One-on-One With Gar Heard

By Stefan Swiat,
Posted: Sept. 20, 2011

Gar Heard, who played five productive seasons for the Suns, was known for drilling the most memorable shot in Suns history, sending Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals into a third OT. was able to catch up with the former Suns forward and chat with him about the "shot," Sooner basketball and how he became a Sun. So where are you living these days?

Gar Heard: I spend my time in Atlanta during the summers and usually I get back to Arizona sometime in October for most of the winter. Do you keep in touch with many people in Phoenix?

Heard: I still talk with some of the guys that I played with, but I see Alvan (Adams) often. Of all the guys that live there now, I see him quite a bit. I see Alvin (Gentry) a good amount too. I used to work with him in Detroit. I come to about 4-5 games a year. Since coaching on Larry Brown’s staff in Charlotte, what have you been up to?

Heard: I’ve just been hanging around Atlanta. I worked with some high school kids, consulting a little bit. I’m probably going to do the same thing in Phoenix when I get back out there. Are you going to work with any of your former teammates or is it going to be your own show?

Heard: I know a bunch of the coaches out there and I’ll try to help them out as a consultant. I won’t be doing any coaching, just helping out a little bit. So when you look back at your career do you consider yourself a Sun?

Heard: Yeah. I think everybody mostly does too. I probably had my best years there. I think that everybody that talks to me and remembers me as a player remembers me as a Sun. Do you think you became a Sun because of your Oklahoma connection with former Suns Head Coach John MacLeod?

Heard: I think so. I think John really pushed for me to get there because I played for him for four years at Oklahoma. As a former Sooner, who do you think is the best player to come out of Oklahoma?

Heard: I think if you look at Oklahoma history, you have to put Wayman (Tisdale) up there as the main guy, especially with his stats and everything. Everybody had a different era. When I went to Oklahoma, the basketball program was just taking off. We kind of put the foundation down for them, and then Alvan (Adams) and Wayman came in after that and it just grew from there. You have to put Stacey King in there as one of those guys too… and Mookie Blaylock. We’ve had some good players through there, but Oklahoma basketball just doesn’t get a lot of recognition because of the football program. What was going through your mind when the Suns traded for you? Were you really excited to get reunited with Coach MacLeod?

Heard: I had mixed emotions because I knew I was going to be traded and I thought I was going to the Lakers. And when I got the call that I had been traded, that was my first thought, right away. Then the PR guy at the bus load said, "No, you’re going to Phoenix." It was kind of unique because I was disappointed in a way. When you looked at our record at the time, we (Buffalo Braves) were headed for the playoffs and Phoenix was really struggling. It was kind of a downer. But once I got there and got a chance to meet the players and reunite with John, everything just kind of clicked. It turned out to be a great situation for me. What was your favorite memory of your time in Phoenix?

Heard: Everybody talks about playing against Boston in the 1976 (NBA) Finals, but I have to look at the Golden State series because they were the defending champions and no one even expected us to come close to them. We beat them in Game 7 at their place. That series to me was probably the most memorable series. That one game in Boston was the most memorable game, but beating Golden State was the most memorable series.

Heard might have nailed the most memorable shot in Suns history.
(NBAE/Getty Images) Take us back to the “Shot heard around the world.” When you hit that buzzer-beating jumper to send Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals to a third overtime, what was that moment like?

Heard: It was kind of crazy because we never thought that we would get a chance to take another shot. Of course, the timeout moved the ball up, which put us closer to the hoop. The play was designed for (Paul) Westphal to come off a pick and if he wasn’t open I was going to flash up to the top of the key. I knew they were going to go to Westphal, but Curtls (Perry) saw that I was open and it was one of those things that you dream about your whole career. Even at the playground you think about turning around and making the game-winning shot, and I just happened to fall into that situation. I had done it in college a couple of times, but this was a big moment. And I think that’s what stood out more than everything else. What did you think of Westphal’s presence of mind to get that technical so you could advance the ball?

