The 1992-93 Phoenix Suns remain one of the most iconic teams in NBA history after taking The Valley fan base on one of the most thrilling journeys in Arizona sports history.
It marked the inaugural season in a brand new downtown arena and the debut of the fan-favorite Sunburst jersey design. A dominant regular season that led to a team-record and NBA-best 62 wins gave them homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs for the first time ever. The team set an NBA record for three-pointers in a single season, offering a glimpse of modern NBA offenses. Charles Barkley became the first player in franchise history to earn NBA MVP honors in his first season in the Valley. An up-and-down roller coaster of emotions during the first three rounds of the playoffs culminated in the second Western Conference championship in franchise history.
However, the Suns came just short of the storybook ending to their unprecedented season in the NBA Finals, bested by the three-peating Chicago Bulls in six games. The nation was riveted by the series, posting record television ratings in what remains the second-most watched Finals series in NBA history behind only the Bulls-Jazz matchup in 1998.
While Suns players and fans were equally disappointed in falling short of their ultimate goal of winning a championship, it was decided a “Salute to the Phoenix Suns” parade would be held to celebrate the historic season and provide an opportunity for Suns fans to thank the team, and for the team to thank the fans.
“We were really disappointed that we didn’t win the championship,” said head coach Paul Westphal, looking back on the parade. “That was our goal and we felt we didn’t reach our goal. No matter how much they carry you out on your shield, we didn’t have anything to be ashamed of but we didn’t win. Then they come and say, ‘Hey, let’s have a parade for second place.’”
The parade in Phoenix was scheduled for 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, June 26, just shy of a week since the Bulls closed out the series. The downtown parade route would begin at the corner of 1st St. and Jefferson St. outside what was then known as America West Arena, move east until turning north onto 5th St., then west on Monroe St. until turning south on 1st Ave. and circling back to Jefferson St. City of Phoenix officials expected about 100,000 fans to be on hand.
However, they may have underestimated the support from the Valley.
What welcomed the Suns was an estimated 300,000 fans who swarmed downtown in an outpouring of love, support and appreciation for the team. Despite triple-digit temperatures that would reach a year-to-date high of 114 degrees in the afternoon, fans began arriving early Saturday morning to stake claim along the route. By parade time, fans had flooded the streets and crowded office buildings and parking garages for vantages of the festivities.
“300,000 people showed up on the hottest day of the year in Phoenix, Arizona for this parade for that team,” Westphal said. “I think it touched everybody, every member of the Suns to see how the state embraced that team. It’s something we’ll never forget.”
Though the event was a jubilant and peaceful gathering, there was one close call that prevented the MVP from joining the parade route. As Barkley’s convertible began along the route path, a massive crowd of fans enveloped the vehicle and it became apparent that he would not be able to continue the route alongside his teammates. A phalanx of security and police officers acted quickly to usher Barkley back inside America West Arena where he watched the parade from the balcony outside Jerry Colangelo’s office.
The outpouring of support from fans was a fitting celebration, send-off and thank you for a group that remains not only one of the best and most successful teams in Arizona sports history, but also one of the most beloved.
“I think the city appreciated our effort and the ride and the journey to get there,” Mark West said, reflecting on the culmination of an unforgettable season. “It was an amazing thing with so many people packed in, coming downtown just to say thank you and giving us the opportunity to say thank you to them.”