In this trying time when we’re all looking for things to keep our minds occupied and take our thoughts away from the Coronavirus pandemic, sometimes those things come from the strangest of places. Before I get to the specific story at hand, here’s a short bit of Suns’ history related to the real story I’ve come to tell.
Younger fans might not even know that Hall of Fame member, 3-time NBA Champion (once with Seattle in 1979 and twice with Boston in 1984 and 1986) and 1979 Finals MVP winner Dennis Johnson played for three seasons in The Valley from 1980 to 1983. The Suns were a pretty good team with DJ playing the point, making the playoffs all three seasons he was in Phoenix, even though they never made it past the semi-finals. Following the 1983 season, DJ was traded to the Boston Celtics for Rick Robey and a couple of 2nd round draft picks. As it turned out, it was a bad trade for the Suns... but that’s another story.
One thing about DJ was that during his entire time with the Suns, he only wore number 24 on his jersey.
At least that’s what the record books say.
Recently photographic evidence surfaced to dispute that.
It all started a few days ago with this tweet directed at our own Bright Side Lord and Master, Dave King:
@DaveKingNBA Need a true Suns historian to confirm or deny whether or not Dennis Johnson wore #3 and #24, or just #24. Recenlty, pics have surfaced with D.J. wearing #3 as Sun. Fishy or not?— Deebo Khan (@DeeboKhan) March 22, 2020
Dave quickly responded but couldn’t find any evidence that Dennis Johnson had ever worn anything other than 24 for the Suns.
sorry, but I'm not THAT old haha. I don't actually remember. A quick google search shows he wore #3 for the Celtics, #24 for the Suns and Sonics. I don't see any evidence he wore #3 for the Suns but I could be wrong.— Dave King (@DaveKingNBA) March 22, 2020
Since I love Suns’ history - and love a good mystery - I decided to do some snooping of my own.
All the records I checked said he only wore 24 with the Suns but here are two pics I found of him as a Sun wearing 3. pic.twitter.com/iPEkf2FMHY— Rod Argent (@rodargent1) March 22, 2020
The mystery deepened as theories as to the perplexing number change emerged.
Could it have been an emergency situation? the hue of the purple don't match shorts or others uniforms in pic. Possible he had to use a spare?— Steve Davis (@stevendavis_) March 22, 2020
It could have been that. I found one other Getty image of him wearing 3 also. All three of those pics could have come from the same game.— Rod Argent (@rodargent1) March 22, 2020
Yoohooo, Superfan @sonnova ...— LoriAnn G.ood if it goes (@LLCoolA60) March 23, 2020
I only remember that DJ wore #24 for PHX and #3 in Boston.
What's the story here? Is this an altered photo, or what?
Hoping all is good with you & Mrs. Sonnova. Be well.
If memory serves, DJ wore #3 in his first couple preseason games with the Suns. Gar Heard wore #24 the season before. Maybe Gar hadn't officially retired yet and given up the number?— Adam Beechen (@sonnova) March 23, 2020
The thing is that I'm almost certain that Maurice Lucas is in the background in one of those pics and Lucas didn't come to the Suns until the 82-83 season. That was 2 years after Gar Heard left Phoenix.— Rod Argent (@rodargent1) March 23, 2020
You're right; that's Luke back there. My memory failed me; DJ wore #1 for one pre-season game after he arrived in Phoenix. It's a mystery... Maybe that season DJ was "trying out" a new # and switched back? Or maybe Sedona Superfan is right and it was photoshopped for some reason?— Adam Beechen (@sonnova) March 23, 2020
Someone could have Photo-shopped an old image of DJ for some oddly nefarious reason but two? That made little sense but made me even more determined to try and find the truth. I did some additional snooping around and uncovered more.
I've found three pics with him wearing #3 so I doubt they were all photoshopped. Teams used to carry a few spare jerseys with no name on the back with them on the road back then in case a player's jersey was lost or damaged on the trip. Could be DJ had to use one of those.— Rod Argent (@rodargent1) March 23, 2020
Here are two more pics I found and in both of them the Suns are playing the Washington Bullets. Perhaps all the pics we've found are from that one game and that was the only time DJ wore #3. pic.twitter.com/aNXuKvCkUk— Rod Argent (@rodargent1) March 23, 2020
This might solve the mystery! Here's another image from that same game where DJ is wearing #24! Perhaps he tore his regular jersey during the game and had to use the #3 jersey to finish it out. I got this image from the Getty Images website. pic.twitter.com/hl05x3J0O0— Rod Argent (@rodargent1) March 23, 2020
One thing didn’t fit with that last theory though.
DJ didn't have on purple knee pads in the #3 jersey pics.— LoriAnn G.ood if it goes (@LLCoolA60) March 23, 2020
The absence of the knee pads could indicate that the photo of DJ wearing 24 might have been from a separate game with the Bullets. It might not have even been from the same season as the others, let alone the same game. But after even more internet snooping, I finally found the clue that seemed to answer the question of why DJ was wearing number 3.
That could very well be but I finally found a pic that tells the story. It had to be an emergency replacement jersey. This pic shows him from behind and there is no name on it! pic.twitter.com/kUAlYmEFb9— Rod Argent (@rodargent1) March 23, 2020
The top is even a different color purple than his teammates', and I don't think it's just the lighting. Good call.— Adam Beechen (@sonnova) March 23, 2020
From the road uniforms, we also know that game was played in Washington. As Dennis Johnson and Maurice Lucas only played together for the Suns during the 1982-83 season, taking a quick look at BBRef.com tells me that game took place on Jan. 29, 1983 and that the Suns unfortunately lost 88-82 with DJ getting an oddly symmetrical triple-8 stat line of 8 points, 8 assists and 8 rebounds.
Not too bad for my first case... even if I do say so myself.
Now I just need to find myself another case to keep my mind occupied for a while.