Everyone has their favorite thing in basketball. Some love vicious, high flying dunks, some the long range threes, some the ferocious blocks that send an opponent’s shot attempt flying deep into the surrounding crowd.
Personally, I love a good steal.
At the right moment, a steal can change a game’s momentum. One second you’re playing defense and then suddenly you’re racing downcourt on an impromptu fast break that could take some of the wind out of the opponent’s sails and bring the home crowd to it’s feet cheering wildly... or create a deafening silence to your opponent’s fans on their home court. I also love that the NBA has instituted rule changes to discourage “take fouls” that made those type of fast break plays not happen that often but that’s another story...
The following is a tribute to the All-Time Suns leaders in thievery. Unfortunately, steals were not recorded by the NBA until the 1973-74 season so the record books don’t include the thefts in the Suns’ first five years. That’s why I’m giving a bit of an honorable mention to the Original Sun, Dick Van Arsdale, who played for the Suns over 9 full seasons but whose steals were only recorded during his last four.
Van Arsdale officially ranks only 37th in All-Time total steals (264) for the Suns but, as I said, that only covers his final 4 years in the league when his minutes gradually began to decline. I feel safe to say that for his career with the Suns, the steals he accumulated in his first 5 years with the team would have easily doubled his total (to 528... at least, perhaps many more than that) which would have placed him 9th on the All-Time list. He wasn’t known as a great ball thief in his time but he could (and did) pick more than a few pockets in his day.
And now, on to the official regular season record holders.
Suns All-Time Steals Leader: Career Total in the Regular Season
Alvan Adams - 1,289 steals in 13 seasons and 988 games.
Alvan - aka “The Oklahoma Kid” - was drafted by the Suns with the 4th pick in the 1975 NBA Draft, won the Rookie of the Year award, was selected as an All-Star and the All-Rookie 1st team in his first season with the Suns as well as playing a huge part in getting the “Sunderella Suns” to their first NBA finals back in 1976. He played all 13 of his NBA seasons with the Suns.
Steals probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind when you think of Alvan but that’s just because he was pretty damned good at everything. In the Suns’ record books he is also the franchise leader in games played, minutes played, and rebounds; second in field goals made and attempted; third in assists; and fourth in blocks. He’s also 4th in All-Time playoff steals with 88.
He is of course in the Suns’ Ring of Honor and his number 33 is retired. He is still involved with the Suns as the Suns Vice President for Facility Management for the Footprint Center.
Career Per Game Average in the Regular Season
Ron Lee - 2.17 steals per game (450 total) over 3 seasons and 207 games.
Single Regular Season Total
Ron Lee - 225 steals, 82 games (1978)
Single Regular Season Per Game Average
Ron Lee - 2.74 steals per game (225 total) in 82 games in 1978.
Ron Lee was drafted by the Suns with the 10th pick in 1976 and only played for the Suns for two and a half seasons before being traded to the New Orleans Jazz for Truck Robinson in 1979 but during his relatively short time in Phoenix he quickly became a fan favorite for his effort on the court... especially on defense. His 225 steals and 2.15 SPG in 77-78 led the NBA as he played in all 82 regular season games. His Suns record is also the 23rd highest All-Time total number of steals in a single season in NBA history, squeezed into the NBA record books between Michael Jordan at 22 (1989-90) and Allen Iverson at 24 (2003-04).
On to the playoff records!
Career Total in the Playoffs
Kevin Johnson - 132 steals, 11 playoffs, 105 games.
KJ was a hell of a player who helped turn the franchise around after the Suns traded Larry Nance and Mike Sanders to Cleveland for him, Tyrone Corbin and Mark West back in 1988. In his 12 years with the Suns they made it to the playoffs 11 times and he played in a team record 105 playoff games and leads the Suns in many playoff records including total points (2,026) and total assists (935) as well as total steals. Johnson also holds the record for most steals in a single regular season game with 10 in a win against the Washington Bullets on December 9, 1993.
Single Playoffs Total
Charles Barkley - 39 steals in 24 games in 1993, Gar Heard - 39 steals in 19 games in 1976 (tie).
This one might surprise a few of you. Barkley was a great player but steals aren’t normally what you first think of when his name is brought up... but he was a pretty damn good thief and ranks 5th in all-time total playoff steals (81) although only playing for the Suns for 5 seasons. Barkley also holds the record for most steals in a single playoff game with 7 in a win against the Spurs in Game 2 of the 1993 Western Conference Semifinals on May 13, 1993
Gar Heard held the team record alone for 17 years until Barkley came along. I’m a little more impressed by his doing it 5 fewer games than Chuck though. Although he’s most remembered for “The shot Heard round the world” in the epic Game 5 of the 1976 Finals against the Celtics that sent the game into a 3rd OT, his thievery also made a difference in those playoff games.
Career Per Game Average in the Playoffs
Jason Kidd - 2.32 steals per game (51 total) over 5 playoffs and 22 games.
Single Playoffs Per Game Average
Jason Kidd - 4.00 steals per game (16 total) in 1998 over 4 games.
Jason Kidd being among the Suns’ greatest thieves should surprise no one. Over his 19 years in the NBA he was in the top 20 in steals for 17 seasons, in the top 10 for 12 of those and is still 2nd overall in the NBA in career steals. Only the fact that he played just 5 seasons for the Suns kept him from holding more Suns all-time records for steals. His 4.00 SPG single playoffs average in 1998 is 1.4 steals per game higher than #2 on the list (KJ’s 2.6 SPG average in 1997).
Will someone on this year’s squad step up and become known for his thievery? Your guess is as good as mine but I’ll be watching hopefully for that presently unknown master thief to make his presence felt on the defensive end in 2023-24.