Newsroom Notes: Suns Unveil 40th Anniversary Team vs. SuperSonics
Posted: Jan. 3, 2008
Asked for his thoughts on what “Retro Night” would mean for the Suns prior to their 104-96 win over the SuperSonics, Mike D'Antoni responded, “Well at least I know the music will be good.”
D’Antoni couldn’t have been more correct, as all the way up until and even through the contest, fans were treated to a smorgasbord of songs by every artist from Chuck Berry to Billy Joel. But while the wide array of melodies was a nice treat for Suns fans as they celebrated the team’s 40th anniversary, it wasn’t all the organization had in store on the special evening. The 40th Anniversary Suns Team – selected by fan Internet vote – was also unveiled, featuring a group of players almost as diverse as the music played.
There was of course "The Original Sun," Dick Van Arsdale, who scored the first two points in Phoenix Suns basketball history. The ballclub’s first ever Rookie of the Year, Alvan Adams, was also named to the team as was teammate and eventual Suns Head Coach Paul Westphal. Hall of Famer Connie Hawkins was also honored with an appearance.
It would be hard to have a 40th Anniversary Team without the leading scorer in franchise history which, of course, made Walter Davis a simple selection. The man nicknamed “Sweet D” is still regarded by some as the best pure shooter in Suns history and has 15,666 career points to prove it.
In 1993, the Suns again qualified for the NBA Finals with a team considered perhaps the most popular in franchise history. Four players who were members of that 1992-93 ballclub were named to the 40th Anniversary Team – Tom Chambers, Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle and Charles Barkley. Ironically, each joined the organization in a very different fashion.
Johnson joined the Suns midway through the 1987-88 season, in a trade which also brought Mark West and Tyrone Corbin to the Valley. Over the next 10 seasons, the point guard would go on to average 18.8 points and 9.6 assists per game while being named to the All-Star team three times.
Chambers, meanwhile, helped the organization make NBA history when he signed as the league’s first-ever unrestricted free agent in 1988. His 60-point effort against his former team, the Seattle SuperSonics, still holds today as the greatest single-game scoring performance in team history.
Nicknamed “Thunder Dan," Dan Majerle was selected with the 14th overall pick in the 1988 Draft. Fans weren’t necessarily happy with the selection at the time, but his selection to the 40th Anniversary Team obviously shows they’ve since come around. Playing his first seven seasons in Phoenix, Majerle averaged 14.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists per contests and rejoined the Suns during the 2001-02 season to close out his career. He is the only Sun to wear all three uniform styles.
Last, but certainly not least, is the “Round Mound of Rebound” himself, Sir Charles Barkley. The Chuckster may have only played four seasons in the Valley following a 1992 blockbuster trade, but more than left his mark via his outgoing personality and solid play on the floor. His first season in Phoenix, Barkley became the first player in franchise history to earn MVP honors and was the only Sun named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996.
Three current Suns round out the 40th Anniversary Team roster - Shawn Marion, Steve Nash and Amaré Stoudemire. The trio of All-Stars have no doubt been a key to Phoenix’s success these past three-and-a-half seasons, and are a large reason why the team could be earning its fourth-consecutive Pacific Division Championship at season’s end. Marion – the longest tenured of the three – is a four-time All-Star and has averaged at least 17 points and nine rebounds in each of the last seven seasons. Stoudemire earned Rookie of the Year honors in 2003 and last season was named to the All-NBA First Team. As far as Nash, the two-time MVP nearly earned himself a third trophy last season, finishing second behind Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki.
“I think while a lot of those guys are different players, the consistency you see in them is their work ethic,” former athletic trainer Joe Proski said.
A member of the Suns Ring of Honor, Proski was the team’s original athletic trainer and held the post for the first 32 years of the franchise. Over the years, “Prosk” has seen a number of players come and go, but sees a lot of similarities in the ten players honored on Thursday.
“Each of those guys, their dedication and desire was just tremendous,” Proski said. “A lot of guys don’t realize how many games guys like Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson played, while hurt. Van Arsdale was about as hard a worker as you’ll find in this league’s history.”
“It’s big time,” Stoudemire said of the recognition. “For an organization that’s been around 40 years and has been as successful as the Suns have, to be named to that team is a big accomplishment.”
Chambers agreed that the rich history and talented rosters the Suns have enjoyed over the years help make the accolade a little sweeter.
“When you’ve got a team with a history as rich as ours, that’s definitely an honor. A lot of great players have called Phoenix home over the years and before tonight I really had no idea that I’d be recognized.”
Chambers played for both the Seattle SuperSonics and Phoenix Suns over the course of his career and has seen a lot of history between the two teams since they first played in front of 7,112 fans at Veterans Memorial Colisuem.
