By the winter, assuming the NBA is back to playing games in their home arenas, Talking Stick Resort Arena will be a glowing paradise of basketball, replete with spiffy new bars and amenities, slick walkabouts, and a shiny new scoreboard.
A few miles to the northeast, a state-of-the-art practice facility will stand as beacon of Suns basketball in Phoenix’s most luxurious community.
What will be missing is a sense of history. Sure, there’s a low-key Ring of Honor wrapped around the middle level of the arena, but very little else. On the event floor, media members and team personnel are gifted with photos from great Suns teams, including the franchise’s three MVP awards and various Hall of Fame players. The media room is a shrine to play-by-play man Al McCoy.
Yet for casual passersby or fans not yet enveloped in the lore of the Suns, there’s not so much of a sign of the franchise’s remarkable history anywhere on the arena’s grounds. What would a young fan make of the franchise from his first trip to the arena, especially at a time when the on-court product is not where it should be.
An easy solution: Build a Charles Barkley statue in the courtyard outside the main entrance. A shining marquee beckons Phoenix visitors to the arena, but Chuck would do one better.
For now, the renovations are taking up everyone’s time and focus. Yet with next season starting late, there may even be time prior to the start of next season to make this happen.
Around the NBA and sports more broadly, home stadiums not only serve as stomping grounds for passionate fans, but cultural sites for a team’s history. I’ll never forget seeing the far corner near the right-field foul pole upstairs at Fenway Park, where the Red Sox set up a miniature museum with artifacts from across the team’s storied history. Outside Dodger Stadium, a pavilion dedicated to Jackie Robinson stands tall.
Arizona sports fans don’t even need to look as far away as other states to see such things. At State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Cardinals legend and sports icon Pat Tillman was memorialized in bronze, becoming the first statue. Whenever Larry Fitzgerald hangs up his jersey for the final time, we can assume his bust will spend eternity alongside Tillman’s.
While Chase Field doesn’t boast a statue, the World Series trophy sat for many years where everyone could see it, and the franchise’s legends are integrated into the signs and experiences around the ballpark. Blow-up doll versions of Randy Johnson and Luis Gonzalez race across the park during every game.
There’s just not enough of that at Suns games. As we’ve all been looking back at history, rewatching old games, and stirring up past debates (I still think Nash was worthy of the 2006 MVP), I can’t shake the feeling that centering Suns legends at the new and improved Talking Stick Resort Arena would go a long way toward improving the vibe of the place.
What better way to do that than with a Barkley statue? There’s not a basketball fan alive who doesn’t know and (at least begrudgingly) love Chuck. He’s still omnipresent in our lives thanks to his work at TNT and elder statesman role in the NBA. And he still lives in Phoenix!
On a recent call with local media, Barkley said, “I’ve never heard anything like the noise and the energy as I heard from America West from Day One.
“This is a Suns town.”
Of course, recently, it’s become more of a Cardinals and Sun Devils town as the Suns have become less relevant and often quite bad. Barkley is not shy, and hasn’t hesitated to criticize the franchise over the years. His tone was different on the recent media call, however, as he said he hoped for the best and felt optimistic about the Suns’ direction.
Robert Sarver has had a hard time bridging the gap to the stalwarts of the franchise’s good ‘ole days. Jerry Colangelo, after all, is beloved in this town. When Sarver hears criticism from someone who hasn’t played for the franchise in over two decades, I get that it might sting.
That doesn’t mean sour grapes should keep rotting. Kevin Garnett recently set fire to the last bits of his relationship with the Timberwolves over disagreements with ownership. The Suns handle themselves far better than that. Let bygones — if there are any — be bygones.
It’s time to give back to the man who put Phoenix basketball on the map after the Suns’ quiet, controversy-laden 1970s and 80s. Few bona fide sports legends have passed through the Valley, and it’s time the Suns gave their first superstar his due. The next time we step foot at Talking Stick Resort Arena, let’s hope we’re welcomed by a shiny replica of Barkley, likely with his round mound jutting outward, eyes up, measuring his space for a tip-in dunk.
The decision to celebrate Barkley at the arena he built (metaphorically of course, but you get it) should be as easy as he made those tip-ins look.