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Welcome to the Phoenix Bandwagon: A Suns user guide for new fans

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Are you new to the Phoenix fan base? Do you want to fit in? Here is a User Guide for those who have followed roster additions to the desert.

Portland Trail Blazers v Phoenix Suns, Game 5 Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

The millennial NBA fan is a bit different. Although not true for all (duh), many are not fans of teams, rather, they are fans of players. They grow an affinity to a player due to their geographical beginnings, style of play, impact on pop culture, political stances, or the accessibility that social media has given them. Or State Farm commercials.

Example: I have a cousin who is a die hard Nuggets fan because he loves Nikola Jokic. Mind you he grew up in Phoenix and experienced the Barkley Era. The Suns fell from grace and therefore he pledged his allegiance to the Joker. He rocks his jersey and cheers for the Nuggets whenever they come to town. Family...you don’t get to pick them.

Is it right to follow a player versus a team? That isn’t the purpose of this piece. I’m not here to determine if fans of a team are better or worse than fans of a player. As long as you’re a fan of ball, we can talk.

James Jones has made numerous additions to the Suns roster entering the 2020-21 season, flipping 46% of the players from a season ago. With new players come new fans. Sprinkle in the word “expectation” for this Suns team, and there no doubt will be plenty of new eyes getting their first taste of Suns basketball.

Chris Paul currently ranks 8th among active NBA players 8.4 million followers on Twitter. That is more than the population of 37 states. That is more than the population of Ireland, Slovenia, the Bahamas, and Fiji...combined!

I would not be surprised if CP3’s arrival to Phoenix brings with it a number of people who are fans of the player that is Chris Paul. You are already seeing it on Suns Reddit:

Jalen Smith brings with him an East Coast affinity for the Suns. Growing up in the Baltimore area and playing for the University of Maryland, don’t be surprised to see an influx of Charm City loyalists who now follow Phoenix. Jae Crowder’s success in Boston may pave the way for members of their fanbase choosing to adopt the Suns as their Western Conference team.

Therefore I decided to make this user guide for our newest fans. Welcome to the bandwagon. We are happy to have you on board!

Many of you know of the Phoenix Suns, but perhaps you are not sure what it means to be a Suns fan. Allow me to give you some insight as to who your fellow Phoenix fans are. I did reach out to the Suns Reddit Community for an assist on this one, as they can effectively communicate what it means to be a Suns fan...for better or worse.


The Basics

Arena: TBD Corporate Sponsor Arena

Arena Nickname: The Purple Palace

Owner: Robert Sarver

GM: James Jones

Coach: Monty Williams

Colors: Purple and Orange

Mascot: The Suns Gorilla

Playoff Appearances: 29

NBA Finals Appearances: 2 (1976 and 1993)

Painful Seasons for Suns Fans: 53


Our Rivals

If you want to be a member of Planet Orange (one of the many taglines Suns’ marketing has used to describe us) then you need to know who to root against. We can’t having you showing up to the fight and not knowing who the enemy is.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers are our fellow Pacific Division rival. They’re like the successful older brother you have who comes over to your house on Christmas, drinks all of your whiskey, and tells you why they’re so great.

When the Lakers come to town the crowd is rambunctious and wild. Damn all of you 6th Man season ticket holders who sell your tickets to those games to Lakers fans...

The Suns have played the Lakers 252 times in the regular season (Lakers 145, Suns 107) and 62 times in the playoffs (Lakers 38, Suns 24). The teams have a long history of postseason battles going back to their first series, a seven-gamer in 1970.

The skirmishes between the two franchises have existed for decades and just know that our version of purple is much prettier than theirs.

San Antonio Spurs

Due to the battles during the Suns’ ‘Seven Seconds or Less’ era (which we’ll get into later), the Spurs are the team I personally despise the most, even to this day. If the Lakers were an annoying older brother, the Spurs are the guy who goes to shake our hand before a fight then sucker punches you.

The Suns have played the Spurs in 47 playoff games and the record in Spurs 25, Suns 22. More importantly, however, is the 6-4 series lead they have on the Suns. Many of those wins negated possible championships for the Suns.

We don’t like them and we enjoy that they missed the playoffs last year, okay?

Robert Horry

“Big Shot” Rob has been a thorn in the side of Phoenix for years. He helped crush the Barkley Era Suns in the playoffs in 1994 and 1995. He tossed a towel at our head coach when he was on the team. He hip checked Steve Nash in the 2007 playoffs as a member of the Spurs.

To this day he may be the most hated ex-player in Suns history.

