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#TBT - Alvan Adams, the man who was always there

Alvan Adams

Every franchise has its Ring of Honor or rafters of retired jerseys. There are famous players that mean different things to different eras of fans. The passage of time obscures and blurs older legends in favor of more recent narratives. The two most recent inductees into the Phoenix Suns’ Ring of Honor are potent examples of this phenomenon.

Steve Nash is obviously a towering figure in Phoenix Suns history. Originally drafted by Phoenix, he was traded away, then triumphantly returned to lead one of the most successful eras in franchise history, garnering two Most Valuable Player awards in the process. Nash probably responsible for more current and young fans of the Phoenix Suns than anyone else associated with the franchise. His star power shines beyond the local market and around the world.

Then there’s Al McCoy. McCoy is a living legend in Arizona. After 45 years with the organization, he’s part of the fabric of the Phoenix Suns. He’s part of the DNA. He’s the longest tenured announcer in NBA history. His star may not shine as bright as Steve Nash’s but his place with the Phoenix Suns is foundational. Without McCoy, the Phoenix Suns aren’t quite your Phoenix Suns.

So too is it with Alvan Adams. Adams retired from the basketball court in 1988, long before many current fans could see him play. And even those of us who can remember Al McCoy calling his name probably can’t remember much of what got him into the Phoenix Suns’ Ring of Honor. But it doesn’t take a very long look at Suns’ history to understand that Adams, like McCoy, is intertwined with the franchise’s existence in a way few other individuals can claim.

The Oklahoma Kid

Adams was a standout in Oklahoma high school basketball. Despite recruiting offers from national powerhouses like UCLA and Kansas, Adams opted stay in his home state and attend the University of Oklahoma. As a Sooner, Adams set a number of school records betweein 1972 and 1975 for points and rebounds including records for double-doubles in a season, career points and rebounds, and points in game and rebounds in a game. While most of those records would be broken by eventual Phoenix Suns Wayman Tisdale and superhuman crybaby Blake Griffin, Adams is one of only four players in Sooner history to have his jersey retired by the school.

Despite carrying a 3.8 grade point average, the call of the National Basketball Association proved too tempting for the pre-med major. He forewent his senior year and was drafted by the Phoenix Suns with the fourth overall pick in the NBA draft. The Suns had a pretty good idea of what they were getting in Adams: Suns’ head coach John MacLeod had been The Oklahoma Kid’s college coach for his freshman and sophomore years.

The right place at the right time

Adams could not have asked for a better landing spot to start his pro career in 1975. Adams became the immediate starter for a Suns team desperate for production at center after trading Neal Walk away a year earlier. The 6’9” Adams did not disappoint. In his first season, he did it all, averaging 19.0 points, 9.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. He and fellow newcomer Paul Westphal lead the young franchise to one the most memorable seasons in NBA history.

Despite a mediocre 42-40 regular season record, the now-famous Sunderella Suns made their way to the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics. Adams took his game up a notch on the big stage, averaging 23 points a game in the Finals. Phoenix would lose the series in six games, but Adams had found his forever home.

The man who was always there

It’s hard for me to look at Adams’ career and say he peaked that rookie season, but... how do you top a Rookie of the Year campaign and trip to the NBA Finals? For “Double A”, the answer was not in surpassing those individual achievements. Trips to the Finals require a lot of circumstantial help and one can only win Rookie of the Year once. Instead, Adams made consistency the hallmark of his career. Health was a big part of that. In 13 seasons, Adams never played in fewer than 68 games.

While his numbers never topped those of his rookie campaign, they never dropped off either. He finished his career with averages of 14.1 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. Those are good solid numbers but they don’t tell the story of what Alvan Adams has meant to the Phoenix Suns. But these numbers do:

  • First all-time in games played (988)
  • First all-time in minutes played (27203)
  • First all-time in total rebounds (6937)
  • Frist all-time in steals (1289)
  • Second all-time in points scored (13910)
  • Third all-time in assists (4012, behind only Steve Nash and Kevin Johnson)
  • Fourth all-time in blocked shots (808)

Alvan Adams did it all for the Phoenix Suns and he did it better and longer than anyone in franchise history. While many of his minutes came as a starter, he was big bench contributor in his later years. Of Phoenix’s 3,959 total franchise games, Adams has appeared in 25% of them. That’s insane. He was teammate with both Dick Van Arsdale and Kevin Johnson (with other notables like Walter Davis, Larry Nance, and Dennis Johnson in between).

And he’s still there

After retiring at the end of the 1987-88 season, Adams had his jersey retired by Phoenix the following November. But that was just the end of one chapter with the Phoenix Suns and the beginning of another. Adams is still with the franchise as vice president of facility management for Talking Stick Resort Arena.

As players come and go from the team, I think it’s important to remember and honor this kind of consistency. Who knows? Maybe 30 years from now someone will be paying these kind of respects to Devin Booker or Marquese Chriss.

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