clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Throwback Thursday: Robert Horry stars in "Towelgate"

New, comments

In this week's edition of Throwback Thursday, we jump back to 1997, when perhaps the most hated rival player to the Suns franchise actually wore the purple and orange, and of course made a complete ass out of himself.

USA TODAY Sports

The NBA has a rich history of jackass behavior from some of it's more recognizable players.

We have Charles Barkley channeling his inner-Englishman and spitting at a fan who allegedly had been spouting racial slurs. Unfortunately, he unwittingly spat on a little girl instead.

If that doesn't do it for you, how about those bastions of jackassery in Detroit, Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer and Mark Aguirre, defiantely leaving the court with 7.9 seconds to play after being dethroned by the Bulls?

We have Latrell Sprewell and the choking incident with P.J. Carlesimo, although I would tend to label one who strangles his own coach a psychotic rather than a jackass. Luckily, Spree didn't disappoint and proved to be both a psychotic and a jackass by declining a $21 million contract extension in 2004, and immortalizing himself by saying "I have a family to feed ... If Glen Taylor wants to see my family fed, he better cough up some money. Otherwise, you're going to see these kids in one of those Sally Struthers commercials soon."

Not only did Sprewell insult the entire working class, as well trivialize starvation, but he unnecessarily evoked the image of Sally Struthers.

Andrew Bynum is in this conversation for many reasons, but my personal favorite has to be parking his BMW across two handicapped parking spaces.

I could go on and on.

Maybe I'm egregiously biased as a Suns fan, but my all-time jackass moment in NBA history came courtesy of the villainous Robert Horry, when he verbally berated coach Danny Ainge and threw a towel in his face during a game in Boston.

Let us relive the shameful actions of this supreme jackass.

The Trade

The 1996/97 began as a difficult transitional period for the Suns. The previous season saw the worst finish in 8 years for the Suns, as they finished the lackluster season at 41-41 and were quietly dispatched in 4 games by the Spurs. Paul Westphal was fired after a 14-19 start and was replaced with the familiar old hand Cotton Fitzsimmons, Danny Manning's season was cut short due to knee injuries for the second straight year, and Dan Majerle was traded for Hot Rod Williams.

The Majerle trade turned what had already been a tense partnership between Charles Barkley and Jerry Colangelo into an irreconcilable rift, and after some public sniping between the two (mostly by Barkley), it was only a matter of time before Sir Cumference was traded.

Barkley's preferred destination was Houston, and after Colangelo tried unsuccessfully to involve the Nuggets in a three-team deal that would have landed Dikembe Mutombo in Phoenix, a deal was reached without a third party.

Barkley went to Houston along with a second-round pick. The Suns received Sam Cassell, Mark Bryant, Chucky Brown, and one Robert Horry.

Bryant and Brown were both journeymen that only served as roster filler in the trade. Here are some fun facts about them that I looked up myself:

  • Chucky Brown played for 12 different NBA franchises in his career
  • Mark Bryant played for 10 different NBA franchises in his career
  • Clearly an omen, Brown was traded 5 times as a second-round draft pick before he was even drafted (43rd in 1989). Oddly, Brown was only traded twice as an actual player. Once to the Suns for Barkley, and once from the Suns to Milwaukee for something called a Darrin Hancock, who was waived by the Suns and never suited up for them
  • Bryant was traded 5 times
  • The most games Brown played with one team was 175 with the Cavs. He only played 10 with the Suns
  • The most games Bryant played with one team was 431 with the Blazers, whom he played his first 7 seasons for. The second most was his 111 as a Sun over 2 seasons
  • The fewest games Brown played with one team was 1 game with the 1993/94 Mavs. He played 10 minutes, scored 3 points and grabbed a board
  • The fewest games Bryant played with one team was 2 games with the Celtics during the 2002/03 season, his last as a pro. The Celtics were the third team Bryant played for that year. He was scoreless in 9 total minutes
  • Out of the 30 NBA franchises in existence, 17 of them have had either Chucky Brown or Mark Bryant wear their uniform
  • The fact that they were involved in the same trade, and went to the Suns in said trade, is awesome
  • Neither has ever thrown a towel in their coach's face

Sorry, I was lost in journeyman land for a moment there. While Brown and Bryant were both roster filler, the real prize to the Suns was the pair of young guns, Sam Cassell and Robert Horry. Both already having received a pair of championship rings that were earned at the expense of the Suns, something felt amiss from the beginning with these two.

Cassell was coming off a breakout year as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate in Houston, while Horry had found a niche as a sweet-shooting combo forward. Both had star potential and championship experience, so ... not a bad haul for Barkley, right?

Wrong.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

The Disastrous Beginning

The Suns began the season without the services of Kevin Johnson. Their opening night starting lineup consisted of Cassell, Horry, Wesley Person, A.C. Green, and Joe Kleine. They lost on opening night in L.A. to the Lakers, 96-82. The following night they were drubbed again in their home-opener by the Rockets, 110-95. Barkley scored 20 points and pulled down 33 rebounds in his return to the desert.

As for Cassell and Horry, they combined to go 11-28 from the field and managed 8 boards and 5 assists between them.

After two days to regroup, the Suns were nipped at home by the lowly Timberwolves, then suffered another loss on the road to the powerhouse Sonics. This kicked off a five-game roadie in which the Suns were winless, culminating in a 92-89 loss in Vancouver to the Grizzlies, who would go on to win 14 games that year.