Heard: That was amazing to me because I can’t think of anyone that would have ever thought of that. His mind was in the game. You could tell then that he was sure to be a coach somewhere because his mind was in the game and he knew that we wouldn’t be able to score from underneath our basket with one second to go. He just told John that we needed to call a timeout because we’d only get a technical foul and we’d get to move the ball up. We were only down one, so if we got two we knew we’d go into overtime. It was a great call and one of those calls that people don’t give him a lot of credit for. When you look back who was your favorite teammate to hang around with?

Heard: I’d have to say Curtis (Perry). Curtis and I were very close. We played against each other in college and so when I came to Phoenix, he was one of the first guys to open up to me. And we’ve been friends ever since and have kept talking to each other. Curtis is the probably the one guy that I hung out with more than anybody else. What do you miss most about Phoenix as a city?

Heard: The weather and the people there. They were very good to me when I was there and even when I come back now they are very kind. I really miss the city and the people there because it’s one of the places that I really enjoyed spending time at and I think it’s eventually going to be my permanent home once I leave Atlanta. Who was the best player you ever played with and against?

Heard: That’s tough because I played with (Bob) McAdoo, Walter (Davis) and Spencer Haywood. There are a ton of guys, like Chet Walker and guys like that. I have to put you on the spot though.

Heard: I was fortunate enough to play with and against a lot of great guys. I’ll put it this way. The most fun guy and the closest guy that I ever played with – that I thought was a great player – was Bob McAdoo. We had a young team in Buffalo then and it was more like a bunch of young kids running up and down the court. And the guy that gave me the most trouble of anyone I ever played against was Elvin Hayes. He was big, he could score, he could rebound and he was strong. And I wasn’t the biggest guy in the world, but I had to guard that guy a lot. Since you’re career concluded you’ve gotten into coaching, is that something you knew you always wanted to do?

Heard: At first I didn’t, but after I was out of the game for a year or so I decided that coaching was really what I wanted to do. It's because I enjoyed the game, I enjoyed working with the kids and I enjoyed teaching. I got the opportunity to go to Dallas with John MacLeod and it really worked out great for me. I really enjoyed the years I was able to coach. How has the game changed over the years and since you were playing?

Heard: I think it’s gotten a lot younger and a lot more athletic. I think the rule changes have changed the game more than the talent and personnel. Some of the rule changes that have happened since I played have been for the best, while some of the rule changes have hurt the game. It’s still a basketball game, a physical game, and you should be allowed to touch a guy every now and then. I think that’s the one thing that has hurt the game more than anything else. And I think now it’s getting to be more entertainment than basketball, which is something about the game that I don’t really care to see. So when you compare eras and take the best players from your era, do you think that they would be just as successful today as they were then? Do you think with changes in nutrition, training and strength and conditioning that those players would have evolved and become just as effective?

Heard: I think that they would’ve adjusted to the training. I think in my era, the talent and the basketball skills were probably more dominant than they are now. The athleticism of today is more dominant today, but the basketball skills of the players from the 60s and the 70s were more of a dominant thing. Those guys could do so many different things. They could shoot jumpers, they could get to the basket. I think that now the game is either you dunk the ball or you shoot threes. I think a lot of the other stuff has been missing from the game. So how do we fix that?

Heard: That's a tough one. You have to work with the young kids. They see the SportsCenter highlights and they want to follow the guys that can just dunk over people. I think we have to teach young people the fundamentals of the game. I think in Europe that they do that a lot. They start out young and they learn the fundamentals and we don’t do that anymore. In high school and college, we were taught fundamentals first and I think that AAU has a lot to do with that because they take the most talented players and just put them out there to play. When you first started playing professional basketball, did you have any idea that the NBA was going to explode into this global entity that it is today?

Heard: No. I never did and I don’t think anyone really thought that. The age of television kind of mobilized the whole game and I think you have to give credit to the Commissioner for making this a global game because he really exposed this game to a lot of people around the world.

Any questions or comments for Stefan Swiat? Click here to send him your comments by e-mail.