Suns Throwback: Joe Proski
by Matt Petersen

With the present Suns’ players enjoying their offseason, decided the summer time is a great chance to catch up with former players and staff 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 trainer and Ring of Honor member Joe Proski, who talks about the worst injuries he ever witnessed and some of the behind-the-scenes interactions with former Suns stars.

On how the original Suns general manager, coach and trainer all went from Chicago to Phoenix…

The Suns got into the mix [while I was working with the Bulls]. There was a guy out here, Fred Graham, he was a Hollywood stuntman. He was John Wayne’s second, Errol Flynn, he had opened up a studio out in Scottsdale called Graham Studios. That would be back in the sixties. I said “hey, would you find out what’s going on? I hear Phoenix is getting an NBA team.” He found out all the stuff. I write this letter saying “I can’t wait to live in Phoenix and raise my family there. I’ve lived in Mesa three winters [working in baseball]. I just love it out here.” I had never been here in the summer.

Joe Proski -- Suns Trainer, 1968-2000

I told the Bulls. At the time, I don’t know that Jerry [Colangelo] is going. I don’t know that [Johnny] Kerr is going[1]. We’re in Seattle and Johnny Kerr said “don’t make any plans tonight. We’re going to dinner with this guy.” We go to dinner and there’s Jerry Colangelo. I’m wondering, “what the hell is he doing up here?” Right off the bat, he goes, “I hear you’re going to Phoenix.’ Nobody knows this. My thing is, I’m not telling anybody because I don’t want to get fired in case I don’t get the job.

A week to two weeks later, I get a call from Kerr. “When are you going to Phoenix and do you have a trailer?” I said, “Well, yeah. I’ve got a truck.” He goes, “Do you have any room?” “What do you mean do I have any room?” “Well, I just quit today and took the Suns job.”

At that time, it was Kerr, Colangelo, Ruthie [Dryjanski] and myself.

On how Connie Hawkins manufactured Proski’s first television appearance…

He just went down in a heap. I thought the guy was hurt really bad. I know it was a Sunday, because it was the first time the Suns were ever on television. I think Hot Rod was the color man. I checked his knee out. He’s sitting on the floor. All of the sudden, he says “I’m fine.”

Then he goes, “Just think, Prosk, all your buddies in Green Bay[2] are eating their hearts out. This is your first time on national TV.” Then he just jumped up like nothing was wrong.

On Hawkins’ hands and game…

I’ve seen him palm the ball with [his pinky] finger and his thumb. His freaking hands. Huge. I think he made stuff up as he played, the moves that he did. Hawk just played.

On working two sports simultaneously in the late 1960s and early 1970s…

I got a call from [Roland] Hemond from the White Sox and he said, “hey, I heard you got the job in Phoenix!” I said I was lucky I got the job. He said “what are you doing in the summer?” I didn’t know. I had to get a job…he said “I’ll tell you what, we’re going to move our Triple A team to Tucson.”

I got to go to spring training with the White Sox. Dick Allen[3] was my guy. He was my favorite. I’d be in spring training, then I’d be with the Tucson Toros and then I’d come back [to Phoenix].

On Alvan Adams’ aversion to light…

We used to think he was a bat. Honest to God, if we were in a hotel and the sun came up [on one side], he’d have to be on [the other] side of the hotel. He’d take the bedspreads and put them over the valence.

If we were on a plane, he would have a blanket over his head. The guy didn’t like light for some reason.

On the worst injuries he ever witnessed…

One of the worst basketball injuries was Charlie Scott. Lakers, and that had to be at the Forum. He’s on a breakaway. I don’t know who, but somebody undercut him, flipped him completely over and when he came down, he had a compound fracture [in his arm]. His ulna (elbow bone) was stuck in the floor.

It was horrible. His arm was stuck in the floor when I got out there. The worst thing was not that he broke his arm, but because of the varnish [on the floor], there might be an infection. That was nasty.

In baseball, I think it was Fat Jack Hamilton. Back then, guys just wore little [skull helmets. They didn’t wear the side piece. Ron Sano froze [at the plate] and Jack Hamilton hit him in the face. His orbital socket was fractured. His freaking eyeball was out. He was bleeding from the eye, nose, ears, mouth. It was horrible. The amazing thing was after the surgery, the first day he took batting practice, he had them throw at his head.

On the best players to work with…

The two most no-maintenance guys I ever worked with were Dick Van Arsdale and Dan Majerle. They came to work every day and came to play every day and night.

Charles was Charles. One of the best things about him is the guy treated people – and I’m not saying his teammates – he treated people and kids awesome. He was always good to everybody. [He did] the autograph thing. On the other hand he could be wild. He might throw a guy through a glass window for the hell of it.

Shawn Marion, give me a thousand of him. The best. He’s a guy you could tell him ‘we need to treat you twice a day for an hour, hour and a half,’ and the guy never said boo. I thought he was good.

Jason Kidd, he was one of my favorites. You talk about a good guy, he treated everybody good.

On Paul Westphal’s skill set and how he built it…

The guy was so talented. Ambidextrous. He did all that stuff right-handed, left-handed, all the crazy shots he would do. People go ‘wow’ now, but the guy probably did that 50 times per practice. He’d go in left-handed and throw it up from the side of the backboard, over the edge and make it.

I remember his dad telling me how they would take Paul’s right hand, take a belt and tie it behind his back and make him play his brother left-handed.

On Danny Ainge’s kids having fun in the training room…

It used to drive me nuts, because he used to bring his kids to practice when he was coaching. They’d run all over the freaking training room. One time, the kids were on one of the treadmills and [they had it on slow]. They told the youngest one, ‘get on here!’ He got on and he’s walking as fast as he can. Then one of the kids hit the button. That kid flew head-first into the concrete wall of the training room. The kids were running all over like, ‘I didn’t do it!”

[1] Colangelo was the Assistant to the President of the Bulls at the time. Kerr was the Bulls’ head coach.

[2] Proski grew up a Packers fan thanks in large part to his father's long-standing role as an equipment manager and manager of stadium operations at Lambeau Field. 

[3] Allen was the 1964 National League Rookie of the Year and 1972 American League MVP.