"KEEP YOUR ARMS AND LEGS INSIDE the
car at all times."
The roller coaster that was the 1994-95 NBA season was a ride of
sharp turns, steep climbs, long falls and neck-breaking speed for
the Phoenix Suns.
sustaining major injuries, the Suns captured the Pacific Division
title in 1994-95 with a 59-23 record.
What a Week!
efore the cars rolled out of the station, no one knew who would be
Barkley, the world's biggest fan of the wild ride, was injured
and contemplating retirement as soon as the '93-94 season came to a
screeching halt in Houston.
Ceballos, Mark West, Oliver Miller, Jerrod Mustaf and Malcolm
Mackey all got off the Suns' coaster, Danny Manning, Wayman
Tisdale, Dan Schayes,
Trevor Ruffin, Ralph Sampson and Richard Dumas anxiously stood in
line hoping to get a seat. Some did. Some didn't. Others, like '94
draft picks Wesley
Person and Antonio
Lang, were winners of free VIP passes to experience the
And what fun it was.
Only a day before the Suns drafted Person out of Auburn and Lang
from Duke, Sir Charles announced his desire to take another ride.
The sickness and pain he felt after falling to the Rockets had
dissipated, and with the gentle prodding of teammate Danny Ainge,
No. 34 decided to go through an intense rehabilitation program on
his injured back.
"If I had retired it would've been just because I was selfish
and lazy and didn't want to put in the effort and work it would
take after the rehab to come back," he said. "For me to let it all
end because I just didn't want to work out, I didn't think that was
While the Chuckster was wearing weight belts and working out
during the '94 offseason, teammates Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle were wearing
gold medals and knocking out teams from Australia, Puerto Rico,
Spain and Russia as members of Dream Team II.
Meanwhile, Suns President and CEO Jerry Colangelo was having a
pretty busy summer as well with one press conference after another.
There was the re-signing of A.C. Green, KJ's contract extension
and, of course, the shocking, spur-of-the moment presser held by
Manning and his agent the late Ron Grinker to announce their desire
to sign with Phoenix - no matter what the cost.
"It is not about money," Grinker said of his highly-recruited
client. "It never has been and never will be with Danny. It is
The signing of Manning was followed up with the signing of
Wayman Tisdale, another forward who turned down more money to join
the Suns, and was also followed by a lot of attention from the rest
of the league. Entering the season, the Suns looked like Dream Team
III with six current or former All-Stars and five former Olympians
on the roster.
Although the new collection of stars went undefeated in the
preseason, two incidents foreshadowed what was ahead for the Suns.
During an exhibition game against the Pistons, Barkley strained an
abdominal muscle - an injury which would sideline the revitalized
superstar for the first 11 games of the regular season. Days later,
in what was billed as "a preseason preview of the NBA Finals," the
Suns and Magic clashed in Orlando.
Unfortunately, so did KJ and the Shaq. After crashing the
boards, the 300-plus pound Shaquille O'Neal
collided with and fell on top of the 190-pound Johnson causing a
chain reaction of leg injuries that would haunt the Suns' guard
throughout the season, forcing him to miss 35 games.
While the injuries to the two stars hurt the team, it may have
been beneficial in the long run as Person and Perry, a little-used
backup guard the season before, both gained significant minutes and
experience. Perry, known as "Socks" for his trademark knee-highs,
started 51 games and averaged 9.7 points and 4.8 assists. Person,
who started 56 games, hit 116 of 266 three-points attempts.
"Wes had an outstanding rookie year," then-Suns coach Paul
Westphal said. "He's a very mature player. He didn't make a whole
lot of mistakes and played a big role in our success."
It was while the Suns were enjoying their most successful run
that the worst injury struck. Like an old-style wooden coaster, the
Suns climbed a steep hill through the first half of the season.
Clank, clank, clank, clank. While KJ and CB battled through their
pain, the Suns, led by Manning and Perry, continued to climb.
