a big shot. A couple of misses here, a couple of misses there. It was just one of those classic games that I’ll never forget and am so glad I was a part of.
Suns.com: What was your reaction to Barkley’s “saving the city” attitude in winning Game 5?
Majerle: I remember we should have won the second game there. We had a chance to win it and we let that one slip away, and they were talking about how they were going to celebrate after that third game in Chicago and how the city was going to be torn apart (in riots). They were boarding up the windows with plywood and everything. Charles said we were going to save the city and that’s exactly what we did. We came out and played great and got the sixth game back here in Phoenix.
Suns.com: What was it like in the last minutes of Game 6 as you saw your lead getting chipped away?
Majerle: It is a nightmare to still think about it. We were up two and we were in the huddle. I remember saying, "anything but a three and this thing goes into overtime, and we could win it in overtime and then we got a Game 7 here on Sunday." The last words out of everybody’s mouth was, “No threes." It just happened that the ball got down to Horace Grant and Horace had a wide open six to eight-footer, and Danny Ainge went down to try to discourage it. (Grant) turned around and found (John) Paxson who had a wide open three. As soon as he let it go I was underneath the basket and I saw it was going in and it was just a sickening feeling.
Suns.com: It sounds like Paxson’s three still gnaws at you now, 10 years later.
Majerle: Almost every day. You can’t imagine how bad it is. I really do believe if he misses that shot or we win that game, we go to Game 7 and everything’s on our side. I believe we’re going to win that game and I’ve got a ring and I’m a World Champion. I never had another opportunity to get back there so it really does still sting.
Suns.com: Are you convinced the Suns would have won Game 7?
Majerle: I think so. We would have had the momentum. That would have been three out of the last four games. Game 7 in Phoenix with the crowd and everything on the line, and the way Charles had been able to play and step up, I really believe we would have won.
Suns.com: What did you expect from the parade following the Finals? What was that day like for you?
Majerle: I had no idea what to expect. It was 115 degrees. You never know how many people are going to show up. I remember standing on the balcony of America West Arena looking down and just being awe struck by the number of people. It was ridiculous. Then getting in the car and having people lining the streets, it was unbelievable to have that many people out there supporting us in that kind of weather.
Suns.com: Have you ever experienced that sort of “rock star” status before or since?
Majerle: Not on that magnitude for sure. Everybody’s always been good to me here, but that day was just ridiculous. Like I said, it was 115 degrees and people were just standing out there in the middle of the day cheering us on as we drove in the car. It was very special.
Suns.com: What was your relationship with Barkley overall during that season?
Majerle: Charles was a great guy and a fantastic person to play with. He played hard and he had a lot of fun. That told us about our team. We had a lot of fun but we played hard and we won. He was just a great teammate. I loved him on the floor and I had a good time with him off the court. He kept everybody loose. He was one of my favorite guys ever to play with.
Suns.com: You are among the leaders in nearly every Suns playoff category, including having played the second-most number of playoff games (83 to KJ's 105) in the team’s history. How important is that to you as you look back on your career?
Majerle: It’s important because it means I was on good teams and I helped the Suns get to the playoffs a lot. It’s been a great career here. I wish it had never ended. I wish I could have stayed here my whole career, but obviously that didn’t happen. I just enjoyed being here and enjoyed playing on so many playoff teams, and being involved in so many wins. It just feels good to be such a big part of the franchise’s history.
Suns.com: What legacy has that team and season of 1992-93 left on the Phoenix Suns organization?
Majerle: I think it will be around forever because it was such a great year and the way the fans rallied around us. The way the whole season went, I don’t think it will ever be duplicated. It’s hard to get that kind of fan support and that kind of momentum going towards a team like there was that year. I think that will be the year that everyone looks back upon as probably one of the greatest years ever in the Phoenix organization. Hopefully, they’ll put together a team here that can win a championship someday, but that year will always be special because we were pretty much the only thing in town.