It’s Friday, so why not take a break from work and sip on a cocktail infused Phoenix Suns basketball and pop culture? On the rocks, of course.
We are currently navigating the “in between time”. Summer League has ended and the start of training camp is a month away. Oh, and it’s 108° outside. Some refer to this period as the “dog days”, others call it “I’m doing my fantasy football research”. Whatever you call it, it leaves us with hours to do things outside of consuming Suns’ basketball.
Me? I’m enjoying consuming content, most notably that available on different streaming platforms. Mix in the fact that I have ended employment with one company and have time off before I start my next adventure, and yeah. I’m microwaving popcorn, getting comfortable on the couch, and putting miles on the remote.
Ted Lasso? Watch it. Schmigadoon? Enjoy it. Malice is the Palace? Re-live it. And cringe.
While absorbing everything that is new, I always find myself gravitating towards some of my favorites. Band of Brothers on HBO, a mini-series I watch at least once a year, is probably my favorite piece of television ever created. I’m counting down to Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks’ release of Masters of the Air.
Thanks to my recent addiction to HBOMax, I have re-watched all of the Ocean’s movies, including the original 1960 heist flick starring the Rat Pack: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. Side note: That one didn’t end the way I wanted and/or expected it to. All of the modern Ocean movies are entertaining, well written, and expertly directed by Steven Soderbergh.
Naturally, as I am watching the star-studded Ocean’s movies, my mind wanders to how this ensemble cast translates to the Phoenix Suns. Naturally. How can you not when you have a cast of characters who accept their role within the confines of the team? They looking to win, even if that means robbing casinos blind. We’ve all shared that feeling.
So why not? Why not compare the characters of the 2001 movie Ocean’s Eleven to the 2021-22 Phoenix Suns roster? I’m sure this ensemble-cast-to-sports-team troupe has never been done before.
Chris Paul as Danny Ocean
We’ve seen it time and again: the two leading guys. John Lennon and Paul McCartney for the Beatles. Robert Redford and Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Calvin and Hobbes. This isn’t Batman and Robin, this is Batman and Batman (which Clooney did portray in 1997’s Batman & Robin...and it was not good).
You can debate who is the true lead or more influential cog in the band/movie/hilarious comic strip all you want. Both are vital entities to ensure the “band” provides a quality and memorable performance. You can’t have one without the other. Well, you can, but it ain’t the same.
In this case, George Clooney and Brad Pitt are sharing top billing. Pitt had just completed a run of acting in the movies Fight Club, Snatch, and The Mexican (all fantastic flicks), whereas Clooney was coming off of Three Kings, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Perfect Storm. Yes, both were bonafide movie stars, but at the time it was Pitt who was white hot for the roles he chose. Clooney’s movie right before Ocean’s? Spy Kids. I rest my case.
Sorry. Rambling. Back to the comparisons.
Considering the movie is called Ocean’s Eleven, and George Clooney plays Danny Ocean, he is the top dawg. And, despite what the statistics may say and some Suns fans feel, Chris Paul is the top dawg for Phoenix.
Danny Ocean sets the pace for the 11, both with the target of Terry Benedict’s casinos and creatively. Chris Paul does the same. The Suns follow his lead, his attitude, and his creative pace of play. He is the elder statesman who has the respect and admiration of those around him. His teammates grew up watching him play ball. I’m sure some of them wore his jersey during their playground escapades.
Danny, when helping Linus out of the elevator, reminds him that he isn’t going to “sit this one out”. He knows the right time to insert himself into the grand scheme of things. This is Chris Paul personified. He strategically finds the right moment to assert himself. Whether it is to start the fourth quarter or for stretches in which Booker is on the bench, it is the cerebral way he approaches the game that makes him the “Point God”.
Chris Paul is Danny Ocean. Weathered, wise, and a natural leader of men. I’m sure if he grew his hair out, there’d be a little gray in there as well.
Devin Booker as Rusty Ryan
If Chris Paul is Danny Ocean, there is no doubt that Devin Booker is Rusty Ryan. Rusty, portrayed by Brad Pitt, is the right hand man for Danny. He is the guy who picks Ocean up from prison to start the film and can finish his cohort’s thoughts without saying a word.
Rusty drips style in Ocean’s Eleven with snakeskin shirts and split-lapel suits — things I could never dare wear or even try to. Even Danny can’t help himself when he comments, “Ted Nugent called. He wants his shirt back”.
Devin Booker has been known to dress to impress as well. Whether it is via his choice in automobile (he loves his 1959 Chevy Impala), his affinity for representing his Hispanic heritage, or dressing to the nines during the NBA Finals, nobody is as sleek as DBook.