“It’s two ballclubs that have a lot of history, not only in the league itself, but against one another,” Chambers said. “The Suns played their first-ever game against the Sonics in franchise history, but there have been a lot of huge games between these two teams since.”
Among those huge games were a pair of Suns playoff victories in 1976 and 1993 that ultimately helped the organization reach the NBA Finals. With the SuperSonics off to a slow start, it’s doubtful the two ballclubs will meet again come the 2008 postseason. Hungry for a championship, however, fans aren’t going to be too picky at who the Suns have to defeat if they are to again advance to the NBA Finals. As far as winning it all goes, both the organization and its fans are indeed hoping that the 40th time proves to be the charm.
OFF WITH THEIR HEADBANDS
Although players said they enjoyed the throwback festivities during Thursday night’s contest, they didn’t wait long to throw back the throwback look. After a sluggish first quarter which saw the Suns outscored 33-13, a number of players removed the headbands with which they started the game.
Whether the look was responsible or not, the team came out firing following the decision and immediately enjoyed a 32-19 run. The run not only helped the Suns back into the contest, but ultimately to their fourth-straight victory.
“A lot of things about tonight were ugly,” Suns Head Coach Mike D'Antoni said. “Between the orange headbands, the black-and-white picture on television and the way we played, I thought they might just cancel the game. We set basketball back the first ten minutes of this contest, it was not pretty.”
“It was all in good spirit, but I think those headbands might have cut off a little of our blood flow because our energy just wasn’t there in the first quarter,” assistant coach Phil Weber said. “I obviously don’t really think the headbands were responsible, but that said, I think it will be a long, long time until we see them again.”
Like the coaches, Suns players aren't entirely sure whether or not the new look was to blame.
“Honestly we can sit here and dwell on it and make all these assumptions, but we did what we needed to do in the second quarter and the rest of the game to win,” forward Shawn Marion said. “I think sometimes you can’t get 20 points back all at once, but you can nip at it and nip at it and take it from there.”
Perhaps the best source to put things into perspective is Jay Gaspar. While the equipment manager wouldn’t point his finger directly at the accessory, he did have one thing to say following the win.
“I’m just going to say that after that first quarter tonight, I think it’s going to be a while until we bring those back out again.”
DIRTY MAKES HIS RETURN
Thursday night marked the regular season return of center Kurt Thomas, who spent two seasons with the Phoenix Suns prior to this past summer’s trade. Although Thomas said before the game he wasn’t playing with anything to prove, the big man came out firing early and finished the affair with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
“There are no hard feelings,” the 13-year veteran said of the transaction. “I understand it’s business and I’m just looking forward. I’m healthy and feeling good and hoping it continues.”
The Suns traded for Thomas in 2005, in a deal which saw the departure of fan favorite Quentin Richardson. During the introductions Thursday night, Thomas was greeted was a warm reception by the fans, helping prove the efforts of the man nicknamed “Dirty” were certainly appreciated.
“Being in Phoenix was a great experience,” Thomas said. “We had a great team with a great coaching staff and I really enjoyed it.”
Thomas says along with the people, there is one other popular element of the Valley he misses most.
“The weather,” Thomas said with a smile. “There’s nothing like waking up everyday and just feeling good and warm.”
HAVE YOU SEEN HIM?
Thomas wasn’t the only player making a return to Phoenix on Thursday. Sonics assistant coach Paul Westhead - who just months ago led the Mercury to their first ever title - was also in attendance. Like Thomas, Westhead’s stint in the Valley lasted two seasons, but his departure came after his team’s Game 5 victory in Detroit.
“It’s been a nice change of pace,” Westhead said of joining PJ Carlesimo and the Sonics. “Everything happened so quick but I’m enjoying myself with a nice, up-and-coming team. It’s been fun.”
As always, Westhead sees plenty of reasons to remain optimistic despite a slow start, a lot of that having to do with a certain rookie phenom by the name of Kevin Durant. The former Texas Longhorn has so far surpassed expectations and contributed 28 points and seven boards in the nationally-televised game.
“For a nineteen-year-old, he’s surprisingly poised,” Westhead said of the youngster. “I expected a few more ups and downs during this rookie season because of his inexperience, but he doesn’t show that at all and he’s a lot of fun to be around.”
Durant agreed that for he and Westhead, their player-coach relationship has been so-far so-good.
“He’s been very instrumental in this team’s transitional offense,” the Sonics guard said. “We work together a lot during practice. He’s a coach that likes to get up and down the floor and I think we compliment each other well.”
Westhead says he enjoyed his time in the WNBA, where behind the league’s slogan Have You Seen Her?, Mercury fans were able to see their team take home the 2007 World Championship.
“It was a lifetime experience,” Westhead said of the team’s memorable run. “I worked with a great group of ladies with talent, skill and toughness. Most importantly, they knew how to win. I couldn’t have left on a better note.”