Imagine if Twitter existed in the mid '90s. But not just Twitter—NBA Twitter.
If you were to ask the average sports fan to describe the Phoenix Suns generically, that fan would almost assuredly say something along the lines of "fast." And why would this fan immediately associate the Suns with speed? The answer is obviously the 7 seconds or less era.
Steve Nash. Amare. The Matrix. A young Joe Johnson. A curiously prolific Raja Bell. Boris. The Brazilian Blur. The incomparable Pat Burke. Hell, even a fawn-like Steven Hunter. It is difficult and perhaps even impossible not to reminisce over the proven ability of the Suns of the mid-aughts to somehow combine speed and grace. But the historic shroud of recent history aside, contemporary Phoenix Suns run and gun did not actually begin in the 2000's.
A mid-1990's Twitter would have been proverbially born for the 1996-1997 Phoenix Suns. That Suns squad would have been League Pass fodder for degenerate basketball fans across the country. So what if they only went 40-42 and finished fourth in the Pacific Division? They did it with style, speed, and just the right amount of unconventionality.
Prior to 1996, I lived in Chicago, and my only exposure to basketball was the Jordan-era Chicago Bulls. Basketball to me at the time featured a slow and methodical point guard [Ron Harper post-knee injury], a prolific scoring 2 [Michael Jordan], a versatile wing [Scottie Pippen], a physically-dominating 4 man [Dennis Rodman], and a towering foreign center [Luc Longley]. And whenever I watched the Bulls, they would play unsettlingly similar, formulaic teams. Teams like the New York Knicks and their slow point guard in Derek Harper, their big time scoring shooting guard John Starks, their versatile wing in Anthony Mason, their physically terrifying power forward in Charles Oakley, and - yes - even their giant foreign center, Patrick Ewing.
The 1996-1997 Suns, however, were different. The late Cotton Fitzsimmons would often spurn conventional basketball ideologies and trot out four smalls anchored in the middle by the ever-reliable defensive stalwart John "Hot Rod" Williams. Just stop, picture, and appreciate Williams throwing outlets to an already running Jason Kidd, who would inevitably find a streaking KJ, who had this indescribable knack for finding either Wes Person or Rex Chapman open in the corners for three pointers.
The Suns lost a lot, but they also played beautiful basketball. They played modern basketball. They played analytically-sound basketball. To be sure, and likely unintentionally, the '96 Suns were ahead of their time.
In a basketball strategy about face, the 1997 Suns swapped Fitzsimmons for Danny Ainge at head coach, added a pair of bigs in Antonio McDyess and Cliff Robinson, and ended up winning more games in the process. 16 more games, to be precise. While they were no doubt a better basketball team, the occasional McDyess slam dunk and corresponding dice roll animation on the jumbotron aside, even a young Al McCoy shouting "Shazam!" couldn't make the Suns as exciting as they were in their previous campaign.
Twitter would have noticed. The narrative would have been something along the lines of "sacrificing velocity for victory." Or something corny like that. Regardless, the basketball world would have demanded a return to exciting play. A hero to bring about such a change would be required and eventually and inevitably championed. Cue Marko Milic.
Marko Milic's ascension to the Phoenix Suns was a bizarre moment in local sports history. No one really knew who he was [Slovenian pro], where he came from [Suns received his draft rights from the Philadelphia 76ers], or how he played [athletic wing who liked to drive]. All that we knew was what Suns studio host Tom Leander told us, and all Leander provided us was this grainy footage from a European dunk contest:
HOLY CRAP! DID MARKO MILIC JUST JUMP OVER A HONDA DEL SOL?!?!?!? Why yes, Marko did just jump over a Honda Del Sol.
Remember how Twitter reacted when Blake Griffin dunked over that stupid Kia during the All Star Game Slam Dunk Contest in 2011? Basketball fans largely thought it was stupid. It was Blake; he could dunk over anything. Some thought it was just contrived product placement. Others argued it was overrated and an appeal to the lowest common denominator of sports fans. In actuality, I think basketball fans just didn't like the dunk because we had seen it before. We might not all have remembered where exactly we had witnessed it. But we had witnessed it nonetheless.
We witnessed in 1997 in the form of the basketball equivalent of the Zapruder film that was Marko Milic dunking over properly-rated and rightly discontinued Japanese automobiles. That's right, Blake ripped off Marko.
Milic was anointed the entertainment savior of Phoenix Suns basketball before he had even played a game in '97. The Internet would have been all over him. There would have been memes and hashtag games. And legend. There would have definitely been legend.
It wouldn't have mattered that Milic only scored 108 total points for the Suns in just 44 games. No one would have cared that he became a EuroBasket and beyond journeyman -- playing for the likes of Union Olimpija, Real Madrid, Skipper Bologna, Euro Roseto, Scavolini Pesaro, VidiVici Bologna, Hamburber FC, Real Madrid again, Union Olimpija again, Entente Orleanaise, Vanoli Cremona, Mahram Tehran, and finally his present club Al Kuwait.* Perhaps most importantly, no one would have even been angry at the fact that, if you believe unsubstantiated Wikipedia edits, Milic is now a 280 lbs professional living and hooping in Kuwait City.
*One of those teams is fictitious, and I swear it is somehow not VidiVici Bologna.
All that we would have cared about is that Marko Milic went from foreign unknown to Phoenix Sun due to his proclivity to dunk over different modes of transportation. Anything that he would or would not have accomplished after that would have been largely irrelevant.
Twitter legends never die; they just resurface as witty references sometime down the road.