The Original Twins
Originally Published: 1992
Phoenix Suns 25th Anniversary Book
In the NBA, there is no such animal as a sure thing: dynasties crumble, sureshots misfire and bad luck often overcomes the best efforts of good talent.
For the Phoenix Suns, in general, and the Van Arsdale twins, Dick and Tom, in particular, there was no more graphic demonstration of this principle than the 1976-77 season - a year which began with the Suns’ hopes soaring higher than the Arizona sky, but which ended in deep disappointed, a campaign which began with the twins playing on the same team for the first time in 11 years, ended with the 35-year-old brothers announcing their retirements.
“We’ll always remember that season,” said Dick, now the Suns’ director of player personnel, “because it was our last in the league, and we got to play together. But, as far as the basketball itself went, things could have been a lot better.”
“It looked as if things were coming together. We probably weren’t as good as a lot of fans thought, “ Dick said, “but we were decent and played hard. And I think we all felt we were getting better. It seemed just a matter of getting a couple more players.”
Dick admitted to being “really excited” when Jerry Colangelo, the Suns’ general manager, made a deal with Buffalo to obtain Tom, who had just been traded to the Braves by Atlanta. “We both felt we had some good basketball left, but also knew that our careers were just about over,” said Dick. “There was something really satisfying about being able to finish up together.”
When Tom came to Phoenix, he brought a career average of 16.1 ppg, spread across 852 regular season games - Dick’s mark was a 17.2 ppg average in 843 contests. Both men had been three-time NBA All-Stars. In highly similar careers, what really set the two apart were the number of times Tom had been traded and the fact that he had never been part of a playoff team.
“Tom was always in the situation where he never got to play for good teams,” Dick said. “It was really frustrating for him. Every time he would be traded, it was to a team that wasn’t as good as the one he had left. He was at a point where he was tired of the game, the trades and the losing. He would have quit if Jerry hadn’t made the deal for him.
“He was really glad to come to Phoenix and it looked like he would be a big asset off the bench.”
But almost as soon as it seemed the Suns were ready to put the jigsaw pieces together for a championship, fate knocked over the table. Injuries hit the Suns hard and the team stumbled to a 34-48 mark, while Dick (7.7 ppg) and Tom (5.8 ppg) each had the least productive campaigns of the 12-year careers.
“A lot of the year was like a bad dream,” said Dick. “Tom and I had fun being together again - traveling, enjoying ourselves. But, like I said, the basketball part of it was tough.”
Eventually the grind and disappointment got to both men. On April 10, 1977, Tom announced his retirement as a player. Slightly more than a month later, Dick, too, called an end to his career.
Dick finished his career with 15,079 regular season points while Tom ended up with 14,232, making them the third-highest scoring family in NBA history - just behind the Chamberlain and Abdul-Jabbar families.