By Jeramie McPeek, Suns.com
Posted: July 14, 2004
The big news of the Suns’ verbal agreement with All-Star guard Steve Nash broke on the afternoon of July 1. Unfortunately, as you probably noticed, it didn’t break here on Suns.com.
Per NBA rules, teams were not permitted to comment on any interest in, or negotiations with, free-agents during the league’s 14-day moratorium on trades and signings. And that included any and all details on team web sites. Well, the moratorium was lifted today (actually at 9 p.m. last night Arizona time) and have we got a story for you.
Yes, we know, you already read all about the collection of Suns representatives who traveled to Dallas to woo Nash away from the Mavericks. The report was in both local papers, on the news, the internet, in Mark Cuban’s blog, and so on and so forth. But do you know the whole story? The ins? The outs? The celebratory cheeseburgers on the flight home? Hardly.
Which is why we worked so hard to get you the real scoop and the skinny from the folks who were there. Hey, what else were we going to do the past two weeks, right?
9:01 p.m. (Phoenix time)
Remember those Mervyn’s commercials where the woman, face pressed against the glass, incessantly thumped her fingertips on the door of the store? “Open, open, open.” Well, that was Bryan Colangelo on the night of June 30, staring at his clock and his phone, anxiously awaiting the official opening of the free-agent market.
With the arrival of 12:01 a.m. out East – or July 1 for all those in the NBA’s New York offices – the Suns’ president was dialing Dallas, or more specifically Duffy, as in Bill Duffy, Nash’s long-time agent.
“He just said ‘I want to be the first to call, let you know how interested we are in Steve,’” Duffy tells Suns.com of his conversation with Colangelo. “‘We know a lot about him. We had him here before and we want him back. We think this is where he should be and I just want to make that real clear to Steve.’ Steve happened to be next to me at that time, so he was able to talk to Bryan at 11:01 p.m. (Dallas time). It meant a lot.”
11:15 p.m. (Dallas time)
Shortly after Steve hung up with Colangelo, he received a second Suns call, this time from his former Phoenix teammate and still good friend Rex Chapman. The retired sharpshooter happened to be in “Big D” scouting the Global Games for the Suns and asked if he could stop by.
“I met him over at his place and we just stayed up laughing and talking for a couple hours,” says Chapman, who arrived at Nash’s home shortly after Mavs President Donnie Nelson left, having paid the point guard a late-night visit of his own. “Mostly, I just wanted to gauge whether or not he was even considering leaving. I know that he and Dirk (Nowitzki) had created a special friendship, and he and Mike Finley were also really close. So I just wanted to know if it was going to be kind of a futile effort on our part. He indicated that, all things equal, he would like to stay in Dallas, but he wasn’t sure if (Mavs owner) Mark Cuban was really going to take care of him.”
Chapman left late at night – or early in the morning – but he left behind a little gift from the Suns, a 96-page coffee table book, custom-made and published specifically for Nash.
Covered in black leather with the Suns’ bird logo and the title “Turning Point” embossed on the cover, the recruiting piece featured in-depth sections on the organization, its history and current structure, a breakdown of the recent sale, and scouting reports on the coaching staff and young talent on the roster. There were also detailed sections on the new America West Arena and the city of Phoenix, including the top shopping, dining and golf options in the Valley.
Perhaps most eye catching of all, though, were the doctored images of Nash in a No. 13 Suns uniform peppered throughout the book.
“Oh, it was well done,” Duffy says. “I mean, it showed a future picture of him in the Ring of Honor there, described his role on the team, had a message from the owner, a letter from Jerry (Colangelo). It was excellent. Very well done. Really a great presentation.”
7 a.m. (Phoenix time)
An assortment of vehicles, carrying an assortment of Suns executives, arrived at Deer Valley Airport bright and early. The group would take new Controlling Owner Robert Sarver’s private plane, which seats 10, and by the time they’d return home they’d need almost every seat.
Joining Sarver, whose investment group had closed on the sale of the franchise the day before, was the Colangelos, of course, and new minority investor/consultant Steve Kerr. Also on board the Canadair Challenger jet was Head Coach Mike D’Antoni, who gave up a long-planned Alaskan cruise with his family to attend the pitch, and Suns forward Amaré Stoudemire.
“We were definitely in full force,” says D’Antoni. “The whole theme was just showing him how much we wanted him and how important he would be to the franchise.”
“The plan to get everyone together had been formulated a few days in advance,” adds Bryan Colangelo. “Clearly there are no assurances in this business. There is never any assurance that you’re going to accomplish what you set out to accomplish. But what we did feel was a critical part of this whole free-agent process was that we really zeroed in and put all of our efforts toward the player we most wanted and that was Steve Nash.”
