Sure, it was an expansion draft... not the regular NBA draft.
But the Original Sun was also the team’s original #1.
Dick Van Arsdale was the first overall pick in the NBA expansion draft for the newly formed Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks franchises on May 6, 1968. The Bucks would end up picking ahead of the Suns at #1 overall in the regular draft the next year, but that’s a (less roseate) story for another Thursday.
Van Arsdale was siphoned off the New York Knicks after originally being selected in the second round of the 1965 NBA draft.
The 25 year old Van Arsdale was a good selection for the Suns as he was named to the All-Star team the very first season along with new teammate Gail Goodrich. The Flying Dutchman averaged 21.0 points, 6.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game.
Interestingly enough, the Bucks and Suns were given the 7th and 8th picks in the regular draft for the 1968 season, sandwiching them right between the bottom six and top six in a then 14 team league.
It would have been better to pick first and second that year since the second pick in the draft was Wes Unseld. Unseld led the Baltimore Bullets to a league best 57-25 while winning Rookie of the Year AND Most Valuable Player.
Some guy named Elvin Hayes went #1 to the San Diego Rockets.
The Suns first ever selection in the regular version of the NBA draft was Gary Gregor (8th overall) from the University of South Carolina. Gregor played just one season with the Suns, averaging 11.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, before being traded for Paul Silas. Silas in turn had three solid seasons with the Suns, making an All-Star appearance in his final year with the team (1971-72).
Van Arsdale kicked off the 1968 season by scoring the franchise’s first ever points in a 116-107 victory over the Seattle SuperSonics. The wins were few and far between after that game, as the team struggled to a 16-66 mark.
The Suns turned those fortunes around quickly by signing free agent Connie Hawkins and making the playoffs in just their second season despite finishing with a 39-43 record. The Suns took a 3-1 series lead against the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round before losing three straight to fall in seven games.
Phoenix then endured a five year playoff drought, despite win totals of 48 and 49 for two of those seasons.
Van Arsdale was still a member of the Suns when the team made it back to the playoffs and all the way to its first ever NBA Finals appearance in the 1975-76 season. By that time he was more of a role player, averaging just 12.9 points per game in the regular season and 8.9 points in 24.8 minutes per game in the postseason.
Following that loss to the Celtics, Dick was actually joined by his twin brother Tom on the Suns the next season (because how could brothers, and especially twins, on the same team not be a great idea!). The 33 year olds played in 78 and 77 games, respectively, but were both near the end of the line.
He retired after the 1976-77 season after nine years with the Suns. He made a total of three All-Star appearances during his career.
His jersey was retired on November 13, 1977. He is one of 15 members of the Phoenix Suns Ring of Honor.
Dick Van Arsdale still ranks among the franchise leaders in several categories.
Games played - 685 (4th)
Points - 12,060 (5th)
Assists - 2,396 (8th)
Van Arsdale remained a part of the Suns organization in many facets after that, serving as in interim head coach for 26 games (14-12) in 1987, working in various capacities in the front office and as a broadcasting partner of fellow Ring of Honor member Al McCoy.
This comes back around to where the Suns stand today.
We already know the Suns first ever expansion draft selection (Dick Van Arsdale) and their first ever real draft selection (Gary Gregor).
In a week we will know who the team’s first #1 overall selection will be.
But while there’s nothing wrong with dreaming big, that player has a lot of work to do to get his jersey hanging from the rafters.
For every #1 that turns into a transcendent NBA talent...
1968 - Elvin Hayes
1969 - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
1970 - Bob Lanier
There’s one that doesn’t...
1971 - Austin Carr
1972 - LaRue Martin
1973 - Doug Collins
And if presumptive pick DeAndre Ayton provides as much excitement for Suns fans and contributes as much to the franchise as Dick Van Arsdale did, the Suns could definitely do worse than that.
Of course if Ayton wants to pull a Wes Unseld that works, too.
For more Throwback Thursday coverage on Van Arsdale check out Mike Lisboa’s piece from November 3, 2016.
#TBT: Throwback Thursday