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Phoenix Suns Flashback Friday: The Legend of Curtis Perry

He’s one the greatest Suns rebounders that no one talks about.

Phoenix Suns v Washington Bullets Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Like Greg Louganis in the 1984 and 1988 Summer Olympics, I’ve been doing plenty of deep diving this summer into rebounding statistics throughout the history of the Phoenix Suns and the NBA. I’ve found some interesting numbers along the way as I come up for air, from where the Suns’ leader in single season rebounds per game (Paul Silas) and his 12.5 rebounds ranks when compared to the leaders from every other franchise (25th) to the Suns’ top 10 in rebounds per minute in a single season.

Thrilling stuff, right?

When you break down the second list, you see plenty of quality seasons by household names across the Suns’ timeline. The aforementioned Silas. Charles Barkley. Neal Walk. Curtis Perry.

Suns All-Time Rebounds Per Minute

Curtis Perry 1975 34.0 0.350
Paul Silas 1971 36.3 0.345
Deandre Ayton 2021 30.7 0.344
Deandre Ayton 2019 30.7 0.334
Neal Walk 1974 31.1 0.328
Deandre Ayton 2023 30.4 0.328
Charles Barkley 1993 37.6 0.325
Neal Walk 1973 38.4 0.323
Charles Barkley 1995 35.0 0.317
Charles Barkley 1994 35.4 0.316

As Nate Dogg would say 2:14 into the 11th track on Dr. Dre’s 2001 album The Next Episode, “Hold up.” Curtis Perry? How much do you really know about Curtis Perry? You really be thinkin’ he soft?

That’s what Phoenix Suns Flashback Friday is here for. To drop some knowledge and to educate the fans on who the all-time leader in rebounds per minute in a season is. The tell you a story about a guy who most have never seen play for Phoenix, myself included.

If you visit his Basketball-Reference page, you’ll see that his listed position is power forward and center. The dude was 6’7”. He played from 1970 to 1978, spending 4 seasons in Phoenix from 1974 to the end of his career, and was a 13.3 point contributor to the 1976 Suns team that made the NBA Finals.

Perry was initially drafted by the San Diego Rockets with the 35th overall pick in the 1970 NBA Draft, coming out of Missouri State University. He was part of a very successful program that lost in the NCAA Division II National Championship in 1969 and made two Elite Eight appearances with him on the roster. He is one of four players to have his jersey number retired by the Bears.

“I had a niche with rebounding and the great teams I played on that made me stand out,” Perry said in 2022 of his time with MSU. “As much as is attributed to me is attributed to my teammates. We were the greatest.”

He spent 18 games with San Diego prior to being sent to the Milwaukee Bucks during his rookie season.

“The thing I like most about him is that he gets rebounds in traffic,” Bucks coach Larry Costello said of him in 1972. “He gets them with two or three guys around. Anybody can get a rebound when he’s the only guy there. Not only that, but he has made some great passes and has shown himself to be an unselfish player. He isn’t just thinking about scoring points.”

Neal Walk, who the Suns famously drafted as the second place prize after losing the coin flip that netted the Bucks Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, was the centerpiece of a 1974 traded in which the Suns acquired Perry.

In his first season with Phoenix, he averaged 13.4 points and 11.9 rebounds in 79 games played.

The following season, which saw the Suns make their first-ever NBA Finals appearance, brought us one of the more unique moments in Suns history. On January 4, 1976, Perry missed nine games due to a facial fracture. He return, but seeing as it was 1976, he did not have the luxury of modern plastics to protect his face like Josh Okogie did. Instead he got all Jason Vorhees on us, opting to wear a hockey mask to play in.

The 1976 season for the Suns was special. Perry once again played well above his weight class, scoring 13.3 points and grabbing 9.6 rebounds for a team that went 42-40. Despite their average record, the Suns made a splash in the postseason, where Perry averaged 12.7 points and 7.7 en route to the NBA Finals.

One of the most epic games, not only in Suns history but in NBA Finals history, had Curtis Perry right in the thick of things. The series was tied 2-2 with a critical Game 5 occuring in the Boston Garden. Phoenix, who opened the game by going down 36-18 after the first quarter battled back to force overtime. Then second overtime.

In that second overtime, being down 109-108, Perry sunk a 15-foot jumper to put the team up by one point with 5 seconds left. It appears as if the Suns were going to take a vital win home with them to Phoenix for Game 6. But after John Havlicek hit a leaning one handed jumper in traffic, banking it in, it appeared that the game was over. Pandemonium broke out on the court, an official was socked in the kisser by a drunken Boston fan, and all hell broke loose.

But there were still two seconds on the clock.

After Paul Westphal deliberately called a timeout that Phoenix had (doing so allowed the Suns to advance to ball to half court following a made free throw by Boston), it was Curtis Perry who inbounded the ball to Gar Heard for the famous “Shot Heard Round the World”.

The shot sent the game to it’s third overtime. Phoenix was outscored 16-14 in that OT, lost the game, then lost the series at home in Game 6. Perry went for 23 points and 15 rebounds in that Game 5, and was a part of two of the biggest moments in Suns history.

Perry would return the following season, but injuries began to derail his career. That team had only six game sin which the starting five all played together, and in 44 games, Perry averaged 10.7 points and 9.0 rebounds. He would play in 41 games the following season as a 29 year-old, but after averaging 6.0 points and 5.6 rebounds, his playing days were over.

Perry made an impact in Phoenix that is still felt to this day. When you look at his hustle and grit, he was someone who players aspire to be. His name is still embedded in the Suns’ history books:

  • Most offensive rebounds in a season (347)
  • Highest offensive rebound percentage in a season (13.1%)
  • Eighth most defensive rebounds in a season (593)
  • Fifth most total rebounds in a season (940)
  • Eight and ninth best defensive rating in a season (95.0 and 95.9)
  • Ninth most offensive rebound sin Suns history (780)
  • Sixth most rebounds per game in a career (9.5)
  • Third best defensive rating in a career (95.6)

It might not be a name that you know or think of, but Curtis Perry definitely had an impact in his four seasons with the Phoenix Suns. Every team needs a guy like Perry; someone who can get in the trenches and play outside of their size. I like to call these guys “eff s*** up” guys, and that’s what Perry was to that 1976 Sunderella Suns team. We’ve seen shades of players like him in the years since, from Shawn Marion to Josh Okogie. But there’s only one Curtis Perry.

And now you know who he is.

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