Tim Donaghy

Speaking of Steve Nash being tossed like a cornhole bag, the 2007 Western Conference Semifinals employed referee Tim Donaghy, notable for being indicated on fixing games that he worked.

He once said he was simply doing his part, taking his directives from supervising official Tommy Nunez. Nunez hated Suns owner Robert Sarver. It is safe to assume that, in so many close games with the Spurs, the Suns were on the short end of the stick due to more that just their performance. It’s hard to beat the Spurs and the refs.


The History

If you are a young basketball fan, you probably do not have many memories of the Phoenix Suns being relevant. Maybe when you were a youngin’ you vaguely remember Steve Nash’s hair flowing in the wind as he fed Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion the ball for thunderous finishes. These were the last great Suns teams.

Much akin to numerous franchises throughout the league, the pages of the Suns history book is marred by pain and “what if’s”. If you want to fit in with the Phoenix fanbase, you will need to understand our tortured psyche.

  • The team is 7th all-time in winning percentage yet has no championships.
  • The team has the second highest winning percentage of any team not to win a championship.
  • The team is 2-5 in the Western Conference Finals.
  • It has been 28 years since their last NBA Finals appearance.

To know the Suns is to know the word, “almost”. Get ready for a 2,985 word dissertation on Suns history. Hey, if you’re new to the team and want to hold your own on Twitter or Reddit, it’s worth it’s weight in words:

The Coin Flip. The franchise came into existence in 1968 and posted a 16-66 inaugural season record, worst in the NBA. But back in ‘68, rather than conducting an NBA Lottery, the league had a different way of choosing the top pick: a coin flip between the worst team in the Western Conference and the worst team in the Eastern Conference.

The Suns lost a coin flip on March 19, 1969 to the Milwaukee Bucks. They almost had #1. The player taken #1 overall that season? Lew Alcindor...Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He goes on to be a 19-time All-Star and win 6 rings.

The Suns drafted Neal Walk at #2. Yeah, remember him? Me neither.

1976 NBA Finals: Just a few short years after losing out on a Hall-of-Famer, the Suns shocked the world. Okay, maybe not the world, but at least the city of Phoenix.

The team finished the season with a very mundane 42-40 record. There were signs of potential, however, as rookie center Alvan Adams (#4 overall pick in the 1975 NBA Draft) made the All-Star team and won Rookie of the Year honors. Paul Westphal led the team in scoring and Dick Van Arsdale, nicknamed the Original Sun after being the first expansion pick in Suns history, had his last good season with the team.

They entered the playoffs as the #3 seed in the West and upset the #2 seeded Seattle SuperSonics in 6 games in the Western Conference Semifinals. They took the #1 seeded Golden State Warriors to 7 games in the WCF, winning 94-86.

After just 8 seasons, the Suns made their first trip to the NBA Finals.

The Suns would face the storied Boston Celtics in the 1976 NBA Finals, winners of 12 NBA Championships to that point. Boston won the first two games at the Boston Garden, the Suns won the next two at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum (which fans affectionately referred to the “Madhouse on McDowell” seeing as the arena is located on McDowell Road in Phoenix).

Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals is considered one of the greatest games ever played. With one second left, Gar Heard caught Curtis Perry’s inbounds pass, turned, and hit a 20-foot jumper from the top of the key as the horn sounded to force the first triple-overtime in NBA Finals history.

The shot was referred to as “The Shot Heard Around the World” due to the magnitude of the shot and the fact that the guy who shot it was named Garfield Heard. Clever. The Suns almost won, but lost that game in 3OT, however, 128-126, then dropped Game 6 at home.

The magical run was over. The Suns would not make the NBA Finals for another 17 seasons.

Nose Candy: What is a good history lesson without a little scandal, eh?

The 80’s were a crazy time. Aqua Net. Synthesizers. Pablo Escobar. Cocaine. Before people truly new the effect of the Schedule II narcotic, the recreational use of the drug was intertwined with the fabric of wealthy society. Although still illegal to use, possess, and distribute, people consumed the product at an alarming rate.

Unfortunately the Suns of the mid-80’s found themselves victims of their own wrong-doings as it pertains to the drug. In 1987 the Phoenix Suns were involved in what Sports Illustrated dubbed, “the biggest single drug bust in the history of professional sports”. Drug use, narcotic transactions, trafficking...it was a dark day for Phoenix.

Walter Davis, to this day the all-time leading scorer in Suns history, received immunity for testifying against his current and former teammates. His history with the Suns is littered with rehabs and legendary moments, breakdowns and sweet shots. Davis, who shared in the success of 8 straight playoff appearances from 1977-1985, epitomized the rise and fall of the franchise during the 1980’s. He was let go by the Suns in 1988.

