"PHOENIX? YOU MUST BE CRAZY!"
Crazy? Who's to say. But this was the year that the Suns rose in
Phoenix bringing the city its first professional sports
Sun, Dick Van Arsdale, scored the first-ever
A Suns Original
The Red Zone
there had been plenty of talk in Phoenix about getting a major pro
sports franchise. But usually, people were talking about an NFL
team. There had been no big media buildup, no debates as to the
pros and cons of pro basketball in Phoenix, no marketing surveys
and no advance ticket sales.
When Richard Bloch, who was the catalyst for the formation of
the primary Suns ownership group, met with then-NBA commissioner
Walter Kennedy, the commish quickly threw a wet blanket over
Bloch's plans. "Phoenix? You must be crazy," Kennedy said. "Phoenix
will never support pro basketball."
There were others in the NBA who shared Kennedy's view. They
grumbled that Phoenix was too hot, too small and too far away for
pro basketball. But Bloch recognized Phoenix as a growing market
with tremendous potential and refused to take "No" for an answer.
Kennedy, at the prodding of Bloch, talked to a few Phoenicians.
"I talked to half a dozen shoeshine boys, a couple of barbers
and some taxi drivers," Kennedy said, "and I was surprised and
gratified how aware they were of the NBA. I came away with strong
feelings that Phoenix was ready."
Just before the beginning of the 1968 All-Star Game in New York,
on January 22 to be exact, word was delivered to Bloch that the NBA
Board of Governors had approved an expansion franchise for Phoenix.
For a $2 million entry fee, Bloch had a yet-to-be-named team and 30
official Wilson basketballs autographed by Walter Kennedy. It was a
Just over three months later, on April 25, the name "Suns" was
selected after more than 28,000 entries were submitted in a
name-the-team contest sponsored by The Arizona Republic.
The Suns' logo took awhile to develop, however, but it was worth
the wait. And it was worth the effort co-owners Don Pitt and Don
Diamond put into having it designed. Originally, they contacted a
commercial artist, who charged $5,000 for a logo the owners were
dissatisfied with. Then, they called Stan Fabe of Tucson, who ran a
successful commercial printing plant there.
It was Fabe who designed the sunburst logo, which originally had
a full sunburst. In the latter stages of his design work, Fabe
erased the fiery flames from the left side. A similar version of
the logo was used for Phoenix's first 24 seasons in the NBA. And,
the redesigned logo of 1992 still bears some resemblance. Fabe's
charge for developing the team's everlasting image: $200.
Now, if the last few decades seem as timeless as the Suns' logo,
consider the archaic nature of the first-ever Suns media guide,
which listed several of the top reasons that Phoenix was an ideal
home for NBA basketball. Among them: "the temperate weather which
prevails year around in Arizona provides excellent driving
conditions to and from contests."
The first home of the Suns wasn't nearly as archaic. In fact,
the Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds was
only 3 years old when the Suns moved in for the 1968-69 season.
Built to accommodate the music attractions that annually came to
the State Fair, the Coliseum featured 12,224 "theater-style" seats,
which was a pretty big deal back in the '60s.
Jerry Colangelo, who had been the chief scout for the Chicago
Bulls, was named Suns general manager at age 28, becoming the
youngest GM in professional team sports at the time. The mandate
from ownership was basic and direct - build a first-class
organization and make it a winner. Colangelo's philosophy on how to
build a winner was equally as clear-cut.
"We should go with young talent," he said. "Of course, the ideal
blend is a mixture of youth and experience, but when it's a tossup,
youth must prevail."
The Suns began building their team by naming Johnny "Red" Kerr
as head coach. Kerr, who was the head man for the Bulls the
previous two years, was named NBA Coach of the Year in 1967 after
his first campaign at the helm. It was in Chicago that Kerr first
During their first season together in the Windy City, Kerr and
Colangelo were responsible for building a team that won 33 games
and made the playoffs in its maiden season.
Late into the 1968 campaign, Colangelo headed west to become
general manager of the Suns. By the end of that season, one in
which the Bulls struggled, it was apparent that Kerr and the Bulls'
management were ready to part ways. Colangelo received permission
to talk to Kerr and signed his old friend to a three-year deal.
"Change the plays," an aggravated Kerr said before leaving the
Bulls, "I know 'em all."
Kerr would need a sense of humor in Phoenix. With the addition
of expansion teams in Phoenix and Milwaukee in 1968, the NBA talent
pool had shrunken further. Kerr approached his task with a mixture
of wit and cautious optimism.
"As a player," he said, "you get to know all the tricks and you
wish you could start over. In effect, this is what we're doing
The Suns acquired their first player on May 6, 1968 during the
NBA Expansion Draft, selecting 6-5 guard Dick Van Arsdale from New
York. Van Arsdale, now vice president of player personnel for
Phoenix, is still affectionately known as "The Original Sun."
Several other players that were taken in the expansion draft saw
court time with Van Arsdale, as well: Gail Goodrich (Los Angeles),
Neil Johnson (New York), David Lattin (San Francisco), Stan
McKenzie (Baltimore), McCoy McLemore (Chicago), Dick Snyder
(Atlanta) and George Wilson (Seattle).
Van Arsdale, who would log nine seasons with the Suns before
retiring, witnessed the continued growth of the club's roster on
June 4, 1968, when Phoenix selected 6-7 forward Gary Gregor in the
first round (eighth overall) of the college draft out of the
University of South Carolina.
Goodrich, now in the NBA Hall of Fame, Snyder, McLemore and
Wilson joined Van Arsdale on the court for the first-ever Suns home
game on October 4, 1968 - an exhibition against San Diego. After
the game, Suns co-owners and performers Andy Williams and Henry
Mancini performed a special concert, complete with stage, symphony
and grand piano.
The Suns won their regular-season opener against Seattle 116-107
and had a rather impressive 4-3 record seven games into their
introductory season. Unfortunately for Kerr and his team, the rest
of the schedule would prove much more difficult. The Suns managed
only 12 more wins the rest of the way, finishing up year one with a
Dick Van Arsdale
The first player chosen in the 1968 Expansion
Scored the franchise's first-ever basket in a win
over Seattle on Oct. 18.
One of the team's first All-Stars, scored four points
in 10 minutes of play during the event held in Baltimore.
Ranked second on the team in scoring, averaging 21
points a game.
Finished sixth in the league in scoring and led the
Suns with 23.8 points per game.
Led the Suns in assists, handing out 6.4 per
Named to the 1969 All-Star squad and contributed five
Acquired in a December trade from Detroit for McCoy
McLemore and started the remaining 51 games at center.
Led the Suns in rebounding, averaging 13.3 boards a
Dick Van Arsdale scored the first official basket in Suns
history, a layup after a feed from Dick Snyder, moments into the
Suns' regular-season opener, at the Coliseum. The Suns won their
first game 116-107 over Seattle.
Gail Goodrich scored a team record 47 points in a 146-133 home
win over San Diego. Only 2,384 people were at the Coliseum to watch
the effort, which is still tied for the fifth-best scoring night in
The Suns made their national television debut on Christmas day,
1968, as an ABC audience and a season-high Coliseum crowd of 10,355
witnessed the Los Angeles Lakers post a 119-99 victory.
Throughout the course of their initial campaign, the Suns played
four regular-season games in Tucson, Ariz. During the preseason,
they played games in Mesa, Globe, Flagstaff and Fort Huachuca, all
in an effort to bring the NBA to the entire state of Arizona.