A Tribute to Thunder

by Jeramie McPeek
VP, Digital

Posted: April 8, 2002

KTAR 620, the flagship radio station of the Phoenix Suns, paid tribute to one of the most popular players in Suns history, Dan Majerle, on Monday. Host Brad Cesmat dedicated his entire 620 Sportsline to No. 9, who will retire at the conclusion of the season, ending a 14-year NBA career. The two-hour program, which was broadcast live from Majerle’s Sports Grill in downtown Phoenix, featured a number of former teammates and coaches, and, of course, Thunder Dan himself. The following is an excerpt from the show.

Cesmat: You’re done. You’re done next Wednesday. You’re finished. You’re retired.

Majerle: It really hasn’t hit me yet. I’ve enjoyed these last couple of months. I have thought about it a little bit, but I don’t think it’s going to hit me until I’m actually done playing, done going down to the arena, hanging out with the guys and those type of things. I’ve actually thought about it when I’ve gone to a lot of these (visiting) arenas, knowing that’s probably the last time I’m playing basketball there. I tried to make the most of it and I’ve had a lot of fun.

Cesmat: You’ve got another (child) on the way, I understand.

Majerle: Yeah. I’ve got three girls and I got another one on the way. We found out it is going to be a boy.

Cesmat: Three girls and a boy?

Majerle: Three girls and a boy.

Cesmat: You’re doing all right.

Majerle: That’s perfect. Life is good.

Cesmat: Look, over the next hour or so, I don’t know who is going to call in. It could get kind of crazy. Let’s just say it’s going to be a lot of fun to start out with Cotton Fitzsimmons. Hi Cotton. I’ve also got Al McCoy, do I not?

Fitzsimmons: You’ve got two legends with you – two Phoenix Suns legends with you.

McCoy: Hi, Dan, Cotton.

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Majerle: Hi Al. Hi Cotton. How are you guys doing?

McCoy: We’ve got to quit meeting like this.

Majerle: Haven’t I seen you six straight days, Al. What are you doing calling in?

McCoy: Oh boy, I think that’s exactly right.

Fitzsimmons: I’m sorry I missed that trip. You all must have had a wonderful time (laughs).

Majerle: Yeah, we missed you, too, Cotton. Thanks. We needed your support, by the way.

Cesmat: Cotton, the day that Dan was selected, recount that day.

Fitzsimmons: First of all, let’s talk about the draft. A lot of mistakes are made during drafts and, believe it or not, we made one that day because even though we selected Tim Perry No. 7, we waited and took a chance and got Dan Majerle, I believe No. 14 if I’m not mistaken?

Majerle: Yep, 14.

Fitzsimmons: Milwaukee took Jeff Grayer right in front of him. I’ve made a few of those mistakes in my life. I remember in Kansas City I took a guy named Kevin Loder about 15th, but got lucky with the first pick in the second round, I believe (28th overall) in those day. I got a guy named Eddie Johnson, a guy who played 17 years. When you look back onto it, Tim Perry did not have the same career that Dan Majerle has had so in a way we got lucky. It was a mistake. If we knew what we knew now, we’d probably select him No. 7, but we were in the Civic Center and Al remembers this quite well. The fans, they just had finished watching the NCAA (Tournament) and Central Michigan was not in it. The Chippewa’s and Dan Majerle were not in it.

Majerle: It was an oversight by me.

Fitzsimmons: Right, but there were a lot of other teams and a lot of players. I remember the guy that our fans seemed like they wanted in Phoenix was Derrick Chievous, who played at Missouri and went to the NCAA tournament. (Missouri) didn’t get to the Finals, but they played in it so when we selected Dan Majerle they really booed unmercifully.

Cesmat: Did you know this at the time, Dan?

Majerle: Well, I was back home in Traverse City, Michigan and I was watching the draft. Like Cotton said, I thought I was going 13th to Milwaukee. When they didn’t draft me I really didn’t know where I was going. Then Phoenix came on the TV set. Al McCoy had called me right after the draft and put me on the radio and the first thing he said to me was the fans were booing. Yeah, he told me right away that the fans were unhappy with the choice. You know what I said was, “I’m just happy the coaches have enough confidence in me to pick this high and all I can do is to go out and prove the fans wrong.” It really didn’t bother me too much because by the time I got to Phoenix, I had played in the Olympics that year and they had seen me play, and were pretty much in my corner.

Fitzsimmons: But it bothered me (laughs) and I let the fans know how I felt because one thing I knew about Dan Majerle. I didn’t know how good he was going to be and I didn’t know he would have this long of a career, because our team doctor said this is a risk, “You can’t take this guy. He’s had back problems, back operations and everything.” A lot of times they put that red flag up and we won’t take a guy. But I said, I had seen this guy in Portsmouth (Invitational Tournament) right after the season was over. There were a lot of Big Ten players there. It’s very prestigious and everything. Dan Majerle kicked them from one end of the gym to the other for three straight nights. I said, “Hey, you’ve got to know what’s inside a guy” and I felt like I knew what was inside of Dan Majerle.

