Mark West on '93

Posted: June 4, 2003

There are two facts that have nothing to do with statistics or playing time that define what it means to have Mark West associated with the Phoenix Suns. The first was that teammate and good friend Kevin Johnson wore West’s No. 41 at the 1991 All-Star Game to honor the contributions of the man teammates and fans alike called “Big Daddy.” The second is the fact that West is now a Suns assistant general manager, entrusted by President Bryan Colangelo to carry out a range of duties focusing on the business of basketball, player relations and development. caught up with the big executive recently to talk about his role in the Suns' run to the 1993 NBA Finals. What was the attitude going into the 1992-93 season?

Mark West: I think we thought with the addition of Charles (Barkley) we became a legitimate challenge for the title. At least that’s the way I felt. Once we got Charles, who was just an extraordinary player, then we had a chance to win it all. How early did you know this team would gel as well as it did?

West: I think it happened in the preseason. A lot of that was due to a lot of us being together for quite a while. We had been to the Western Conference Finals two times prior to Charles coming here. With the addition of Charles, who was a very personable person anyway, a clown prince, it was immediate chemistry there. (There was) a little shuffle for power, because Tom (Chambers) and Kevin (Johnson) had always been the main players on our team, but I think right away with Charles, just because of his talent alone, let alone his personality, he became the clear leader on that team. How did Charles coming along and that “shuffle for power” affect your relationship with Kevin and the rest?

West: For me, it remained the same. There was no split in loyalty for me. I really appreciated playing with both of them. Obviously, I had just been with Kevin longer. I had been with him since he was a rookie. We both came over from Cleveland. As far as our relationship, it remained the same and remains to this day, with both Kevin and Charles. After having the best regular season record, what was it like to lose the first two games to the Lakers in the opening round of the ’93 playoffs?

West: I think we were looking past the Lakers. There is always a traditional rivalry between the Suns and the Lakers. It was a time when they weren’t at their best as far as personnel was concerned. Of their big three, they only had James Worthy left. Even though they had some very good players, he was the perpetual All-NBA, All-Star that was left on that team. But the other guys were very good players and they played up to their billing with a lot of pride and a lot of tenacity. What was your reaction to Paul Westphal’s proclamation that you were going to go to L.A. and win the two games there and then come back to Phoenix and win Game 5 to advance?

West: Personally, I thought he was right. We should have never lost the first two. It was kind of embarrassing for us to be the caliber of team we were at that particular time and them to be the eighth seed, and to be down 0-2. I definitely felt that we should win three in a row. We should have won three in a row to begin with. Did Westphal’s guarantee rally the team together?

West: I think so. I think it was a rallying cry, a wake-up call. We should have never been in that position in the first place. “Have you woken up? If not, I’m going to wake you up.” It was a good thing. What was it like after winning the two in L.A. to come back to Phoenix for Game 5?

West: If I remember correctly, it came down to the last shot for them. In regulation they could have sealed the deal. Byron Scott missed a shot and then it went into overtime, and it was a done deal. What was the crowd like for that game?

West: The whole city was at the edge of their chairs, both in the arena and in front of their televisions. I had people calling me from all over the country that I had been friends with in college and it was just amazing how much people were focused on that one game, if the big upset was going to happen or if the big prediction was going to happen. Then you moved on to San Antonio and Charles won the series with a shot in Game 6.

West: I think at the end of the day, we knew that if it came down to it, everything was going to rest on Charles’ shoulders, whether we were going to win or lose. Throughout the game, Charles was a big part of it because he was just an extraordinary player. This guy at 6-4 could take it off the rim, dribble full court and nobody could take it away from him. He could defend various positions on the court with a lot of tenacity, block shots. He was our leading rebounder at 6-4, the leading scorer at 6-4, could be close to one of our best assist men. He had that will to take over a game. What was the team atmosphere as that game wound down and you advanced to the Conference Finals?

West: When you’re in that position, we always felt that with Kevin and Tom, and then Charles that we could win. If we got the ball with a chance for us to win, we can win, particularly if we get it in Charles’ hands, because they still had to pay attention to the other guys on the court. They still had to pay attention to Majerle, they still had to pay attention to Kevin or Tom, or whoever else was on the court, let alone now someone has to isolate themselves and cover Charles, which is a nightmare. Charles hits the shot to beat the Spurs and you move on to the Western Conference Finals against the Seattle Supersonics.

West: That was a wild series. They were a very talented team and probably deserved to be in the Finals as much as we did. They had had an excellent year and clawed their way into the Western Conference Finals, and it went down to seven games. Eddie Johnson came back to haunt us in that series. He was a nightmare for us. He just caught on fire. That wasn’t a pleasant feeling knowing that he could have been on our side of the ball. In either case, we persevered and got through that. What did you think of Barkley’s pre-game predictions and taunting of the Seattle bench throughout the game?

West: Charles has the ability to talk it and to walk it. He was a rare player. How gratifying was it for you to see Tom Chambers have a big Game 7 against the Sonics?

West: That was great, but I’d seen him score 60. Some players are called warriors, but Tom was more of a classic cowboy. He was coming out shooting. He had that look in his eye and I always appreciated playing with him. I knew when he put his foot on the court he was going to give you all he had. When he had his shot going for him, the other team was in for a world of hurt. That night he had his shot going. What was it like for you to get to the NBA Finals?

West: Going back to the Seattle game when the buzzer went off and we won the game, all of us that had been there for a while and had come close to the NBA Finals by being in the Western Conference Finals but not being able to get over the hump, it was like a big 500-pound gorilla got off our backs. We were in the Finals. We finally made it. We got to where all basketball players want to be. You want to play in the biggest games for the biggest prize. Describe what it was like around town entering the Finals.