That was enough for Cotton Fitzsimmons, who was just too old by that time to go losing to the Grizzlies. Enter former Sun Danny Ainge, who stepped into his first head coaching gig only a season removed from his playing days.

By the time the Suns were positioning themselves for their next whipping by the Rockets, second-year phenom Michael Finley had and Danny Manning had made their way to the lineup, with Person and Horry heading to the bench.

It didn't matter. 115-105, Rockets. Barkley took it easy on the Suns this time, only going for 20 points and 16 boards.

The Suns stood at 0 and freaking 11.

Luckily, help was on the way. By November 27, K.J. was back in the lineup for a home game against the Nets. The Suns rolled to their first victory of the year, 99-77, and stood at 1-13. Despite the embarrassing start, there were a few glimmers of hope with a healthy K.J. and promising youngsters like Finley and the rookie point guard, Canadian Steve Nash.

The Suns' win against the Nets was the first of 8 wins in the following 10 games leading up to December 18, but by the time they arrived in Beantown they had dropped 5 of their last 7. Horry had been struggling mightily with his reserve role, and didn't fare any better after being reinserted into the starting lineup on 12/28.

In 10 out of his previous 19 games, Horry had registered either one made field goal, or none.

On the cold winter evening of January 5, 1997, the Suns faced a 7-22 Celtics squad in Boston.

Towelgate

The Suns saw the Celtics pull away in fourth quarter. At some point, Ainge opted to pull Horry, who was working on another masterpiece and was 1-4 from the field on the night. Astonishingly, I cannot find a single video on the internet of the incident (if you can find one, put it in the comments and I'll add it ASAP), so I can only provide you a play-by-play account of what happened next.

Ainge sat defeated as the game pulled away. The 6'9 forward stood above him, the fateful towel slung loosely around his neck. Ainge said some words, looking particularly exasperated. Horry was animated, as his temper was clearly beginning to flare.

A hush seemed to fall over the Suns bench, as Horry seemed to be saying something along the lines of "WTF?" Ainge, known for having quite the temper himself, seemed to raise his voice at the petulant big man.

Then the shot was fired.

The once harmless towel was flung into the face of Ainge, still seated at the moment of impact. Horry turned his back to Ainge, who by this time had freed his unfortunate face of the weapon, which, along with his dignity, fell limply to the floor.

Early eye-witness accounts reported an anonymous towel-thrower somewhere in the vicinity of the scorer's table, and there were reports of  conspirators armed with towels gathering in a nearby Boston pub on the evening of January 4, but neither reports were founded.

It was the work of a lone towel-slinger, and that man was none other than supreme jackass Robert Horry.

Oh, the Celtics won 109-102 behind 25 points from Todd Freaking Day.

The Fallout

Horry was suspended by the Suns before their next game on January 9 in Atlanta. Due to CBA stipulations, he was only allowed to be suspended for a maximum of 2 games, a fact that Jerry Colangelo was none too pleased about:

``I'm of the old school, so I would have taken much sterner action if we weren't limited by the bargaining agreement,'' Colangelo said, comparing Horry to an unruly child and calling him ``a shadow of his former self'' as a player.

``My belief is that it was really frustration with his own play because his play has been sporadic at best and is very disappointing, from my point of view,'' Colangelo said.

On a personal note, that statement alone makes me wish I could take back every barb I ever tossed at Colangelo. Honestly, I don't even know what to add to that.

It didn't take long for the Suns to find a suitor for the malcontent jackass. Just three days after the suspension they flipped him with Joe Kleine to the Lakers for former Sun Cedric Ceballos and Rumeal Robinson.

Ceballos immediately returned to his familiar scoring role with the Suns, pumping in 20.2 points per 36 minutes.

Kleine somehow found his way back to the Suns in 1999.

As for Horry, he continued to be living proof that there is no karma in the universe by hanging on with the Lakers through their early-2000's dominance and picking up three more championship rings on the way, as well as developing a reputation for always being left open in the clutch.

Of course his days as a Suns villain were still only beginning, as he scored two more rings with Spurs while directly causing the most infamous moment in recent Suns history, about which I refuse to go into detail.

On a positive note, that 1996/97 Suns team was one for the ages, and probably deserves their own Throwback article for winning 10 of their last 13 games to sneak into the playoffs at 40-42, despite their 0-13 start.

No team in NBA history has gotten off to a worse start and still managed to make the playoffs, and if that wasn't enough, their brief playoff run featured what was in my opinion the greatest shot made in Suns history.

Oh, and they traded Cassell, Finley and Bryant for Jason Kidd midseason, which in a roundabout way made the Barkley trade a success.

Yeah, it really deserves its own article. I'll stop there.

The towel was washed and returned to circulation, at which point it was just another towel.

Here's To You, Cheap Shot Rob

So Mr. Horry, on this Throwback Thursday we salute you for reminding us that no matter how classless or immature a Suns player might be, you've set the bar so insanely high on the jackass meter that every night when we lay down our heads, we do so secure in the notion that every player on our team is a better human being than you.

You arrived to the desert bearing the weight of being traded for the iconic Charles Barkley, surely a tall order for any grown man, and you responded by pissing the bed and publicly humiliating your coach.

I can only wish for a more fair and just universe in which that would be the last memory Suns fans have of your existence in the world of professional basketball. Despite all your achievements, when the book is closed and all is said and done, this is how I will choose to remember you.

Good day, sir.