A Storybook Season
THE 1992-93 SUNS SEASON IS SO RICH WITH HISTORY that a Phoenix journalist wrote an entire 328-page book on it. There were more arrivals in downtown Phoenix than at Sky Harbor Airport. America West Arena arrived and so did new, colorful uniforms. It was the year which saw forward Charles Barkley, shooting guard Danny Ainge and new Head Coach Paul Westphal come to town. Then there was the incredible regular season and an even more incredible playoff run. A run which was unfortunately cut short by "The Shot." But we'll get to that in a minute.
On June 17, 1992, the Suns traded Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang and Tim Perry to Philadelphia for Sir Charles, the eventual 1993 NBA MVP. That season, the 25th in franchise history, Phoenix also led the NBA with a franchise-record 62 wins. December was perfect as the Suns tied the league's third-best mark for a month with a 14-0 record.
The club led the NBA in scoring with 113.4 points per game and also broke the league record for three-pointers made with 398. The Suns won their second Pacific Division title and rolled into the playoffs with homecourt advantage throughout. But, Westphal and his team dropped the first two games of an opening series against the L.A. Lakers, a team with a young Elden Campbell.
"The Lakers have too much tradition and pride to just lay down for us," Barkley said before the series. "And they still have some good players."
But James Worthy and Byron Scott couldn't lend enough leadership in the end. The Suns staged an incredible turnaround and became the first team in history to come back to win from an 0-2 deficit.
The Spurs, with super center David Robinson, posed a different kind of threat in the next round, but the Suns protected their home court advantage to make things easier. With the Suns up 3-2 heading to the Alamo, Barkley hit a 20-foot shot over the Admiral with just 1.8 seconds remaining to give Phoenix a 102-100 series-clinching win.
Seattle and their young duo of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp battled the Suns to the very end in the Western Conference Finals. The teams took turns winning games throughout the entire series, with Barkley becoming the deciding factor in Game 7. He finished with 44 points and 24 rebounds in a 123-110 romp.
In the Finals against Chicago. Phoenix lost the first two games at home, but won two of the next three in Chicago, including Game 3, a historic triple-overtime affair that saw Dan Majerle tie an NBA Finals record with six three-pointers and KJ set an NBA Finals record with 62 total minutes played. Down three games to two, the Suns returned to the AWA and appeared poised to send the series to a Game 7 in Phoenix. But suddenly, disastrously, amazingly, there was Bulls guard John Paxson wide open beyond the arc with only a few seconds to go and the Bulls down two. The Shot.
"The worst thing that could have happened at that time was a three," says Frank Johnson, a reserve guard for the Suns that season. "If they would have hit a two, we would have been all right, overtime. They didn't really want the overtime, because they were fatigued. If you think about it, Michael (Jordan) wasn't even involved in the play. The best player wasn't involved in the play."
Less than a week after the title hopes had been laid to rest, some 300,000 Suns fans braved scorching heat (105 in the shade at parade time) to jam downtown Phoenix for a joyous celebration of a great season.
"To this day," says Suns president and CEO Jerry Colangelo, "that's still one of the most moving moments in our history. It was really amazing and showed just how much our team brought the community together."
The Suns had other things to be proud of during the '92-93 season as well. Westphal became the winningest rookie coach in NBA history and coached the West squad to victory at the All-Star Game. On the court at the All-Star Game, Phoenix was represented by the West's leading vote-getter, Barkley, and reserve Majerle. And Colangelo was named NBA Executive of the Year for an unprecedented fourth time for putting it all together. Certainly worthy of a chapter all his own in this storybook of a season.