As soon as the jet’s wheels left the runway for the two-hour flight, the Suns’ game plan and agenda was reviewed.
“We were talking about the parameters and what we might eventually offer,” says Sarver. "We also outlined the structure of our presentation. I would say we were nervously optimistic.”
Jerry Colangelo, who signed the NBA’s first-ever unrestricted free agent in Tom Chambers back in 1988, agreed.
“The attitude was, as it’s always been relative to free agency, that once we set our sites on a player, the goal is to come back with that player,” he says. “You know, we have such respect for Steve Nash as a person, let alone as a player. We have a history together, having drafted him and him having played for us, and I think we’ve maintained a good relationship over the years. So to bring him back, we felt we had more than a legitimate shot.”
12:30 p.m. (Dallas time)
An hour or so after a morning appointment with Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Steve and his agent were picked up by car service and taken to the Dallas home of John Landon, the co-chairman & co-CEO of Meritage Corporation. Landon, one of the Suns’ new minority investors, offered up his place for the team to hold its meeting.
Upon arriving at the luxurious home, the pair was greeted by the roster’s worth of Suns representatives, which now additionally included Chapman and director of player personnel David Griffin, who was also in town scouting.
“It was kind of overwhelming,” admits Duffy. “I know the class that the Colangelos operate with, so I wasn’t surprised. But I think for Steve, he just really appreciated the effort they put forth. He said repeatedly that he really felt wanted.”
After exchanging some small talk, it was time for lunch. The 10 men involved in the meeting circled a giant table covered in a wide assortment of food. A table and feast King Arthur would certainly be proud of. The Suns’ representatives then took turns making their personal pitches to Steve.
“We talked for about an hour,” says D’Antoni. “Different people shared their visions for the team and how much Steve would mean, and where he would fit in. We just made him comfortable with all the principles.”
Much as he had in the personal letter to Steve included in the coffee table book, Jerry Colangelo discussed his 37-year pursuit of an NBA Championship and how Nash could help the club get closer to that goal. Bryan Colangelo talked about the dynamics and structure of the team as it currently exists, while D’Antoni shared some of his coaching philosophies.
“It was from the heart,” says Duffy of the post-lunch conversations. “It was just very accurate, their analysis of him and what he would bring to the table, not just on the court but in the locker room, in the community. And that he would be the face of the organization. They were looking for a quality person. For me, it just meant a lot, because here’s a club that had Jason Kidd and Stephon Marbury, and for them to come back to Steve Nash says a whole lot about Steve’s ability and his character.”
Following the spiel given by the Suns’ brass, Bryan Colangelo asked Stoudemire to speak, “I’d like to hear what you have to say, Amaré.” The 2002-03 Rookie of the Year, who has since earned the nickname “The Closer,” kept it short and sweet.
“Look, I need you,” he said with conviction. “Shawn needs you. Joe needs you. We’re a young group, but we’re talented. We get a leader like you to show us how to do things, that’s a wrap. We’re going to get it done. You know what I mean?”
Nash, a bit overwhelmed by all the love in the room and Stoudemire’s heartfelt plea, said simply, “You know what? I really believe you.”
Then came Chapman. After already talking basketball with Nash some 12 hours earlier, Rex decided to switch things up a little and crack a joke to help change the mood.
“You know, everything was real serious up to that point,” he says. “Anybody that knows Steve knows that he’s kind of laid back and likes to keep things light, and it seemed like things were kind of getting a little too serious. So I brought up something about… [sorry fans, this is a family site].”
While the majority of the party on hand shot billiards in the game room or hoops in the driveway outside, the Colangelos, Sarver, Nash and Duffy headed off to the study to be alone. Over the next hour-plus, the five discussed several possible scenarios in which Steve might join the Suns.
“It was interesting,” says Sarver, a lifelong Suns fan. “I mean, I’m just kind of watching Jerry negotiate and I feel like I’m the Apprentice. I’m the Apprentice and he was Donald Trump negotiating (laughs).”
Although Sarver, a successful banker and real estate magnate, has been involved in his share of business meetings over the years, he says he stayed out of the minutia this time.
“What I tried to impress upon Steve is the continuity in management for the Suns and the continued dedication to being the type of franchise that players want to play in,” he explains. “I think that was the main thing I was trying to get across. That and the fact that, although new to basketball, I’m pretty competitive in other businesses I’m in and I strive to be No. 1. I think that’s something that’s important to Steve, wanting to be with a team that has a goal to be No. 1 and is focused on creating a winner.”
Upon reaching a level of comfort with the Suns’ level of interest, Nash and Duffy headed into the home theater to pow wow and reflect on the day’s discussions.