Both Rusty and Devin are leaders as well. It is Rusty who keeps his eye on Danny, ensuring it is the mission that is his primary focus, rather than Tess (Julia Roberts). Booker does not display his leadership through impactful locker room speeches or emotional exchanges on the side lines. He does it by being the example. He does it the right way putting the work in. The results speak for themselves.
My mother would tell you, between Clooney and Pitt, Brad is the more attractive of the two actors. Just like Devin.
Deandre Ayton as Linus Caldwell
Matt Damon is the third “leading guy” in Ocean’s Eleven, and although he doesn’t get a ton of screen time, his presence is impactful. I mentioned the movies that Clooney and Pitt were coming off of entering this movie, just look at Damon’s. The Legend of Bagger Vance (probably my favorite golf movie), Finding Forrester, and All the Pretty Horses. Oh, and his cameo in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (another all-timer in the Voita household).
Linus is the third wheel; the young kid who shares the same passion for thieving that both Danny and Rusty do. He is constantly trying to prove himself to the tenured criminals.
Sounds like Ayton, eh? Doesn’t get a ton of screen time, is impactful when he gets touches, and always trying to prove himself? Check, check, chiggity-check.
Linus fumbles around at times, like Ayton, but delivers when Danny forgets batteries for the explosives inside the Benedict vault. We saw this with Deandre Ayton, who averaged 15.8 points and 11.8 rebounds in his first run through the playoffs last season.
If the Ocean’s movies tell us anything, the role of Ayton should increase. By Ocean’s Thirteen, Matt Damon is walking around with a fake nose in a villa at William Bank’s hotel. Perhaps Deandre Ayton will see more touches this upcoming season.
Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson as The Malloy Brothers
Oh, the Malloy brothers.
For those of you out there who have siblings, you can relate to the banter, teasing, and 0-to-100 type of arguments displayed by Turk (Scott Caan) and Virgil (Casey Affleck) in Ocean’s Eleven. Whether they are running over remote-controlled monster trucks or getting into slap fights, the brothers from Salt Lake City personify what many of us went through during our childhood. The difference? These clowns are adults.
Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson are like brothers as well. Known to tease and joke around with each other, the pair of young forwards have developed a kinship that is at the heartbeat of the Phoenix Suns locker room. You see nothing but smiles from these two.
The Malloy brothers, Mikal, and Cam Johnson might not receive top billing, but they are vital to the operation. There is no success without the contributions of these role players.
The Malloys are the “do it all” guys. They’re doing recon, working in the casino restaurants, carrying balloons to block security cameras, accessing the back of house areas, and delivering the package (aka - Yen) to the vault. You need these two and their versatility in order to complete the robbery.
Mikal and Cam might not have superstar roles on the Phoenix Suns, but their contributions are greatly needed. They are the “glue guys”. Defense. Three-point shooting. Hustle. Versatility. All of these attributes equate to victory. There is no winning without the MC connection.
Now if we could only see Mikal and Cam don some fake moustaches...
Jae Crowder as Frank Catton
The 11 that Danny Ocean gathers aren’t a crew of enforcers. They don’t deploy brute strength to rob Terry Benedict blind. No, it is strategy and smarts that win the day for the 11. That being said, you need to know when to use physicality in your favor.
Frank Catton, played by the great Bernie Mac (RIP), is a seasoned veteran of the thieving game. A good friend of Danny, he is introduced as a crooked card dealer in Atlantic City. He is an infiltrator, someone who gets his hands dirty by navigating the inside of the operation, and he uses his physicality when the time is right.
Jar Crowder, one of the elder statesmen for the Suns, might not be crooked. But he does carry with him an ability to bend the rules in his favor. He led the Suns with 3-and-1’s last year, seemingly getting the calls at will and in big moments for Phoenix. And he too knows when to use physicality for his benefit.
Linus, identifying himself as a member of the gaming commission, informs Terry Benedict that Frank Catton is a convicted felon. They pull him off of the floor and let him know that there are consequences to his fraudulent behavior. Catton becomes angry and begins intimidating Linus.
Rusty informs Linus before the interaction with Benedict and Catton, “be specific but not memorable, funny but don’t make him laugh, he’s gotta like you then forget you the moment you’ve left his sight”. The performances by both are distracting enough that they achieve this goal.
Crowder is pesky enough to get under the skin of the opposition but not memorable enough to get constant harassment from officials. Well, outside of salsa dancing on the Lakers homecourt.