Cesmat: Al, let me ask you when Dan first came here, you are sitting there courtside every night, could you tell immediately he was going to have an impact and a long career? When did you first realize it watching him every night?

McCoy: I think when you met Dan Majerle you knew the competitive edge that this guy is going to put on the floor every night and that didn’t take very long to find out. You never, obviously, know how long a career is going to be. There’s going to be a lot of peaks and a lot of valleys for anybody who plays in the NBA. But I think initially, even after that first training camp, everybody said, “Hey, this guy from Central Michigan is out there to put it out on the line every night” and he has. He continues to and will until a week from Wednesday. No question about it.

Cesmat: Is there one play, Cotton, that stands out or one game that stands out in Dan’s career?

Fitzsimmons: Not really. When you are a coach, you just want somebody to count on. I knew I could count on him all the time. I have one picture which Dan knows about and a lot of people have this picture when he threw down on (Golden State’s 7-7 center) Manute Bol on a stuff. The referee called it an offensive foul and said he pushed off with his arm. First of all, Manute was right underneath the goal guarding the basket like a hockey goalie. Dan was just too strong for him and I thought Dan was just going to break Manute into two pieces. That I will always remember. In his rookie year I played him off the bench, but usually in the first quarter Dan Majerle entered the game and then Dan Majerle seldom ever came out of the game until the game was over. I think Dan will tell you over his whole career, if you were going to play, Dan, you’d rather play the fourth quarter than start the game anyway?

Majerle: Definitely. The fourth quarter is where the most fun is when you win or lose games. I was a lucky guy coming into Phoenix in a situation where we had a lot of veteran guys who could score with Tom Chambers, Kevin Johnson and Eddie Johnson. My job was to just play defense as hard as I can and get as many loose balls as I can and go up for the rebounds. I was lucky to have a coach like Cotton who trusted me and let me go out there and play my game. I fell into a perfect spot in Phoenix. That’s why I’ve loved it here ever since.

McCoy: You could do a highlight film with Dan’s great last second shots. His many big threes he hit to win games, jumped up onto the press table and going into the crowd. But I want to mention one thing that happened this year. I think Dan was touched by this and I was. We went through a lot through the years, including the trade to Cleveland, which we’ll talk about later. But we were in Miami this year and as everyone knows, Dan played for Pat Riley for five years in Miami before coming back here to Phoenix, and Coach Riley said some very nice things about Dan, both in the newspaper and in television. That night in Miami, when Dan came into the ballgame, they practically had to stop the game because the fans at Miami Arena were on their feet and gave Dan one of the greatest ovations. In fact, Dan, you know I mentioned to you on the plane after leaving the game, I never in my 30 years remember any of our players go back to where they had formerly played and get that kind of ovation. Pat Riley said some great things about you, some true things. I know that meant a lot to you.

Majerle: It really did. The feeling is mutual with coach Riley. I had a great five years there and played with some great teams. I had a good time. It meant a lot to me when I went back there this year and I got that kind of reaction from the fans because I felt I went in there and gave it to them every night. To get the admiration from a guy like Pat Riley, whom I think is a great, great coach, it just feels good to me that someone has that kind of respect for me.

McCoy: Well, it was impressive to all of us to see Dan get that kind of ovation and, of course, you know Dan will be in the (Suns) record books forever. He’s attempted more three-pointers, made more three-pointers; he’s done it all. There are peaks and valleys in an NBA career and the day I certainly will never forget, Dan, was Oct 7, 1995. I was coming back after the workout from training camp. I had heard the rumor that Thunder Dan might be traded and I followed coach Paul Westphal to our room in our hotel and I said, “Are you trading Dan?” He said, “Yes, I’m going to meet with him right now.” Dan and I walked to his car after he had been informed of the trade and was getting ready to come down the mountain back to Phoenix, and I think both us would admit we had tears in our eyes. I certainly didn’t want to see you leave. When they talk about trades and I mentioned this when we were in Cleveland on our broadcast, when you talk about trades you’d like to erase, how about this one? Trading Dan Majerle, Antonio Lang and a first round pick for John “Hot Rod” Williams, who was a real nice guy, but could never play because he was hurt.

Cesmat: Jerry said last week on the show that he felt it was a trade that shouldn’t happen. Cotton, Al, I appreciate the thoughts, memories and the time.

McCoy: Dan, just remember it’s not over. We still have five games left.

Majerle: I hear you.

Fitzsimmons: Why don’t you start slashing and driving to the basket? Give up the three-point shots for the last five games.

Majerle: That’s why I’m retiring. That’s why I’m retiring, Cotton.

Click here for part two of the Tribute to Thunder, featuring former Suns guard and coach, Danny Ainge.


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