We didn’t know what to expect when the Phoenix Suns drafted Shawn Marion with the 9th overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft. He was an extremely athletic small forward from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. “Scottie Pippen with a poorer jump shot,” said one scout.
After playing two seasons at Vincennes University in Indiana, Marion made the jump to Las Vegas. He was on the NBA radar before making the move, but a year at a D-I college increased his opportunity to elevate his draft stock. “The NBA people told me I’d be better off waiting a year,” Marion said at the time. “I think I can make a lot more money if I wait.”
In one year at UNLV, Marion wowed scouts with his athleticism. In typical Marion fashion, it wasn’t about stuffing the stat sheet — he averaged 18.7 points on 52.9/29.9/70 splits and 9.3 — but about intangibles.
What the Suns received was one of the most underrated players in the NBA, someone whose hustle, quickness, and motor were the engine of the Seven Seconds or Less Era. Marion played with instinct, as he excelled in transition and cutting on the baseline. He consistently found himself at the top of the rebounding and blocked shot leaders, and he was only 6’7”.
Shawn Marion, who earned the nickname “The Matrix” from Kenny Smith during the preseason of his rookie season, was exciting to watch. With his high-flying dunks, his elite second jump to grab a rebound, and even his unorthodox jumper that ultimately went in, he was special.
Marion played in an era filled with stellar forward play. He only earned two All-NBA nods, both third-team selections for his efforts in 2004-05 and 2005-06, because he played in an era with names like Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, and teammate Amar’e Stoudemire. It feels as if he never received his due praise.
Eventually, he would leave Phoenix in the deal that brought 15-time All-Star Shaquille O’Neal to the Valley, and he would win a championship with the 2011 Dallas Mavericks. But for 9 glorious seasons, Marion was ours. He was a Sun.
Tonight, as the Phoenix Suns welcome the New York Knicks to the Footprint Center, Shawn Marion’s name will finally live where it should: in the rafters in downtown Phoenix amongst the Suns’ greats.
Be sure to tune in to watch, and try to fight the tears. The memories of how he impacted this franchise will reignite emotions inside of us that we have not navigated in some time. The highs, the lows, the Spurs.
Welcome home, Shawn. This is where you belong. And thank you Mat Ishbia for making this day happen. #31 is home, where he should be.