Suns Throwback: Alvan Adams, Part One

With the present Suns’ players enjoying their offseason, Suns.com decided the summer time is a great chance to catch up with former players for a weekly #SunsThrowback edition of Phoenix basketball history. How does it work? Basically we get their memories going just enough to do what they do best: tell us their most memorable stories from their playing days.

This week’s #SunsTBT guest is Alvan Adams, who played for Phoenix from 1975 through 1988. He was both Rookie of the Year and an All-Star in his first season in the league, the same year the Suns made their first-ever appearance in the NBA Finals. Adams has since been named to the franchise’s Ring of Honor. This is the first of a two-part series with Alvan.

On which players he admired growing up…

For sure I recognized Lew Alcindor (now known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) as a great center that was at least touchable. When I was in junior high, he was just in college. I watched Russell, Chamberlain. There were a few magazines out there: Street and Smiths, All-American, so I read about these guys. I saw a few college games and a few NBA playoff games.

To me, Russell and Chamberlain, that wasn’t even real. That was the NBA, whatever that was. That was in big cities and [the NBA] would never come to Oklahoma City, would it? (laughs).

Lew Alcindor, that was just college, so I wanted to be 33. I became 33. He became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and then I played him. I just knew I was a center. I knew the best center was Alcindor. I said, ‘I want to be 33. I need to be able to shoot a skyhook.’

On his first NBA game...

When I was drafted, they told me ‘you’re going to see time at forward when you get time and maybe backup center.’ There was an injury or two. I had lost my whole big toe nail just from running hard in practice. They cut the toe out of my shoe. My toe’s sticking out there and who are we playing? We’re playing the Lakers. Oh, they just got Kareem this summer. ‘Lew Alcindor, nice to meet you.’

On big vs. mobile at the center position…

People always said 'it’s so tough on you to have to guard these big centers that elbow you in the face and pound you.' I always thought the toughest guys to guard were the Dave Cowens’ and the Bob McAdoo’s because they move. They got picks set for them. Centers aren’t used to that.

I thought it wasn’t that big a deal to get elbowed in the side of the head once in the while or get kneed in the thigh by Nate Thurmond or Tom Boerwinkle or Artis Gilmore. I thought it was much tougher to have to chase Bob McAdoo around. I talk to some of these guys now and they go ‘boy, we hated to chase you around, Alvan.’

Cowens, McAdoo and myself, we were somewhat similar. Very mobile, we could shoot outside. I don’t think Nate guarding me or Dave. I didn’t like guarding Nate or Dave.

On how his friendship and on-court chemistry with Paul Westphal started...

Paul and I played together in the summer. Paul came back as a veteran, kind of like P.J. Tucker did [last summer]. That was kind of rare back then, it’s kind of rare now, for the veterans – especially a four-year veteran that came from the Celtics (he was traded to Phoenix in May of 1975) – to go play in the summer league in L.A.

We met each other and we were both running, passing, catching, flying basketball players that could use both hands. We had teammates, but we were running down the floor throwing each other long passes and trying all sorts of things.

On his favorite play…

My favorite play is “fist down”. I set a back-door screen on the forward, then I step out and try to get my guy to come with me, then I just plant and cut backdoor ‘cause I’m a lot quicker and Paul throws a lob for the dunk.

I felt sorry for one guy. One time we ran it three times in a row and his coach was screaming at him and I felt bad for that guy. I believe it was Indiana and Dan Roundfield. I liked Dan and I go ‘Paul, let’s not run that same play again.’

I ran into [former Suns player] Jim Fox, and he said something to me this past season. He introduced me to some new people I’d never met and he said ‘man, when Alvan came into the league, he was the first center I’d ever seen go backdoor for a lob dunk. I’m used to guarding Nate Thurmond and Boerwinkle and just having to pound with these guys.’

On appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News early in his career…

We had lots of free time. We practiced, went to games, and if they called and say ‘so-and-so wants to do a photo shoot,’ cool. It was fun.

The Sports Illustrated, that was a surprise. No one said ‘hey, come in for Sports Illustrated.’ It was a game photo. I didn’t have any clue [until it came out]. I’d read Sports Illustrated forever.

On his standout rookie season (19.0 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 5.6 apg, 1.5 bpg, 1.5 spg, Rookie of the Year, All-Star)…

In my case I was in the right place with the right coach with the right teammates. Kind of like this year’s team, not a lot was expected us. I’m not sure if we were picked to finish last like this year’s team was, but we ended up getting to the Finals. Why? It wasn’t because I was rookie of the year. It was because all of the parts meshed together.