The KJ Trade/Tom Chambers Signing: Rise from the ashes. That is what a Phoenix is known for. Jerry Colangelo, the Suns original GM, assumed partial ownership on of the team entering the 1987-88 season and he looked to change the culture. Jerry was still the acting GM (a role he held from 1968-1994); it was his chess board to play with. And play with it he did.

The trade that changed the tide for Phoenix involved Larry Nance, the 1984 NBA Slam Dunk Contest champion. Colangelo sent Nance, Mike Sanders, and a first-round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Tyrone Corbin, Mark West, two picks (one of which became Dan Majerle) and a rookie point guard from the University of California, Kevin Johnson.

In June of 1988, with unrestricted free agency occurring for the first time in league history, Colangelo and the Suns penned All-Star forward Tom Chambers to a five-year, $9M contact (isn’t $9M what LeBron receives per game these days?). The addition of Chambers (along with the drafting of Majerle and growth of Jeff Hornacek) pushed the Suns to a 55-27 record in the 1988-89 season.

The future was bright in Phoenix. But remember the narrative of the Suns history: Almost. Here are the records and results for the Suns the next four seasons:

  • 1988-89: 55-27, swept by the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals
  • 1989-90: 54-28, lost 4-2 to the TrailBlazers in the Western Conference Finals
  • 1990-91: 55-27, lost 3-1 in the first round to the Jazz
  • 1991-92: 53-29, lost 4-1 to the TrailBlazers in the Western Conference Semifinals

They almost were good enough to get over the hump and into the NBA Finals. But they needed help.

The Barkley Trade: The summer of 1992, the year the Dream Team made it’s debut at the Olympics in Barcelona, was one of the most exciting times in Phoenix Suns history. The stars aligned, both figuratively and literally.

The Suns had a brand spanking new arena to call home, America West Arena. To this day you will hear fans refer to the arena as the “AWA”. With the move from the Madhouse to AWA the team unveiled a new logo and new uniforms, ditching the design they had worn since the berth of the franchise. To this day the “Sunburst” jerseys are considered not only a Suns favorite, but one of the top jerseys in NBA history.

On June 17, 1992, the Suns made their biggest splash trade in team history. Charles Barkley, a 6-time All-Star with the Philadelphia 76ers, wanted out of Philly. Phoenix traded Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang, and Tim Perry for the superstar. That was it. That was the trade. It is one of the all-time one sided trades.

The addition of the celebrity that is Charles Barkley legitimized and solidified the team. He marched the Suns to their best ever record of 62-20 and won the NBA MVP.

Shockingly they went down 2-0 to the #8 seeded Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, but following head coach Paul Westphal’s famous, “We’re going to win the series” statement, they won 3 straight to advance.

Phoenix beat the Spurs 4-2 in the Western Semifinals and won in 7 games against Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, and the Seattle SuperSonics in the Western Conference Finals. Their reward for making their 2nd NBA Finals appearance in franchise history?

Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls..

We Hate John Paxson: Michael Jordan was a force in the NBA, and by the 1993 NBA Finals, he was at the peak of his powers. The two-time defending NBA Champions would be no easy task for the Phoenix Suns.

The Finals mirrored the 1976 performance for the Suns in that they lost Game 1 and Game 2, although this time at home. Game 3 would be the second ever 3OT game in NBA Finals history, and unlike ‘76, the Suns came out on top with a 129-121 victory. Following another loss and another win, the Suns entered a win-or-stay-home match up in Game 6.

Although the Suns held the Bulls to just 12 points in the 4th quarter, they too went ice cold from the field. The Bulls had a chance to tie to the game late in the fourth, and we all knew MJ would take the shot. Until he didn’t...

That video still turns knots in the stomachs of the Phoenix faithful who experienced it. Mention John Paxson to any Suns fan over 35 and you’ll surely see their eyes drop, their demeanor change, and hear and expletive or two.

Perhaps Ainge should’ve stayed on him. Perhaps the Suns could’ve had a better look at a game winner. But the fact of the matter remains: the Suns, the #1 team by record, the top scoring team in the NBA (113.4 ppg) with the highest offensive rating (113.3) lost in 6 games on a shot by John Paxson.

Almost.

