Throughout the Phoenix Suns’ history, the number 62 has been a sacred number. It is a number that generations of Suns fans associate with their favorite iterations of Suns’ teams as it represents the pinnacle of basketball in the Valley of the Sun. It is the highest number of wins that any Suns’ team has ever achieved in the regular season.
It is a number that, prior to last Wednesday night, had only been achieved twice in the 53-year history of the organization. The Barkley Era Suns of 1992-93. Seven Seconds or Less Suns of 2004-05. Both had teams that finished 62-20 during the regular season.
That changed in season number 54 as the 2021-22 version of the Suns downed the Golden State Warriors to put their name amongst the great Phoenix teams with their 62nd win. While both previous teams to do so did so in game 81, this team did it in game 76.
With their win against the Lakers — which was extra-satisfying as they eliminated them from playoff contention — the Suns now have done something no other team in Phoenix has done: win 63 games.
The Phoenix Suns became an organization in 1968 and, despite making an appearance in the 1976 NBA Finals, were not a team that regularly achieved regular-season success. It took 11 seasons for the Suns to put forth their first 50-win season, going 50-32 in 1978-79. It was the beginning of a successful run of teams under head coach John MacLeod – who began coaching in Phoenix in 1973 – that would top 50 games three more times (1980, 1981, 1983). MacLeod would never surpass 60 wins in his 14 season with the organization.
From 1989 to 1992, the Suns had four consecutive 50+ win seasons, highlighted by the efforts of Tom Chambers, Kevin Johnson, Jeff Hornacek, and Dan Majerle. They could not get over the 60-win hump, however, and reinforcements were needed.
Enter Charles Barkley
When Sir Charles joined an already potent Phoenix Suns team in the summer of 1992, things changed in Phoenix. You could fill it in the city and you could see it on the floor. Change was everywhere. The Suns found themselves playing at a new arena, – America West Arena – and sporting a new uniform set for the first time since their inaugural season. Sure, there were some changes to the font in 1973. The Phoenix Suns went from a sans serif font to a western font, but for the most part the uniforms remained the same.
Everything changed when Barkley arrived in town. During his MVP season, Charles Barkley led the Phoenix Suns to not only their first 60-win season, but to a 62 wins with only 20 losses. The team had a shot at 63 wins but fell to the Denver Nuggets in game 82.
Through the 1991-92 season, a total of 33 teams had achieved 60 or more wins. 17 of them had won the NBA title. Two teams won 60+ in 1993 – the Suns and the New York Knicks. Unfortunately for Phoenix, the regular season success didn’t translate to an NBA Championship in 1993. Michael Jordan and the 57-win Chicago Bulls negated that.
There were great expectations for another 60+ win season, as well as another chance to deliver a championship to Phoenix. The team won 56 games and 59 the following seasons, but would not win 60 games — or a championship – during the 1990’s. The Suns would not reach 60 victories until twelve seasons later.
The Barkley Era evaporated into the mist when he was traded to the Houston Rockets.
The team won only 40 games without Barkley in the first season, but behind Jason Kidd, the team had a pair of 50+ win seasons over the next few years. However, mediocrity was rampant, and when the team hit rock bottom with 29 wins in 2003, it was time to make a splash and change the franchise’s direction once more.
Re-enter Steve Nash
The Seven Seconds or Less Era invaded the NBA with their fast-paced attack, precision passing, and high-scoring offense. A new generation of Phoenix fans were captivated by their winning ways, and they too reached the elusive total of 60 wins.
They too had a shot at win number 63, but lost their last game of the season as well. 62-20 for the second time in franchise history would have to be good enough.
Unlike Barkley, Nash could not propel the Phoenix Suns into the NBA Finals. In the Western Conference Finals, they were defeated by the San Antonio Spurs in heartbreaking fashion, losing in five games. It was a letdown at the end of a promising run.
