The last time the Suns got eliminated by the Spurs in five games after falling into a 0-3 hole, it was in the 2005 Western Conference Finals. Steve Nash was the newly-crowned MVP, Mike D'Antoni was Coach of the Year, and the Suns were coming off a franchise-record-tying regular season that had rejuvenated not just the franchise, but also the league. It was sad seeing them so rudely sent home after such a great run, but there was also the feeling of pride at how much they had accomplished, and hope for a future that seemed as bright as..well..the sun.
The Suns were back in the Conference Finals again a year later, following a Cinderella season that included overcoming the loss of Amare to injury (not to mention Kurt Thomas), becoming just the eighth team ever to come back from a 1-3 deficit in the first round, and winning another thrilling 7-game series in the second round. When they were finally sent home, I, like many fans, actually shed tears. Yep, that's right. A grown woman shedding genuine tears for a bunch of millionaires over a silly game. Their heart and resilience had sucked me in so deeply that it felt like I was watching members of my own family be disappointed after coming so close to fulfilling a life dream. In my mind, that team will always be champions, even though they don't have the rings to show for it.
Then came last season when the Suns were once again knocking on the door only to have it rudely slammed shut by a cheap shot, and a couple of over-zealous young guys reacting to it. That single act made it personal again, and when it was over, there was rage followed by a bunch of overly-emotional blather by yours truly. I would say that I was slightly less disheartened than the year before, but I still devoted a disturbingly large amount of time to feeling down about something that had happened to a bunch of people I'd never met.
But this year? Nothing. No tears, no anger. I can't even muster up "emptiness". Maybe it's because I've become a little detached from things thanks to all the distractions going on in my personal life right now, but I also think maybe it goes deeper than that. Even when the Suns were sitting pretty at the top of the Western Conference earlier in the season, they always seemed like a team whose time had already passed. Maybe we didn't want to admit it. Maybe we didn't want to say it out loud. But the window on the Suns as currently constructed slammed shut the moment Robert Horry checked Steve Nash into the scorers table a year ago and Amare and Boris lept off the bench. Something died inside this team that day. Call it "hope", maybe. Whatever the case, the Suns haven't been the same since. You could see it in their inconsistent play this season. You could hear it in Shawn Marion's trade request, Amare's missed practice, and Steve Nash's seemingly making peace with the idea of never winning a ring. There seemed to be a feeling of almost going through the motions this year. I guess not even a big trade can cure an irrevocably broken heart.
To me, the end of this season feels a little like the end of a relationship that you knew was long over, and you finally had the courage to officially break it off. While there may still be a tinge of sadness somewhere in there, you're also looking forward to the next stage of your life and starting something new. That's how I feel about the Suns right now. Acceptance (finally!) for what did or didn't happen in all the years past, and eager anticipation at seeing what comes next. It's been a good run. But it ended a year ago, and now, hopefully, the front office can start building the next "era". With any luck, it will be half as much fun as the one we just witnessed.
And by the way, sometimes I hate being right!