Clank, clank, clank, clank. With each clank came a win, until after
45 games, the Suns were on top, overlooking the rest of the NBA
amusement park with a record of 36-9.
Then came Game 46, a crushing 124-100 loss to the Rockets at
home and on national television. The roller coaster was now on its
way down and by the following morning, the Suns' season was falling
faster and faster. During a morning practice, Manning tore his
anterior cruciate ligament after landing on the foot of center Joe
Kleine. As he dropped to the ground with a scream, so did the
coaster and the hopes of many a Phoenix fan.
Only a week later, instead of playing in the All-Star Game,
Manning could be found hobbling through the hundreds of thousands
of fans who filled the Phoenix Civic Plaza for the NBA's Jam
Session during All-Star Weekend.
But Manning wasn't the only Phoenix star attracting attention
that warm February weekend. The 45 annual midseason classic saw
Westphal coach the Western Conference All Stars, which featured
hometown favorites Barkley and Majerle in the starting lineup, to a
139-112 pasting of the East. Retired Suns coach Cotton Fitzsimmons
also got into the fun, coaching the "White" squad, which included
Person, to a win in the first-ever Schick Rookie Game.
After the break, the Suns season continued with more ups and
more downs. Big wins over Seattle, Houston and San Antonio brought
cheers, while losses to the Clippers, Celtics and Hawks brought
Despite the adversity, the Suns rallied together to win seven of
their final eight games and finished with an impressive 59-23
record - the second-best in franchise history - and clinched their
third Pacific Division Championship.
The ride was picking up speed as it entered the playoffs and got
even faster as the Suns rolled over the Trail Blazers 3-0 in the
first round. The Suns' offensive depth overwhelmed the Blazers as
Majerle bombed 7-of-10 treys in Game 1, KJ tallied 28 points and
seven boards in Game 2 and Sir Charles was on fired in the third
and final game, lighting up Portland with 47 points.
Just like the year before, the Suns came off an opening-round
sweep to meet up with the Rockets in the Conference Semis. And just
like the year before, the Suns had momentum and jumped out to a
two-game lead. But the defending world champions refused to give up
and won four of the last five contests despite a 46-point effort
from KJ in Phoenix during Game 7.
With their hands in the air and their bodies thrust back against
their seats, the hearts of the Suns' players dropped into their
stomachs as they were caught unprepared for the sharp turn of Sam
Cassell, the upside loop of Clyde Drexler, the big dip of Mario
Ellie and the sudden, jerking halt of Hakeem Olajuwon.
The Rockets won the heartbreaker by one point and would go on to
win their second-consecutive NBA Championship. Meanwhile, slowly
pulling back into the station, the Suns disembarked from their
'94-95 ride right where they started - with an eye toward next
Led the team in scoring (23.0 ppg) and rebounding
(11.1 rpg) for the third straight season.
Set a franchise record with 17 defensive rebounds vs.
the Lakers on Dec. 30, 1994.
Scored 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds during the
1995 All-Star Game in Phoenix.
Averaged 15.6 points, 4.6 boards and 4.1 assists in
his final season as a Sun.
Registered 10 points and five boards as a starter for
the Western Conference All-Star team.
Averaged 17.9 ppg (second best) before tearing ACL
mid-way through the season.
Started 51 games, filling in for an injured Kevin
Averaged 9.7 points and 4.8 assists per game.
Was the runner-up in voting for the NBA's Most
Shot a team-high 44 percent from three-point range,
connecting on 116-of-266 attempts.
Named to the NBA's All-Rookie second team.
Prior to the 1994-95 season, Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle
represented the Suns and their country as members of Dream Team II,
which captured the gold medal during the World Championship of
Despite numerous injuries, the Suns won the Pacific Division
title and finished with their second best record in franchise
history at 59-23.
Phoenix played host to the 1995 All-Star Weekend in which Suns
coach Paul Westphal guided the Western Conference All-Stars to a