Hornacek on Majerle
Posted: March 7, 2003
Former fan favorite Jeff Hornacek spent four seasons as a Suns teammate of Dan Majerle and spoke with Sun.com recently, offering his feelings on playing with Thunder, as well as advice for Dan on handling his big night after being honored by the Utah Jazz.
Suns.com: How did you like playing with Dan during those years in Phoenix?
Jeff Hornacek: It was a great benefit for us to have guys who knew how to play the game. With Kevin Johnson, myself and Tyrone Corbin, Mark West, Tom Chambers, it was fun defensively because it’s something that you can’t necessarily practice, however we could always go for steals knowing that someone was going to back us up. Dan was one of those where, I knew if I was on the wing and he was behind me that I could take a chance to go out to the wing and maybe double team and knowing that he’ll anticipate that and get in the passing lane and get steals. I thought we were very good at doing that when Dan was playing. Especially with the style of ball we were trying to play, upbeat, 118-119 points a game, during those years and we wanted to get steals and it just made it a fun game to play.
Suns.com: How well did Dan fit into the basketball philosophy of the Suns in his first couple of years here in Phoenix?
Hornacek: I think at that time they pictured him at the two-spot. At that time there were a lot of 6-6 guys in the league at the two-spot. On any rookie it gets tough in the beginning, maybe it was for a few games for him. They ended up bringing him back and it was almost a spark. His aggressive play, his drive to the basket, going for offensive rebounds, defense really brought that spark in off the bench where a lot of teams in the league didn’t have that guy that could, once the starters were out it went downhill, but Dan came in off the bench and was able to spark everybody to keep playing and it was a huge advantage for us.
Suns.com: What was Dan like as a teammate in the locker room?
Hornacek: We all got along great. That was a group that won 28 games and all of a sudden went up to 55. I remember a lot of those games Dan’s rookie year where we won 55 games and I would guess 30 of those games we were up by 25 or 30 at the half. It was amazing. You wish you could somehow explain how to get that chemistry and cohesiveness. A lot of times it’s luck and a lot of times it’s having guys who want to play as a team and Dan always did that. The rest of those guys, we were all a bunch of no-names so we were all there trying to prove that we could play with these other teams and all the superstars and it turned out very well. Suns.com: We've got a picture of you and Dan screaming in the tunnel of the Great Western Forum after eliminating the Lakers in the 1990 Western Conference Semifinals. What was that like for you guys?
Hornacek: I remember that. That was one of those huge victories. It was the Lakers, they were the tops. Maybe at that point they were starting to turn the other direction, but still you had Magic (Johnson) and Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar), (James) Worthy. All those guys were still there. To especially beat them at the Forum that was huge, not only for the players and the organization but for the city of Phoenix, there was a huge celebration during that time. I remember back at that time it was kind of Phoenix vs. L.A., city vs. city. Phoenix was kind of a small town back then, that was a great time where it was just the togetherness of our team and Dan being a big part of that enabled us to do that.
Suns.com: What was it like to watch Dan’s game evolve over the years?
Hornacek: It’s funny; Dan is one of those guys I think who adjusted his game. When I was playing in Phoenix, he was more of our slasher to the basket, our guy that did the dirty work, would scramble for loose balls, was always kind of cutting down the middle for openings and then when the trade for Charles Barkley happened it was hard for him to cut to the basket because Charles drew the double teams and all of a sudden he adjusted to become a 3-point shooter and was very good at it. That’s to his credit. A lot of guys are one-dimensional and can only do one thing. However, he proved during his years that he could play inside or he could shoot it outside and he could play defense, so he was just a good all-around player.
Suns.com: How special was it for you to play in the 1992 All-Star alongside Dan?
Hornacek: All I remember is we looked out there and saw the other team and it was Jordan, Bird, Patrick Ewing, and Isiah Thomas. Shaquille was on Orlando so he was on that team. That was kind of the shift where the East Coast teams were overall were better and had more power. I was thinking, “Uh-oh, this’ll be interesting watching this.” We came out and beat them by 40 points. It was a fun game to play in and to see all these guys. You don’t realize how good they can pass in that situation. That’s when I first saw how great a passer Karl (Malone) was. That experience for Dan and I was a great experience. Not only that, we went there and got a win. Suns.com: What do you remember about Thunder Nine, Dan’s calendar and line of clothing? Did you guys give him a hard time about that? Hornacek: I think he got some crap for that. When those opportunities come up you go with it. If anyone had that opportunity to get something going like that, I don’t know how long it lasted but it was out there for a little while. I think he was a single guy at the time. When you’re single and you’re an NBA player, you can take advantage of that and I think a lot of guys have gone that route. Obviously he ended up settling down and having kids and I’m sure he’s a great father, always around. He’s a Midwest guy; he got some good values growing up out there.
Suns.com: Do you have any behind the scenes stories about Dan that you can share?
Hornacek: One of the funnier times that I can remember was him coming to practice; I think it was in his single days, when he ended up shaving his legs. I think he caught some crap for doing that one too. All of a sudden he’s all smoothed out and I think he got some crap for that too.
Suns.com: What was it like for you to play against Dan after playing alongside him for four seasons?
Hornacek: He got his reputation as being a great defender. I think Dan established himself as a great defender and he got away with a lot of holding, I know that much for sure. That’s part of the game of basketball. He knew he could get away with a lot of holds and knew when to do it, but again, that’s the sign of being a smart player. Whenever you play against an old teammate, it’s always fun.
Suns.com: Having already been through a similar ceremony in Utah, what can Dan expect on March 9 when he enters the Suns Ring of Honor?
Hornacek: It’s just a great honor to realize you’re one of the guys the organization recognizes as a big part of what’s been built. It’s a little embarrassing when you get out there. I know for me, when the people get out there and start saying the nice things, you’re like, “OK, hurry up and get this thing over with. I don’t want to be out here.” He just has to remember that it’s a great night. He’ll see that it’s a special feeling and he’ll have a great time.
Suns.com: What will you remember most about your years playing with Dan here in Phoenix?
Hornacek: It was honor for me to play with him. When you played with guys that knew how to play the game, and play it the old-school way where they’re just busting their tail at all times, it very appreciative to be a teammate with someone like that. He had a great career and just know that it was great to play with him, unfortunately it was for only four years. He was just one of those guys that I’ll remember the rest of my life as well as ex-teammates that really put it out there.