West: It was just an unbelievable feeling. Everywhere you went it was “Go Suns,” everybody was captivated by our chances of winning a world title and bringing a World Championship to the city of Phoenix. They went through the ups and downs, the highs and the lows of getting there and not just that year, but through the years since I had gotten there in ’88. We had Kevin and myself, then in ’89 when we got Tom, they had been through all of that. Then to have the best record in the NBA and still struggle to get to the Finals… Usually with that team, it’s not that hard to get to the Finals. We had a tough round against the Lakers, against San Antonio, then a tough round against Seattle. I think it probably had taken its toll going into the Finals against Chicago. How badly did it hurt to lose Games 1 and 2 of the Finals at home and having some fans even boo Kevin after Game 2?

West: You sit back and you wonder how it could happen. It wasn’t like we hadn’t (ever) beaten them. We split the season series with Chicago during the regular season. My feeling was that we could win the series and if we maintained home court we win the series. If we win our home games, it doesn’t matter, we win the series. So the fact that we lost the first two hurt. The first one was bad but we knew we weren’t going to lose Game 2, and then we end up losing Game 2. I think the fans get emotional and they feel the pain. That’s a natural reaction to find somebody to point the finger at. In the end, it was us as a team and not one any individual that won or lost the series. Then you go to Chicago and take two out of three on their home court.

West: It was one of those things where they were trying to close us out or trying to put us on the ropes and we weren’t going to let them. We won two games in Chicago and we should have won three. We should have won all three in Chicago. By then, it was like the Lakers series, we had a wake-up call. We knew what the playoffs were about. We knew the struggle of getting there and unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. We won those two games and lost the one. What was Game 6 back in Phoenix like facing elimination if you lose and a Game 7 if you win?

West: We had a lead in the end, maybe five points and there was very little time on the clock. You knew Michael was going to come and do his thing. My feeling was that we had Charles on the other end and he’s going to go down there and do his thing. They score one, we score one, and we’re still up. It didn’t work out that way. They scored and we went back down the court and didn’t score. We had opportunities to score, we just didn’t. The ball didn’t fall in, the basketball Gods were against us, whatever the case may be. They take it out; Charles gambles with Scottie Pippen trying to steal the ball in the backcourt. But that’s how we got there, with him taking that gamble.

They come down the court, basically five-on-four with Charles in hot pursuit. From what I remember, Scottie passes it to Horace Grant. Horace had maybe scored one bucket the whole night, let alone taken a 10-foot jump shot with time running out. He wants the ball in anybody’s hands but his at that point. I had stepped up to stop Scottie’s lay-up but I do see Horace in the corner. When they passed the ball, Danny Ainge who was guarding John Paxson, comes back down, which is a natural motion to come back down. It’s just a reflex action when you see someone open to collapse and everybody is, in theory, supposed to rotate. It didn’t work this time. In retrospect, you follow your instincts, but (Ainge) should have stayed home. A “two” doesn’t hurt you. A two ties the game and we have the ball. Even if Horace Grant scores, it was not a big deal. We can’t lose the game with him scoring. Horace had no intentions of shooting that ball. He didn’t want to shoot the ball. He would have been jumping off the Empire State Building rather than shoot that basketball (laughs). What would have happened had there been a Game 7?

West: I truly believe if we had gotten to Game 7, it would have been just like Game 6 except for the results would have been in our favor. It would have been a tough battle. Its not like Chicago would have laid down and we would have blown them out, and they would have run out of gas. They had a lot of pride, they had been there before and they had two of the greatest players to play the game on their team. It would have been a struggle but we would have been so close, somebody on their team might have gotten hurt with us trying to win. What is your relationship with John Paxson now, 10 years later?

West: I had known Paxson from college and we’ve always gotten along. We don’t call each other up on the phone like buddies, but when we see each other we kind of smile. They know and we know, “You hit that last shot and you better thank God you did hit it because had we played one more game, you would have failed.” We played for the big prize and they won. There are a million things you would change if you had to do it all over again. The hardest part is not going back and giving you that second chance to win a championship after having been through that experience. Was there a sense that year that you would be back for redemption within the next couple of years?

West: I feel that way and my thoughts on that were had we gotten Charles four years earlier it would have been that way. Unfortunately, I was 33, Tom may have been 34, and we were all getting older. A lot of those guys that were the central part of that team, we had gotten older. Had he come four years earlier, when we were in our 20s, I have no doubt in my mind, we would have challenged anybody, particularly here in the west, even with some of the great players they had out here at the time. Had we gotten Charles earlier, it would have been different. We would have gone to the Finals at least once more. They knew that even though they loved us as players, to maintain a certain level of excellence for the team and to move on, they had to make some changes, even though it was probably as painful for them as it was for me to leave Phoenix and for Tom to leave. What is the legacy that the 1992-93 Suns left for the history of the organization?

West: It gives us a direction, a goal in which to achieve. For the longest time before we got to the Finals, it was always the team with Alvan Adams and Gar Heard and those guys that went to the Finals and almost beat the Celtics (in 1976), that you would always hear of. You hear the old stories of the same glory of that game and that series and now it’s us. I’m a part of that history and that team that got there and had the chance and had the best record and went to the heartbreakers as well as the glory of that series. I think it’s a goal for the next generation to reach and do more than we did. Not to fall, not to come close but no cigar, but to finally get that thing and light that cigar. Despite coming up short, how gratifying is it to be a part of that history?

West: I was ecstatic to be a part of it. To go to the Western Conference Finals, let alone to go to the Finals and play with the guys I played with. I played with great players and great brand of basketball and played for some great coaches. The only other thing I could have asked for was to get the ring and to get the trophy. Anything but that, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.