Suns Throwback: Jeff Hornacek

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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 former Suns guard and current head coach Jeff Hornacek, who talks about the highs and lows of his early career, his best teammates, guarding Magic and Jordan, and being an action figure.

On All-Stars Alvan Adams and Walter Davis offering a smoother transition to the NBA…

Alvan Adams actually took us under his wing…he invited us over for dinner, that kind of stuff. That was great. It’s the veteran guys taking care of the younger guys. I did a lot of shooting with Walter [Davis]. We went to the old La Mancha over there on 19th avenue and Northern/Dunlap. We would shoot every day.

On the 1980s NBA providing stiffer competition…

I think it was a different atmosphere. We had the mix of the really young guys and the older guys, veteran guys. We had some great players on that team when I was a rookie, from James Edwards to Walter [Davis] to Alvan to Larry Nance, Mike Sanders. That was a pretty good team.

But back then, you only had 23 teams. Every night you went out there, you’re playing against a team that had three All-Stars on a team. We had three All-Stars on the team and we went 36-46, I think, my first year. It was an eye-opening experience. You’ve got All-Stars on your team and you can’t even be .500 because all these other teams have great players.

On getting through the turbulent mid-80s Suns era…

When all that was going on, it was probably beneficial that we had five rookies on the team my first year. William Bedford was a first-round pick. Joe Ward was the first pick of the second round for the Suns and he ended up getting cut. But then we had Rafael Addison, myself, Kenny  Gattison was drafted in the third round and Grand Godrizeck in the fourth round, so we had five rookies on the team.

Kenny and Rafael and I, we all lived in the same apartment complex and we would practice every day together. We had a lot of young guys who are going, ‘Holy cow, what’s going on?’

On Eddie Johnson and his Gerald Green-like hot streaks…

Eddie had a quick release. Back then there wasn’t a big emphasis on the three-point shot. You could score a lot of points if you made a high percentage. As a team I think we shot over 50 percent. Eddie got on those roles kind of like Gerald [Green] where, when he was making them, he was throwing all kinds of crap in. that was a huge part of our attack.

On Kevin Johnson’s speed and its effect on his teammates…

When you have a guy the speed of Kevin, you learn fast that if you don’t run hard, you’re not going to get the ball. The other guys are already going to get a shot up before you even get across half-court. You learn to sprint. You had to practice shooting off of a sprint. We got good at it.

On being immortalized as a late-80s action figure…

I thought that it was cool. It’s probably a sign of ‘hey, at least someone’s noticing you’re half-way decent.’

On playing against former Jazz star and then-future teammate Karl Malone…

Karl was ridiculous. I remember playing against him, against us especially, I think he shot 22 free throws a game. There was nothing you could do. You came to double him and he was smart about hwen you came. Now he’d make his move to the middle and you end up fouling him. You couldn’t get there in time to cut him off. He had the timing perfectly where just when you were going to get there, he goes and it’s a foul.

On the free trip to Hawaii he couldn't take...

That Game 5 in Utah [in 1990], Jerry [Colangelo] came into the locker room and said ‘You beat these guys tonight, I’ll take you all to Hawaii this summer.’ We beat them. All I remember is when they went on the trip, I couldn’t go because my wife was eight months pregnant.

On the drama of Phoenix vs. Los Angeles…

At that point, it was the town of phoenix against the city of L.A. It was more about the glitz versus the cowboy town or whatever.

On his two best memories as a player…

Stockton’s shot that put us in the Finals [in 1997], because we were all veteran guys who had never been to the Finals, so that was big.

The other one is against the Lakers [in 1990]. Less than a minute to go in the game, somehow Mark West and I got involved ina  pick-and-roll on the side. Somebody jumped out at me coming off Mark and they left Mark rolling to the basket. No one picked him up. I just hit mark and Mark dunked it. I think we were up two at the time and it put us up four. That was basically the game. That game, for young players, that was such an exciting time. I think there’s pictures of me and Majerle running off the court. Then to come back to the city here and 10,000 people at the airport…

On 1990 being the year Hornacek felt Phoenix could have won a title…

That’s the year I felt we should’ve been in the Finals because we blew those first two games [against Portland in the conference finals]. (Phoenix lost Game 1 in the final seconds and led by 16 at halftime of Game 2)

Detroit, we played them twice in the regular season and I think we beat them both times pretty handily. They had Vinnie, Isiah, Dumars. Their advantage was those guards destroyed everybody. But we had a pretty good three-guard rotation (Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle, Hornacek) that could go up against those guys.

On the evolution of Dan Majerle…

He was tough. He grabbed and held, then he got the reputation that he was a defensive player. That’s when you get away with the grabbing and pulling. He was a slasher. He was a guy that would cut to the basket. He’d get a lot of baskets that way. His game changed when Barkley came. Then it was more sit out there and spot up.

On his playoff matchups and defensive assignments against Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan…

I loved playing in those games. Whether you lost or not to Michael or Magic or any of those guys, you want to play them. Those are the guys you watched in college and coming into the league, they were the best in the league. Why wouldn’t you want to play against those guys?

On the biggest question he faced going to Utah…

I got traded in ’94 to Utah and the big question from the media and everybody was, ‘Jerry Sloan’s got a lot of plays. How long is it going to take for you to know his plays?’ I said, ‘I already know them. I’ve played them like 55 times in the last six years.’

 

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