The Rest of the Barkley Era: The years following the NBA Finals were just as gut wrenching as the previous 5 years. Jordan left the league and the Suns couldn’t capitalize. Two painful Game 7 losses to the eventual NBA Champion Houston Rockets wasted years of over 50 wins. I lost many remotes those years as I chucked them against the floor, the wall, and even once at the TV. I was a frustrated 13-year old when Mario Elie hit this three:

The Barkley Era saw the Suns go 218-110 (.664) with nothing to show for it:

  • 1993-94: 56-26, lost in 7 games to the Rockets in the Western Conference Semifinals
  • 1994-95: 59-23, lost in 7 games to the Rockets in the Western Conference Semifinals
  • 1995-96: 41-41: lost in 4 games to the Spur in the first round

Ultimately the Suns would trade Barkley in the summer of 1996.

Robert Horry Era: 144 days too long. He came to Phoenix as a part of the Barkley trade. He threw a towel at head coach Danny Ainge. We’ve despised him for that, his role on the Rockets team that tore our hearts out years prior, and for what he would do in 2007.

Backcourt 2000: Although the Suns would draft Steve Nash in the 1996 NBA Draft, his skillset wouldn’t mature until later. Following some years of average play following Barkley’s departure, Suns fans were hyped heading into the 1999-2000 season.

Jason Kidd had joined the team in December of 1996 when GM Bryan Colangelo sold off pieces of the Barkley trade to Dallas. Colangelo added former 4-time All-Star Penny Hardaway in August of 1999 in a trade with Orlando. Phoenix fans were pumped!

In ’99-’00 Penny had plantar fasciitis (missed 22 games), Kidd had ankle issues (missed 15 games, including some in the playoffs), and the Suns lost to Shaq and the Lakers in the Western Conference Semifinals.

The two would only play 55 games together and the hype faded as the Suns began looking to rebuild.

The Marbury Years: Stephon Marbury came to the Suns from the New Jersey Nets in 2001 when the team bid adieu to Jason Kidd. Kidd led the Nets to the NBA Finals the next two seasons. Ugh...almost. The Suns went 36-46 and missed the playoffs.

Talk to many fans who are around 30 years-old and Stephon Marbury holds a special place in their heart. His running back approach to the lane, toughness, and ability to hit the floater are their first memories of the Suns.

In his second season with the Suns he was paired with 9th overall pick Amare Stoudemire and the team took off. Phoenix went 44-38 and clinched a spot in the playoffs. Although they lost to eventual NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs, Marbury did provide a memorable game winner in Game 1 of the first round.

When the Suns went 29-53 in 2003-04, however, it felt as if the fun was over. The team would need a serious rebuild. Marbury was traded mid-season in 2004 to the Knicks.

The young core of Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion would need help.

7SOL: “Seven Seconds of Less,” the Mike D’Antoni mantra.

As Jim Cougnenour wrote for Bright Side in 2012: “Despite being previously discarded by the Suns, shipped away to Dallas for mixed parts and a draft pick, Nash “came back” to the Suns on July 14, 2004. The return of Nash led to a palingenesis of Phoenix Suns basketball. Augmented by the emerging talents of the Matrix (Marion) and STAT (Stoudemire), Nash laid the foundation for the 7SOL (seven seconds or less) era, which made them a fan favorite and media darling for 3+ seasons. Nash managed to stumble upon a couple of MVP awards along the way and cemented himself as one the best players in the game, an international basketball icon and a sure fire first ballot hall of famer.”

Nash made the Suns fun again, and in the process, began revolutionizing the NBA. Their faced paced, offense first mindset was exciting to absorb. They took the league by storm, winning 62 games in the 2004-05 season. Had it not been for an injury to Joe Johnson against the Mavericks in the 2005 Western Conference Semifinals, the team may have made their third NBA Finals appearance. They eventually lost in 5 games to Tim Duncan and the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.

To this day Jerry Stackhouse is on my shit list.

Year 2 of the 7SOL Era also found the Suns losing in the Western Conference Finals, although this time it was against Nash’s former team, the Dallas Mavericks. The team was handicapped by injury as Amare Stoudemire missed the majority of the season with microfracture knee surgery.

The team over-performed as they posted a 54-28 record despite STAT’s absence. Raja Bell hit one of the big-time game winners in Suns history in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals:

Year 3 is a team many thought had the best chance to win a championship. The 2006-07 Phoenix Suns are one of the greatest almost situations in the franchises history. The Suns met the rival San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals and many predicted the winner would win the NBA title that season.

It was a tightly contested series that saw the physical Spurs do whatever they had to do to slow down the Suns. Bruce Bowen kicked Amare in Game 2. He kneed Nash in the junk in Game 3. And Game 4 is the game that will live in infamy in Suns lore.

