Most Phoenix Suns fans probably have little to no memory of T.R. Dunn (short for Theodore Roosevelt Dunn III, which is a tremendously good name). Dunn spent most of his 14 year career with the Denver Nuggets and played less than half of one unspectacular season in Phoenix, averaging less than 10 minutes a game in 34 appearances. He wasn’t even on the roster for the full season, signing a 10-day contract with the Suns on January 16, then signing for the remainder of the season on February 5. And yet, all it took was one of those games for him to become one of my favorite Suns of all time.
In February of 1989, I was 15 years old, which is perhaps the best age to be a sports fan. I had enough critical thinking skills to to understand the nuances of the game and the world around me, but was young enough to have a great excuse for disregarding those skills altogether. So, if had I chosen to, I could have marveled at the greatness that was the Showtime Era of the Los Angeles Lakers. I could have looked on in wonder as they put together 4 consecutive 60-win campaigns coming into the 1988-89 season. I could have soaked up the basketball magic on display from Earvin Johnson, James Worth, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I could have thrilled at their electric rivalry with the similarly loaded Boston Celtics.
Instead, I hated them. I hated them because they had ascended while the Suns couldn’t put together 40 wins in those same 4 seasons. I hated them because they routinely crushed Phoenix on their way to the playoffs each year. I hated Magic’s stupid smile and Kareem’s stupid skyhook and Pat Riley’s stupid slicked back hair. I hated the Los Angeles Lakers. They were trash and I wanted nothing more than to see them lose and lose badly.
And on February 1, 1989, the Phoenix Suns obliged. This was the first full season of the Kevin Johnson-Tom Chambers era. Dan Majerle hadn’t yet joined the team, but Eddie Johnson, Jeff Hornacek and Mark West were in the fold. And so was this guy T.R. Dunn. Coming into the game, the Suns were a surprising 26-15 and had split their first two games against the Lakers, dropping the first game in LA by 14 points and delivering a 25-point beatdown in Phoenix the day after Christmas. So I was thrilled to get to see how part 3 played out in person on February 1.
For it being such a formative memory, I don’t remember a lot of details. The box score tells me Eddie Johnson had 32 points and KJ put up 23 points and 12 assists. Those are ancillary details. The thing I remember is that Dunn smothered Magic Johnson on defense. He harassed and harangued Magic up and down the court. In the first half, he held Magic to 4 points, which to 15 year old me felt like a miracle. Magic was a force of nature and some dude I had never heard of was just snuffing the life out of his game. The box score also tells me that Magic went on to lead the Lakers in scoring for the game, scoring 17 points on 5 of 16 shooting (and dished out 12 assists). The Phoenix Suns whipped the Lakers for the second time that season, winning 114-97.
It’s possible Magic just had an off night. It could be that the Lakers squad was tired after playing the previous night in Houston. It’s also possible that T.R. Dunn played lights out defense and stuck it to one 15 year old me’s least favorite players, thereby facilitating a shutdown of 15 year old me’s least favorite teams. That’s how I choose to remember it. And that’s why I’ll always remember T.R. Dunn as a Phoenix Sun. For one night, he helped take out the trash.