Pro sports may not be the most important endeavor we engage in, but it has its purpose. Besides giving strangers something to argue about without anyone getting actually angry, it offers some moral lessons. Teamwork, sportmanship, effort, preparation, all the things we value in productive citizens on display in coloring-book clarity by millionaires running around in shorts.
I speak, of course, of my Beloved Suns, who are demonstrating for the world what they are made of this week.
Let me catch you up on what’s been happening with my Beloved Suns over the past 50+ years.
The Phoenix Suns and Milwaukie Bucks both entered the NBA in 1968 as expansion teams. Both have had two finals appearances since then. The Bucks are 1-1, winning it all in 1971 thanks to a dominant center (Kareem Abdul Jabbar) they took with their #1 pick (after winning a coin toss with Phoenix for it) (The league was very different in the 70’s) and trading for a legendary point guard (Oscar Robertson).
Robertson was also head of the NBA Player’s Association at the time.
They returned in 1974 to push the Celtics to 7 games including a double OT. The Celtics prevailed, wearing the Bucks out in game 7. Notable on that Boston team: a young guard named Paul Westphal.
The Bucks have not been to the Finals since – until now.
Phoenix, meanwhile, made an improbable appearance in 1976. The Suns, led by rookie of the year Alvan Adams and a hot-shooting Paul Westphal upset both the Seattle Supersonics and the defending champion Golden state warriors to face the basically same Hondo/Cowens Celtics – who beat them in 6 games including he 3OT Game 5 – which Suns fans forget they actually lost.
I was 9 years old and even I noticed how thew small city of Phoenix had shut down for a week during these finals.
Joe Proski, the Suns’ longtime trainer, told me that the best chance the Suns ever had at a championship was in 1979, when they lost the Western Conference Finals in 7 games to the Sonics. The Suns, who had added Walter Davis, lost the last two games in that series by a total of 5 points. The Sonics went on the beat the injury-riddled Bullets in 5 games.
The Suns would appear in the Western Conference Finals 10 years later with Tom Chambers and KJ and the Cotton Express. They traded half their starters for Charles Barkley, and that team, led by rookie head coach Paul Westphal, made the finals, even winning their 3OT game, but lost to Jordans Bulls in 6 games.
Phoenix felt like Metropolis after Superman died.
The Nash-era, 7 seconds-or-less Suns made three appearances in the Western Conference Finals, but never won out. They had the best offense in the league, but never had the defense or the rebounding to beat the best teams 4 out of 7.
Eleven years after that, here we are: the Suns are back in the finals with a veteran and legendary point guard (who is also head of the NBA Player’s Association) and a #1 draft pick center who is not as dominating as Jabbar was but is getting it done over and around league MVP’s.
And My Beloved Suns are one more Milwaukie defensive collapse from overtaking the Warrior’s record for most productive back-court in the Finals.
We’ll see. I don’t think Milwaukie can be swept. But I thought Game 2 would be much closer than it was.
While we wait for game 3 some more thoughts about what we are made of:
At Fantastical History we explore weight ratios of golems.
And more solemly, at Are We Lost Yet we remember the Granite Mountain Hotshots as we visit that memorial.