Cameron Payne as Yen
Every team needs the guy who can surprise, who is unexpectedly athletic, and who is paramount to the execution of the story. Enter the Amazing Yen. And enter backup point guard Cameron Payne.
Both help their respective teams in ways that you don’t really expect. Yen can do backflips and fit into suitcases; Payne can quickly drive left and beat some of the best NBA competition to the cup.
Yen is key to unlocking the vault located 200 feet below Las Vegas Boulevard. His backflip across the room to set the charges allows Danny and Linus to enter the forbidden tomb of cash. Without his athleticism coming off of the bench and into the cash box, you’re not walking out of the Bellagio with the money.
Cam Payne displayed his worth time and again this past season and he too is walking away with some money because of it — 3 years for $19M. He shined in the early stages of the playoffs, averaging 12.5 points against the Lakers and 29 in a Game 2 start in the Western Conference Finals against the Clippers. He was much less effective in the NBA Finals (7.3 points, 46.3 FG%) but he has been a revelation behind Chris Paul.
They might not be the MVP’s, but you can’t do it without them. They are amazing.
Jalen ‘Stix’ Smith as Basher
Basher is the demolition expert. He makes things go ‘BOOM’. It didn’t necessarily work out for him in Las Vegas as he ran into some issues (kind of like Jalen Smith’s playing time last year), but he figured it out. It was his idea to take a quick detour to Pasadena to steal the ‘pinch’; the bomb that isn’t a bomb — it, “creates a similar electromagnetic pulse (to a bomb), but without the headache of mass destruction and death. So instead of Hiroshima, you get the Seventeenth Century.”
No pinch, no robbery.
Although we didn’t see much from him last season, Jalen Smith displayed his ability to do the same thing at the basket in Summer League recently. You know, make things go BOOM? He possesses the physicality that we hope will ultimately translate to the pro-level. And hopefully the same smarts and adaptability that Basher does.
Dario Saric as Livingston
These ensemble movies have to have the nerdy, tech guy. It’s a genre staple. He’s the one who is going to effortlessly hack the security system, mess with the cameras, and wreak havoc on their target’s technological safeguards. These guys make it seem so darn easy, don’t they? A snipped wire here, a bypass there. Meanwhile, I can’t get people on Zoom calls to unmute themselves.
Livingston Dell is that man. He is sweaty. He is unsure of himself. He is smart and technically sound, but he is no Danny Ocean or Rusty Ryan. He can be painful to watch due to his awkwardness and lack of self esteem.
You can’t tell me that isn’t Dario Saric. I mean, you can, but I ain’t buying it, brother.
As much as I love Dario — and as much as the Suns needed him in the Finals — we know what he is and is not. He is technically sound. He is effective beyond the arc. He has a sense of size. He is not athletic. He is not sure of himself, especially when trying to rise above the nickels on the ground to dunk. He is not graceful.
The two are similar in that they are valuable but have you questioning their abilities.
Frank Kaminsky as Saul Bloom
This one is simple. Saul Bloom fakes heart attack, Frank gives me one. Next.
Robert Sarver as Reuben
You have to have a financier, right?
Putting together a team of bandits costs money, as does constructing a replica of Benedict’s vault. It isn’t free, nor is the space to build it. Especially so close to the strip. I’m not privy to Danny and Rusty’s bank account information, but I’m quite sure they don’t have stellar investment portfolios.
Enter Reuben (played by Ross and Monica’s dad). He’s owned casinos. He doesn’t like Terry Benedict. And he has the money to finance such an operation, gaining back his investment and then some. There is your money and there is your revenge.
Enter Robert Sarver. Someone has to pay for the stadium upgrades and the $45M Verizon Performance Center training facility for the Phoenix Suns. And I know what you’re thinking: with as much as Sarver charged for NBA Finals tickets, it might as well have been us paying for those upgrades. That is the difference between rich and wealthy. Rich people buy the tickets to add to the wealthy’s fortune.
And I I think they kinda look the same.
In the original 1960 movie, the team stole from five casinos (Sahara, Riviera, Desert Inn, Sands, and the Flamingo). But they didn't walk away with money because...well...you’ll have to watch that one (or Google the answer) to know why.
Clooney’s 11 ultimately won the day, knocking off three casinos at once and walking away with $160M. That could bankroll the Suns’ payroll for an entire season.
Hopefully Phoenix can do the same this upcoming season. I can imagine the team standing in front of the Bellagio as dawn breaks, smiling at the championship they’ve won. Then they slowly depart. Fade to black. Roll credits.