The Hard Luck Suns, Part II
THE PHOENIX SUNS BROKE THEIR FRANCHISE RECORD for total number of wins for the third consecutive season in 1971-72, posting an impressive mark of 49-33, yet concluded the campaign exactly like they had the year before, by watching the playoffs on their living room TV sets.
|Charlie Scott joined the Suns with six games left in the '71-72 campaign.|
Their early season struggles, which included a four-game road trip that brought four-straight losses, was quickly forgotten, however, as the Suns won their next eight in a row and found themselves at 25-17 on January 7.
Phoenix embarked on another lengthy streak in February, winning nine straight, including a one-point nail biter against the Los Angeles Lakers, who posted a then-NBA record 69 victories in '71-72. In fact, the Suns were the only team in the NBA to defeat the eventual league champions twice in the regular season.
Phoenix nearly made it three wins over the seemingly invincible Lakers in the next-to-last regular-season game. Trailing 112-110 with two seconds left, Hawkins accepted an inbounds pass and canned a 20-footer from the right corner. But referees ruled the Hawk's right foot landed out of bounds and the basket was disallowed.
Much like that game, the Suns were oh, so close, to earning a playoff birth, but were left with a sour taste in their mouths. For the second consecutive year, Phoenix posted one of the league's top six records, but was not among the eight teams which reached the playoffs. Again, it was Milwaukee and Chicago that advanced from the Midwest Division.
Although Phoenix's playoff fate had already been decided by mid-March as they were mathematically eliminated with six games left, there was still plenty of intrigue involved in the season's remaining days.
On March 14, the Suns obtained the rights to Charlie Scott from the Boston Celtics in exchange for future considerations. Scott, a 6-6 guard from North Carolina, had played for the Virginia Squires of the ABA, where he averaged 35 points a game and was the 1971 ABA co-Rookie of the Year along with Kentucky's Dan Issel.
The struggling ABA didn't take Scott's departure lightly. An ugly battle had ensued between Scott and the Squires concerning the validity of his contract and Scott's late-season move to the Suns, via Boston, was a major one in the so-called war between the ABA and NBA for top talent.
Founded in 1967, the ABA was designed, as most fledgling leagues are, to provide pro basketball to cities that didn't have NBA franchises. In order to make the ABA work, it needed big names and big talent. No better place to find that, of course, than in the NBA.
Stars like Rick Barry, Billy Cunningham, Joe Caldwell and Zelmo Beaty left the established league for bigger paychecks in the ABA. With the NBA just beginning to scratch the surface of its popularity, and at a time when financial conservatism seemed the best way to stay in business, the NBA considered the ABA an unwelcome partner in the pro ranks.
By 1972, the ABA was struggling, however. Lack of a network television contract and small crowds made it increasingly difficult to pay the established stars. Also, after five seasons, the league was developing its own stars, who wanted in on the big paydays. Among that group was Scott, who left the Squires in early March, saying the team had failed to meet certain requirements of his long-term contract.
Scott claimed that the Squires' ownership reneged on a promise to pay off a $20,000 loan in his name, that his credit rating was subsequently damaged and that he was free to leave. A court ruled in Scott's favor, clearing the way for him to join the NBA. Boston owned Scott's rights but he was acquired by the Suns after a weekend of negotiations.
The Squires and the ABA retaliated quickly. Owners filed a suit against the NBA for signing Scott and also sent telegrams signed by ABA Commissioner Jack Dolph to each Suns player. The telegrams invited the players to switch to the ABA if they were unhappy.
The Suns then filed suit against the Squires, saying they were interfering with contractual relationships with the players. The lawsuits never amounted to much. The ABA died in 1976 with four of its teams being absorbed by the NBA (Nets, Nuggets, Pacers and Spurs).
Scott, who had six games to show Fitzsimmons what he could do during his first NBA season, averaged 18.8 points a game and Phoenix won four of those six contests. Scott's performances, however, could not overshadow the fear that the "future consideration" that Boston wanted for giving up Scott was, in fact, power forward Silas. After the Suns lost Silas, Scott had to play with huge expectations throughout his four-year career in Phoenix, but he met most of them head-on.
Led Phoenix in scoring with a 21.0 average.
Named an NBA All-Star and scored 13 points in leading the West squad to a 112-110 win.
Voted Suns MVP by Phoenix fans.
Led team in rebounding for third-straight year with 11.9 per game.
Pulled down 26 boards on Jan. 21 at Seattle, the second-highest single-game total in Suns history.
Made his only All-Star appearance as a Sun, scoring six points in 15 minutes of action.
Dick Van Arsdale
Suns second-leading scorer at 19.7 points per game.
Averaged an impressive 15.7 points and 8.2 boards per night.
The Suns topped their previous season-best attendance total, drawing 342,922 fans to the Coliseum for an average of 8,346 per contest.
Phoenix became only the fourth team in league history to lead the NBA in free throws attempted, free throws made and free throw accuracy.