Suns Throwback: Al McCoy

Barry Gossage/NBAE

With the present Suns’ players enjoying their offseason, Suns.com decided the summer time is a great chance to catch up with former players for a weekly #SunsThrowback edition of Phoenix basketball history. How does it work? Basically we get their memories going just enough to do what they do best: tell us their most memorable stories from their playing days.

This week's guest is The Voice of the Suns, long-time radio play-by-play announcer Al McCoy. The veteran sportscaster's vault of stories include how he nearly became the voice of the Rockets, his pick for most underrated Suns player and the surprising season he thought Phoenix would make the Finals but didn't.

On growing up in the Midwest during the Depression and World War II…

I grew up on a farm. The depression, those were tough years. We did not have electricity. We did not have running water in our house. We didn’t’ go into the towns and demonstrate because they had those things and we didn’t. We just felt that, I guess, someday they’d be there. Those were difficult times.

I’ve told this story many times, but farmers were going through very difficult times during those years. What they would do is a group of farmers would get together and they would plant the crops for one another. When it was time to harvest, they would get together and harvest the crops for each other. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that probably was my first experience with teamwork. I describe teamwork as a group of individuals working for the common good.

On how his love for sports developed…

I was always interested in sports, both from listening to broadcasts on the radio to actually performing. I was fortunate, because I was at a small high school. There were about 100 people in high school, so I had a chance to participate. With your buddies and teammates, there’s always time to play catch or shoot hoops or do whatever.

On how baseball nearly won out over basketball…

I always thought it would be baseball because baseball broadcasting was much more prevalent in the years I was growing up. Basketball was the sport I loved the best. I was fortunate enough to play both, but basketball was more of a love for me than baseball. My interest in basketball growing up was always very, very big.

When I eventually came to Phoenix, it was to do minor league baseball. I had the opportunity to switch to the diamondbacks. Although I didn’t, I did fill in on their broadcasts for the first several years. But basketball was always the sport that I really loved to play, really enjoyed, and so it was not a big decision to make to stay with basketball.

On how the job with the Suns came about…

I had worked in broadcasting in the Midwest and the East and then came to Phoenix to originally do minor league baseball. The old Phoenix Giants was the AAA farm club of the then-San Francisco Giants. I did other things, broadcast Arizona State football and basketball. I was a sports anchor on Channel 10 and Channel 3. I did hockey, wrestling, roller derby, you name it.

Then when the Suns became a reality and received an NBA franchise, I was actually doing the Phoenix Roadrunner hockey games at the old Western Hockey League. I knew of Jerry Colangelo, of course, from his years with the Bulls. I had met Johnny Kerr, their coach. I had actually discussed the job with Jerry Colangelo at that time.

On how McCoy nearly became the Rockets announcer…

I almost, prior to [joining the Suns], had gone to San Diego to do the NBA team there. They were in San Diego, there, before the Rockets moved to Houston, of course. I was always looking for something in basketball. When the Suns first arrived here, although we had agreed to almost everything, I wound up not doing the games initially. Then 42 years ago, we did get together.

I’m glad [the Rockets] didn’t work out.

On Hall-of-Fame and Suns Ring of Honor member Connie Hawkins…

Connie Hawks is in the Hall of Fame where he belongs. He was one of the great innovators. When you talk to Julius Irving, Dr. J will tell you that the man he admired was Connie Hawkins. Connie was doing all those things that Dr. J did when Dr. J was probably just thinking about it.

He was an explosive player. He was a super individual for the franchise. He was great with the fans, great with the youngsters. A lot of our late fans forget the fact that although he Suns only won 16 games their first year in the NBA, the second year they made thep layoffs and almost defeated the Lakers. That great Laker team had West, Chamberlain and on and on. Connie Hawkins certainly was a big responsible player for that.

On McCoy’s first playoff year with the Suns, the 1976 Finals run…

The ’76 team was a team that no one expected to do anything, I guess kind of similar to what we went through [in 2013-14]. They made some changes. During the All-Star break, they made a trade that brought Garfield Heard here. They made the deal to get Paul Westphal and their first-round draft picks were Alvan Adams and Ricky Sobers. That team just slowly developed.

The interesting thing was, they were barely a .500 team. Late in the season, Dick Van Arsdale was driving to the basket in a game in New Orleans. He was undercut and broke his wrist. It looked like things were going to be very bleak. The Suns got together under Coach John McCleod. Although they finished just two [games] over .500 that year, record-wise, they made the playoffs. Of course, the rest is history.

On the significance of the 1976 team to the franchise and community...

That team was so explosive. Alvan Adams and Paul Westphal were both explosive scorers. Ricky Sobers in his rookie year had probably his best year in the NBA. It was a team that just wouldn’t say die. Joe Gilmartin wrote a book after that series called The Little Team that Could and Almost Did. That kind of summed up that ’75-76 team.

This city really became an NBA city at that time.

On the most underrated Suns player…

Walter Davis was maybe the best shooter to ever put on a uniform for the Suns. Great player, Rookie of the Year, All-Star performer.

He was the man with the velvet touch. He hit a lot of great hoops. He just was such a sensational shooter his shot was such a pure basketball shot. That’s really where he became a fan favorite.

On Kevin Johnson’s value during his best years with the Suns…

He’s really what made the team go as a point guard. As we know he could score. He was a great passer. In those days, point guards took a lot of physical abuse. He was knocked down and thrown to the floor so many times you’d lose count. Players got away with that kind of stuff in those days.

On the 1992-93 Suns team that made the NBA Finals…

I think that group that lost to Chicago may be the best team the Suns have ever had. You ask anybody on that ball club, they still think they were a better team than Chicago. John Paxson doesn’t agree, but you talk to Charles, Dan Majerle or KJ or anybody, that was a heck of a team…there were a couple of players on that team that year that had the only great years they’ve only had in the NBA. They were a part of that.

On the worst moment in Suns history…

The John Paxson three! Nothing comes in second. Danny Ainge still tells me he wakes up in the middle of the night wondering why he left Paxson open.

On the year McCoy thought Phoenix had the best chance to make the Finals but didn’t…

I think the year Seattle won it (1979), the Suns had the [3-2] lead in that series and then lost it and lost the deciding game [seven]. And then I think Houston, when they won the first two games and lost it [1994].

On the seven-foot Suns big man who drove a car from the back seat…

The best car any player ever had here: Rich Kelly, who was a seven-footer. Rich saw this convertible in a used car lot. It was an old, broken-down car. He took the front seat out. When he sat in the back, it just fit his seven-foot body. He drove the car sitting in the back seat of this old convertible. He was an interesting sight driving around town here in downtown Phoenix.

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