The Phoenix Suns were entering their prime rather than exiting it, however, unlike the Suns of a decade before. The expectation was great that this club would repeat their regular season success, which had eluded the organization up to that moment.
The Seven Seconds or Less Suns did win over 60 games one more time, winning 61 games in the 2006-07 season. It was the third time in franchise history in which a Suns’ team did so. The team won 50+ games five times during the 7SOL Era, and 60+ twice. It was one of the most successful runs in the history of the franchise.
As Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, and Amare Stoudemire faded into the sunset, so too did any hope that this team would be potent enough to achieve such regular season success again. The assets garnered in their exits would not be enough, and the foundation had been cracked and shattered as the front office was not as potent of successful as prior eras.
2007 was the last time a Phoenix team would top that 60 win mark. Until this year.
The best regular season in Suns history
The 2021-22 Phoenix Suns started the season 1-3 after reaching the NBA Finals in 2021. The dread of a Finals hangover lingered. The backcourt of Devin Booker and Chris Paul turned those fears into triumph, responding with an 18-game winning streak, the longest in franchise history.
The Suns’ soul-sucking fourth-quarter performances have become a trademark of this incarnation of the team. They are lethal in the fourth quarter, locking down defensively while executing with a precision only seen in NBA2K Rookie mode. They shredded the NBA throughout the regular season, putting themselves in a class all their own relative to dominant regular season performances.
The 2021-22 Suns will gone down in history as the greatest regular season team we have seen in Phoenix, and I don’t think that is much of a debate. They have set the mark for regular season excellence for the franchise. Period.
There’s beauty in the struggle. No one knows this better than Devin Booker. Drafted by the Phoenix Suns in the summer of 2015 with the 13th overall pick, he joined a struggling Suns franchise who could just not get over the hump. Game to game, season to season, the Suns found themselves mired in mediocrity, unable to close out games and put wins on the board.
Devin Booker just took his jersey off, signed it, and gave it to Al McCoy. pic.twitter.com/qM0nN7GTfw— Nick King (@NickKingSports) April 6, 2022
What does history say?
The regular season is it’s own entity and the glory is all for naught if you cannot execute in the playoffs. History will remember this as the best regular season Suns team of all-time. If they want to earn the undisputed title of “Best Suns team of All-Time”, they’ll have to win it all.
Here is how history has treated 63+ win teams:
It is the 33rd time in NBA history that a team has reached the 63-win mark, last being achieved by the 2018-19 Houston Rockets (who won 65 games). 16 of the previous 32 have won a championship. So the team has a coin-flip shot at winning it all.
If you drill down on the numbers, knowing that history has nothing to with the present and every season has a story, here is what you find:
- 63 wins = 12.5%: 8 teams have ended their regular season at 63 wins. Only one of those teams have won a championship: the 1988-89 Detroit Pistons. The 1984-85 Boston Celtics were the only other 63-win team to make Finals appearance.
- 64 wins = 0%: Of the four teams to ended their season with 64 wins, none of them won a title. Shocked emoji! Two of the four didn’t make the NBA Finals.
- 65 wins = 75%: Four teams have landed on this mark. Three of them won titles.
- 66 wins = 75%: Four teams landed here as well. And three of them won a ring too.
- 67 wins = 71%: Seven times a team have finished with 67, and 5 teams won a ‘chip.
- 68 wins = 50%: Two teams ended at 68. The 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers won a ring, the 1972-73 Celtics did not.
- 69 wins = 100%: Two teams, two rings.
- 70+ wins = 50%: The 1995-96 Bulls ended with 72 wins and a championship. Twenty years later, the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors leapt them for the greatest regular season in NBA history. They lost in seven games to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Sure, the only thing that truly matters is a championship. But it’s not always about the destination, it’s about the journey. You have to celebrate the little victories along the way. This is something that is worth celebrating. It is a first in the history of the franchise. Celebrate, damn it!
Congratulations to the Phoenix Suns for achieving the best regular season record in franchise history.