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Phoenix Suns Ring of Honor Players: Entrances and Exits (Part II)

Greetings, fellow Brightsiders, and welcome to the second part of our look at Suns Ring of Honor players. The picture below tells the story of what it's like to be a Suns fan for me. That's Kevin Johnson dunking over reigning league MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Hakeem Olajuwon in a 1994 playoff game against the Rockets. KJ was an incredible player, lightning quick and fearless, an accurate shooter who could also break down any defense driving to the hole and dish to his teammates for easy buckets.

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The dunk is recognized as one of the greatest of all-time. And it occurred during an extraordinarily tough loss, a game 4 loss at home as the Suns squandered a 2-0 lead earned on the Rockets' floor and eventually lost the Western Conference semi-finals series in 7. The Rockets went on to win the title, though I'll never stop feeling that the Suns had a superior team. Yes, it's bittersweet to be a Suns fan. It's also a lot of fun. Let's look at the second set of players who have helped make it so.

For a franchise without a championship, the Suns have had exceptional success. Their franchise record is 1954-1540, a .559 winning %, and they've made the playoffs 29 times out of 43 seasons, a .674 success rate. After my last post, the question was asked about the point I was trying to drive home. There is the element of placing Steve Nash's career into context but, more than that, I wanted to share some of my experiences as a grizzled veteran Suns fan. As great as Steve Nash is, team history didn't start with him. Set aside the lack of a championship and our current predicament, and revel in the glory of our five next Ring of Honor players, again in alphabetical order.

Connie Hawkins

Achievements as a Sun:

After being named in a point shaving scandal in college, Hawkins had been blacklisted from the NBA (even though there was no evidence Hawkins was involved in any wrongdoing) before joining the Suns at age 27 from the ABA, where he was 1968 league MVP. "The Hawk" was even before my time, so I can't speak to him firsthand, but he was The Human Highlight Reel before Dominique Wilkins was, a skywalker who electrified fans with his dynamic play. He averaged 24.6 points and 10.4 rebounds in his first year with the Suns, as he led the team to the 1970 playoffs, only to lose to the loaded Lakers (sadly, a recurring theme in Suns history). Hawkins finished 5th in league MVP voting that year. It would prove to be the best of Hawkins' four Suns seasons, but the former Harlem Globetrotter gave the Suns franchise some pizzazz. Check this out. The music of the great Marvin Gaye is really the only soundtrack that works for Hawk's exquisite style.

How he departed:

Hawkins' play declined in each of his Suns seasons, as knee problems plagued him, and he was eventually traded to the Lakers for Keith Erickson and a draft pick. He was merely an average player statistically after that. Hawk's best years were in the ABA and his short stint with the Suns, and he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992.

Kevin Johnson

Achievements as a Sun:

As you can probably tell from the introduction, KJ is one of my favorite all-time players. He was traded to the Suns in 1988, along with Mark West, Tyrone Corbin and a draft pick that would become Dan Majerle in exchange for Larry Nance (among other minor trade considerations). Nance isn't in the Ring of Honor, but he netted the Suns two future ROH players in a trade. At the time of the trade, the Suns were reeling from the drug scandal and a 28 win season in 87-88. Led by KJ, Tom Chambers, Eddie Johnson and Jeff Hornacek, they turned it around the next season with 55 wins and a berth in the Western Conference Finals, ushering in a new era of the franchise.

In the 10 full seasons of his Suns career, Kevin Johnson was All-NBA five times and the Suns made the playoffs every season of his playing career. That's worth restating. The Suns made the playoffs every season between 88-89 and 97-98, making the WCFs twice and the NBA Finals once. KJ's other accomplishments are too numerous to be listed, but are well-documented here

And here.

How he departed:

KJ retired for the first time in 1998, then made a brief comeback in the 99-00 season, stepping in for an injured Jason Kidd and helping the Suns to a playoff series win before retiring for good in 2000. Except for the first 52 games of his career, KJ only played for the Suns and was a team leader during one of the most successful stretches the franchise has ever seen. Currently the Mayor of Sacramento, KJ has been credited with helping his hometown keep the Kings in the city for at least one more season. The man's a winner, and I would not be surprised to see him rise above the office of Mayor of Sacramento in the future.