As I stated in a piece earlier this year, with 24.9 seconds left, and the Suns leading 100-97, Manu Ginobili misses a layup. Then all hell breaks loose:

  • Leandro Barbosa retrieves the rebound and passes it to Steve Nash near mid-court.
  • Robert Horry, who knows that he needs to foul, hip checks Steve Nash into the scorers table. Nash is sent flailing through the air. Raja Bell is first on the scene to confront Horry.
  • Boris Diaw and Amare Stoudemire leave the bench. Amare is walking aggressively, although they are both headed towards a dazed Nash, who is still on the ground, arms in the air.
  • Horry gets a flagrant foul 2 and is tossed from the game; Nash goes 1-2 from the line.
  • The Suns win the game 104-98 and tie the series.

Just go back and watch the video. Oh wait. It’s darn near impossible to find any broadcast footage of this game. I can find the entire broadcast of Game 4 of the 1984 Western Conference Semifinals between the Suns and the Jazz, but I can’t find one of David Stern’s biggest mistakes. Interesting. Well, here’s a highlight:

Amare and Diaw are suspended, the Suns lose a close Game 5, and then are destroyed in Game 6. The Spurs march through the Jazz in the Western Conference Finals and sweep LeBron’s Cavs in the NBA Finals.

The End of the Nash Era: Steve Nash stayed with the Suns through the end of the 2011-12 season. He gifted us one last memorable run to the Western Conference Finals in 2010, which happens to be the last time the Phoenix Suns played in the NBA playoffs.

That team, which employed a 35 year-old Steve Nash and 37 year-old Grant Hill, surprisingly won 54 games. They were a fun bunch to watch and are one of the most beloved in franchise history. Jason Richardson, Goran Dragic, Channing Frye, Jared Dudley; it was a roster of misfits who just kept winning.

To end a decade of being dominated by the Spurs, the Suns swept the team in the Western Conference Semifinals. The faced Kobe and the Lakers in the WCF and hopes were high that they would pull through and make a Finals appearance with Nash.

The series was tied at 2-2 when the next moment o’ heartbreak hit:

Dude, seriously? Watching these old highlights has ruined my day. The anguish of the Ron Artest tip in is still as fresh as it was a decade ago. I seriously just teared up watching that one again...it’s been a while.

Lakers win Game 6 and the NBA Finals.

Suns spiral.

The Last Decade has Sucked: The 48 win 2013-14 squad was enjoyable. But alas, they fell one game short of making the playoffs. Only the 2007-08 Golden State Warriors had achieved that feat.

The rise of Twitter and social media has coincided with the worst continual stretch of Suns basketball. Ever. In a world where constant attention from the media exists, the Suns have been at their worst.

You most likely know the rest.

The Suns have a record of 306-489 (.385) since they last made a playoff appearance. Our owner is considered one of the worst in the NBA. Our former GM has become a Twitter troll. Stories continue to leak of mishandled transactions and spurned ex-players.

The Suns have lived in the NBA lottery and, outside of Devin Booker (and potentially Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges), have missed time and time again. Booker scored 70 in a game. And lost.


Fill out the Form

Now that you’ve immersed yourself in Phoenix Suns history, it is time to apply for fan base citizenship. Please fill out the attached form, tag @BrightSideSun on Twitter, and use the hashtag, “#NewSunsFan”. We will process applications in a timely matter and there will be no recounts.


What does it mean to be a Suns fan?

Okay, history learned, application submitted, now it is finally time to understand what it means to be a Suns fan. I asked this question of Suns Reddit, and true to form, they did not disappoint.

Some of my favorites include:

“Before CP3 we once had Mike James running point.” - /u/S63-BBQPit

“Gather round and I’ll tell you the story of Hedo Turkeyglue, Josh Childress, and Hakim Warrick.” - /u/PerplexedJavelina

“Pain” - /u/Z1342

To be a Suns fan is to be resilient. It is to be cautiously optimistic. It is to hope for the best and prepare for the Suns version of normal. As our history has shown, “almost” is our word. So many times we have had success and so many times we almost capitalized.

I skipped over the missed draft picks, the trade mishaps, the free agency misses, and the troubled tale of Richard Dumas. Our history is one of disappointment.

Yet there is hope once again in the desert. Chris Paul has joined the team. The arena has been renovated. Our new training facility is state-of-the-art. The culture 2nd year head coach and GM James Jones are building appears to be changing the tide.

That is what brings you here, bandwagon fan. We welcome you! Now you know the tortured history of the Phoenix Suns franchise. You have the tools necessary to speak to tenured Suns fans in a common language. Go forth and share your opinions! Will they matter?

Almost.