Kevin Johnson On '93
The Feb. 25, 1988 trade that brought Kevin Johnson to the Phoenix Suns will go down as one of the most significant moves in team history. The 6-1 guard became the Suns' floor general for the next decade and retired as the Suns' all-time playoff leader in games played, points, assists, steals, field goals and free throws attempted and made.
Suns.com recently caught up with the three-time All-Star in his hometown of Sacramento to get his memories on the Suns' memorable run to the 1993 NBA Finals. The team’s second-leading scorer during those playoffs, KJ averaged 17.8 points a game while dishing out a team-high 7.9 assists a night.
Suns.com: Despite winning a league-best 62 games in '92-93, the Suns dropped the first two games of the opening round to the Lakers. What was your initial reaction to Paul Westphal’s proclamation after Game 2 that you would go to L.A. and win both games?
Kevin Johnson: Surprise. You never want to make a guarantee in professional sports for obvious reasons. Not only does it add fuel to the fire and perhaps provide additional motivation to the opposition, but it also can quickly be proven wrong. With that said, we were a confident team and knew what we were capable of accomplishing. We compiled the best record in the league and three wins in a row was not out of the question. We just had to take it one game at a time.
Suns.com: Which of the three series leading up to the Finals was the toughest and why?
Johnson: None of them were easy. Probably the Seattle series was the toughest because it went the distance (7 games) and we seesawed back and forth trading off wins throughout the series. Seattle also had a great backcourt with the veteran Nate McMillan and a young Gary Payton.
Suns.com: You had been in Phoenix for six years prior to that season and played a major role in the Suns' success leading up to that crazy run. Describe how gratifying it was for you to walk onto the America West Arena court for Game 1 of the Finals?
Johnson: We had a great bunch of guys and I knew we had something special. The city of Phoenix and its fans had endured a rocky road up to my arrival in '88 and it was extremely gratifying to help the team return to the Finals for the first time since 1976.
Suns.com: What was the flight to Chicago like after losing Games 1 and 2 at home? How much fight did you sense the team had left at that point?
Johnson: As I stated earlier, winning 62 games during the regular season and fending off three elimination games against the Lakers and one against the Sonics makes for a very confident team. We had done it before and we believed we could do it again. We had every opportunity to win Game 2, but let it slip through our grasp. We were eager to take the court for Games 3 and 4 and even the series.
Suns.com: What are your memories of the triple-overtime thriller in Game 3 and playing 62 minutes?
Johnson: Without a doubt it was the most physically and mentally draining game I’ve ever been a part of. Everyone on the team played with passion and energy, and we pulled out a win in perhaps one of the greatest games in NBA Finals history.
Suns.com: You won Game 5 after Chicago had already planned their celebration of winning the title. How much did that motivate you and what kind of satisfaction was that to win Game 5 and take the series back to Phoenix?
Johnson: It was a tremendous feeling to win two out of three in Chicago and know we would be returning home for Game 6. Again, we were facing elimination in Game 5 and we knew we had the talent and capability to win on the road. In fact, if it wasn’t for a super human effort by Michael Jordan in Game 4, we could have swept in Chicago. We were confident and ready to win Games 6 and 7.
Suns.com: Obviously, there was not much time left after (John) Paxson hit the three-pointer in Game 6, but what was the call in the timeout and how confident were you that you would be able to get off a decent shot and send the series to Game 7?
Johnson: We only had something like 3.9 seconds left. I got a decent look and Horace Grant made a very good defensive play to block the jumper. I thought we would score and send it to Game 7.
Suns.com: Scottie Pippen told Suns.com that he felt that the series was a good, clean, well-played series. What are your feelings on the quality of play during the series?
Johnson: With the exception of the first game, when we didn’t play up to our standards, I completely agree with Scottie. It was a hard fought series that had a little bit of everything – great defense, acrobatic plays, three-pointers, triple-overtime, road victories. We just came up a little short.
Suns.com: It is said that the '93 Finals was the best Finals in the last 25 years or so. In looking back as one of the major participants, what is your feeling on that, as it relates to entertainment value and quality of the “show?”
Johnson: It was great drama. You had the greatest basketball player on arguably the greatest team going for its third straight championship against a team with the best record in the game. The road team won five of the six games, including a triple-overtime thriller, and the series was decided on a three-pointer with only four seconds left. For entertainment value, it couldn’t be topped – unless, of course, the Suns had won.
Suns.com: What memories, good or bad, do you still carry with you from that Finals series?
Johnson: Very fond memories. I loved playing with the guys and for Coach Westphal, and it was an honor to represent the Phoenix Suns and the city of Phoenix.