Dan Majerle

Achievements as a Sun:

"You'll be sorry you ever booed this young man," coach Cotton Fitzsimmons famously told fans who had booed the announcement of the Suns drafting Majerle with the 14th pick of the 1988 draft. Cotton could not have been more right, but fans were confused by the selection of a guy with a hard to spell name from a school (Central Michigan) which hadn't exactly churned out bushels of future NBA stars. "Thunder Dan" quickly won Suns fans over with his hustle, toughness and defense. The ultimate glue player, Majerle honed his 3-point shooting skills to the point that he twice led the league in made 3-pointers. He also made the All-Star game three times and the NBA All-Defensive team twice.

As much as his considerable accomplishments on the court, Majerle simply had star quality. He opened a restaurant, Majerle's, still open today. He had his own line of clothing, Thundernine (yes, this young lad proudly wore one of the t-shirts). Women wanted to be with him. Men wanted to be him. Majerle played the first seven seasons of his career with the Suns, they made the playoffs every time and the Finals once, but if you look at his stats, they won't blow you away. Those stats only tell a small fraction of the story of Thunder Dan's impact on the Suns. Watch these highlights. Cut the Celine Dion song some slack because this is a great highlight reel otherwise.

How he departed:

It's hard to fail to fully appreciate a player like Majerle, yet he was still somewhat under-appreciated, at least ultimately by the front office. After two seasons of the Suns losing to Hakeem Olajuwon's Rockets in the playoffs, it was decided the team needed to add size. Majerle, along with Antonio Lang and a first round pick, was traded to Cleveland for John "Hot Rod" Williams in 1995 in one of the worst moves in franchise history. The Suns had been knocking on the door of a championship for years, and now were down the hall of another building from a championship, going only 41-41 in the 95-96 season. A 36 year old Majerle returned to the Suns for his final NBA season in 01-02 and now, of course, is one of Alvin Gentry's assistant coaches. Oh, and the "Dan Majerle Hustle Award"? Yep, that helps tell the story, too.

Dick Van Arsdale

Achievements as a Sun:

Van Arsdale is another player who was before my time, but when a man has the nickname "The Original Sun", you'd better stop and take notice. Selected by the Suns in the 1968 expansion draft, Van Arsdale led the young franchise in scoring for two of their first three seasons, averaging over 20PPG in each season and making the all-star team three times. He scored the first basket in franchise history on October 18, 1968. "The Flying Dutchman" went on to play the final nine seasons of his career for the Suns before retiring in 1977. This is a great pictorial history of Van Arsdale. And, yes, he has a twin brother Tom Van Arsdale who you see in some of the pics.

 

How he departed:

After retiring, Van Arsdale held several jobs within the Suns organization, including broadcaster, General Manager and VP of Player Personnel. The 68 year old Van Arsdale now makes another kind of art. Along with Alvan Adams, Van Arsdale is a Phoenix Sun through and through.

Paul Westphal

Achievements as a Sun:

Westphal holds a special place in Suns history as a player and coach of the two Suns teams that came closest to bringing a championship to the franchise. As a player, Westphal was traded to the Suns in a 1975 deal with the Celtics in exchange for Charlie Scott and immediately became one of the team leaders on a squad that made the 1976 Finals against those same Celtics. A 6'4" shooting guard, the sharpshooting Westphal scored over 20PPG in his first five seasons with the Suns and his career FG% is .504. In those five seasons, the Suns made the Finals once and the conference finals another time as Westphal made four all-star games, was 1st team All-NBA three times and finished 6th in 77-78 MVP voting.

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How he departed:

Looking to add defense, the Suns traded Westphal to the SuperSonics for Dennis Johnson in 1980, in a trade that was reasonably fair. Things went south for the Suns when they traded DJ for Rick Robey in 1983 in another one of the worst moves in franchise history. Westphal returned to finish his playing career with the Suns in 1983, became an assistant coach, then head coach of the 92-93 team that made the NBA Finals versus Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls. He's currently head coach of the Sacramento Kings.

What have we learned here?

That's up to you to decide, but I hope you've enjoyed the ride. Of the Suns Ring of Honor players, only Alvan Adams played his entire career in Phoenix. Others, like Majerle, Westphal and Chambers, left Phoenix but ended up coming back. How will it end for our current hero Steve Nash?

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