“He just asked me a few questions, what I thought,” says Duffy. “I said, ‘Steve, you know, this is going to be your call. We’re going to get the deal on the table, but you’ve got to make the decision. I know your heart lies with Dallas, but you’re a free agent now and you’ve got to look at every opportunity, and this looks like a pretty good one.’”
The opportunity was a great one, in fact. Certainly more enticing than the scenario the Mavs had broached with their floor general earlier in the day. Yet, the 30-year-old All-Star still had his reservations and was having a tough time imagining leaving his teammates of six years behind.
“He had a very difficult decision to make,” says Bryan Colangelo. “And as much as we wanted an answer that day, he felt like he owed it to his teammates and friends to speak to them on at least one occasion prior to making a decision. So what we asked him to do was to accomplish that before we left. ‘Talk to them and tell them what’s going through your mind. If necessary, tell them what we’ve discussed from the standpoint of the opportunity in Phoenix.’ At some point, that not only resulted in him talking to Nowitzki and Finley, but it also resulted in him talking to Mark Cuban to see exactly where he was.”
Believing it was the right thing to do, perhaps even hoping Cuban would show an increased interest, Nash and Duffy called the billionaire owner and informed him that the talks with the Suns were serious. Although they never revealed to him what Phoenix had in mind, they gave him an opportunity to make one last proposal.
Meanwhile, several of the Suns were pacing. Chapman, Kerr and Griffin sat and talked out on the stairs leading up to the home’s grand entrance, and the Colangelos tossed a ball back and forth in the study, awaiting word.
Sarver, Kerr and Stoudemire, though, were in the backyard enjoying the distraction of a little golf. One at a time, the trio took turns attempting to hit pitching wedges onto a large trampoline some 60 yards from the tee. Stoudemire fired one some 75 yards into the neighbor’s yard and, embarrassed, ran for hiding.
“I think Amaré’s first one was a little strong,” laughs Sarver. “I guess he’s just taking up the game.”
Duffy emerged from the theater and asked the Colangelos to join them. Cuban wanted to know if the Suns would entertain a sign-and-trade deal, but Jerry Colangelo shot it down before the question was even out of the agent’s mouth, “Absolutely not.”
“At that point, obviously, we kind of felt like it was done,” says Bryan Colangelo. “But Steve requested one more chance to make a phone call.”
Left alone to contemplate his options one final time, Nash called Cuban back with his decision. Shortly thereafter, the door to the theater opened again and out came a drained, but smiling Nash. “Okay, I’m a Phoenix Sun,” he said as he hugged Jerry Colangelo.
“We embraced,” confirms the Suns’ CEO. “You know, he’s an emotional guy and so am I.”
And with that hug, the emotions began to flow throughout the house.
“It was tough,” says Stoudemire. “We were on the edge of our seats. When he went and called Cuban (the second time), he was going to come back with an answer, yes or no. Then when he came back and I saw Bryan was smiling, I stood up and rubbed my hands thinking, ‘YES! We got him!’”
“There was kind of an instant euphoria,” says Bryan Colangelo. “You couldn’t help but feel like we had genuinely accomplished, not only what we had set out to do that day, but accomplished taking the next step for this organization.”
After everyone had had a chance to pose for photos with Nash, the group gathered together one final time for a little bubbly.
“We had a little toast to next season,” says Sarver. “I’ve still got the champagne bottle.”
“Amaré grabbed a glass and I carded him,” laughs Chapman. “I wasn’t sure that he was 21 yet.”
Saying their goodbyes, the Suns left their new point guard to make some calls to his former Mavericks teammates and family to give them the news. But that wasn’t quite the end of the Suns’ day in Dallas.
On their way back to Addison Airport, they made one final stop, at the request of their clutch player.
“I’m sitting here driving this big Excursion and thinking maybe we’ll have dinner when we get back to Phoenix, and Amaré goes, ‘Hey, is there a place to get some burgers around here?’” laughs Sarver. “I’m thinking, ‘Well, he’s my guy. I better stop and get him some burgers. Whatever you want Amaré.’ So we pulled through the drive-thru and loaded up. It was pretty funny.”
And so with a few bags full of fast food, the Suns re-boarded Sarver’s plane and huddled up over a stack of documents listing free agents, NBA rosters, salaries and more. With the NBA free-agent market opened for almost a full day, there was still lots to do.
“It was a nice flight back,” says D’Antoni. “But we couldn’t relax too much, because we weren’t through. One piece without the rest is not going to get it done, so we were still in our warpath mode.
“You know, it was kind of like coming home after an exciting road win, but knowing you’ve got to play the defending champions at home tomorrow night. There's still work to be done."