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Retired forward joins former team legends in new Ring of Honor

Suns Honor Chambers

By Joe Gilmartin

Posted: April 22, 1999


THEY OFFICIALLY OPENED the new Ring of Honor at America West Arena at halftime of the Seattle game April 18, and it was only fitting that the first order of new business was the installation of the man his former coach described as "the cornerstone of the building."

Tom Chambers, a 6-10 forward who averaged more than 20 points a game in five seasons as a Sun, and more than 20,000 in 15 NBA seasons, joined Connie Hawkins, Dick Van Arsdale, Alvan Adams, Paul Westphal and Walter Davis, who were moved into the new Ring from the old Banners for Retired Numbers section.

"In order for a team to go from 28 victories to 55 in one season," said former Suns' coach Cotton Fitzsimmons, "you have to have a very good basketball player. And we got that basketball player and a superstar in Tom Chambers. He is the cornerstone of the building we're in right now."

Others also echoed that theme.

In introducing Chambers to the sellout crowd, longtime Suns' broadcaster Al McCoy, said, "A lot of fans call this great building we're in, the America West Arena, 'The House That Tom built.'"

And Suns President and Chief Executive Officer Jerry Colangelo agreed.

"Cotton put it very succinctly when he said you were the cornerstone of the building, Tom. Without you, we couldn't have done it."

All the other members of the Ring, except Hawkins, who was in Bosnia on a good will mission, were on hand to honor Chambers, including Westphal, who is now the coach of the Sonics, and acknowledged his ovation with a wave from their huddle.

In addition to honoring the retired forward, the Suns also presented him with several gifts, including a framed replica of his No. 24 jersey, a statue by noted Valley sculptor Sam Wickey of Chambers' famous dunk over Mark Jackson of the Knicks, a custom-made saddle by celebrated Wickenburg saddle maker Bruce Meir, a buckskin trail horse to go with the saddle, and a truck.

With the introduction of the Suns' new Ring of Honor, each of the team's retired legends were introduced to the crowd, including Dick Van Arsdale.
Chambers, who now wears two hats as a member of the community relations department and special assistant to coach Danny Ainge, was flanked by his five children, Erika, 18, Skyler, 15, Megan, 12, and twins Dakota and Colton, 3, for the ceremonies, which were limited to 15 minutes because the game was being televised by NBC.

The presentation included highlights of Chambers' career on the Arena big screens, and remarks by former Suns guard Kevin Johnson, as well as Colangelo and Fitzsimmons.

KJ, who figures to be the next man in the Ring as soon as he officially retires, got one of the biggest ovation of the day, and said, "It's a pleasure to be back here at America West Arena. We had some great memories here, and it's my pleasure to recognize and congratulate Tom Chambers on behalf of all his former teammates, myself, and everybody in the Valley and the state of Arizona."

Chambers, visibly moved by the events, was next up, and excerpts of his remarks follow:

"Thank you. Thank you. And thank goodness for the NBA making this be brief. When Cotton only talks 15 seconds, we must be in a hurry. I am so grateful today, and I'm going to fly through this as quickly as possible so I don't have to think, and then I won't cry and all that kind of stuff, I hope.

"First and foremost, I want to thank Jerry Colangelo, the most committed owner in professional sports. And I think that says it all. And Cotton and Paul Westphal who put this team I was a part of together. They were the greatest coaches ever. We had a lot of fun at the Madhouse on McDowell, and then we brought it over here, and it's been the best.

"And my teammates. I had the greatest teammates there have ever been. And as Cotton said, we had some dirt workers. Guys who did all that stuff I didn't want to do. Guys like Mark West, Kurt Rambis and Tyrone Corbin. And we had guys who shot the ball from outside - Eddie Johnson, Jeff Hornacek, Dan Majerle. And last but certainly not least, the guy who made me the player I am. I couldn't have done it without him - Kevin Johnson.

Future Ring of Honor member Kevin Johnson shares a few laughs with his former pick-and-roll partner.
"And my family. I have the five cutest kids in the world. And they do look a little bit like me (laughs). I love 'em, and don't say that often enough. I am certainly at times not the easiest person in the world to get along with, and they still love me. So that's a tribute in itself. And my mom, Judy, has the biggest heart in the whole world. And a little bit of that did rub off on me, even though I try to hide it once in a while. And my brother Rob, who let his little brother two years younger follow him wherever he went, and bugged him, I'm sure. And who now looks after the ranch when I'm not there.

"And last but not least, the fans. You guys are the greatest. From Day One you embraced me. You loved me, you loved this team, and you bought tickets to build this beautiful arena, the best facility in all of basketball. And you should give yourselves a hand because you're awesome. Truly awesome. (And they did).

"This is a great honor for me. There are some great players up there and I appreciate them all for being here except Hawk, who's in Bosnia and I know wishes he was here. And I want to thank Bryan Colangelo and Danny Ainge for allowing me to continue to work. It's nice to have a job, and I'm growing immensely and trying to learn. And maybe some day I'll be able to make something of myself. Marko Milic wanted me to mention his name, so I mention his name. It's kind of a funny story with Marko, because he says to be sure and mention that they traded you for me, straight up.

"I am truly blessed, life is beautiful, and thank you so much."

The Ring, which is located on the facade at the south end of the upper bowl, replaces the old practice of retiring numbers and putting them on banners hanging from the rafters.

"It's something we've been batting around for a few years," said Tom Ambrose, executive vice president of public affairs. "One reason was we wanted to do something nicer than hanging a banner. They were being hung in more remote parts of the building and a lot of people couldn't see them.

"And we're not actually retiring numbers anymore. We'll grandfather in the first five, but from this point on we'll honor the player with a special day and put his name and picture in the Ring, but the uniform numbers will remain alive, as evidenced by the fact Tom Gugliotta is still wearing No. 24. I wouldn't say we're running out of numbers, but it's becoming more of a factor because of players who might want to come here and would like a specific number."

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