Now the story can be told . . . (kinda long)

Larry Schweikart

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Enough time has now passed, with all of the principals either dead or long retired, that I can tell this.

I am a professional historian, now retired. For many years while I lived in Phoenix, I was a devout Suns fan, often with season tickets right in the middle of the Madhouse on McDowell. I began to watch in person in the early 1970s when Connie Hawkins was here.

Despite moving away, I still followed the Suns closely always going to games when here. In the early 1990s, I struck up a conversation with Tom Ambrose, then the PR Director for the Suns. I suggested that the team needed a good, accurate history of the team---"The Franchise" about the Detroit Pistons had just come out and I thought that was a great book and even though the Suns had not yet won a title, they deserved the same quality book. Abrose agreed.

The Suns hired me, gave me a 50% advance, opened up their archives, and set up interviews. I brought in another history professor friend of mine who knew basketball and who was also a Suns fan. (FYI, I know little technically about basketball: somehow, I ended up as an assistant NCAA coach for one semester from a small Wisconsin school that was desperate.) Anyway, over the next several months we went through all the archives, and I interviewed (among those I can remember), Jerry Colangelo (several times) Neal Walk, Lamar Green, Kevin Johnson, Tom Chambers, James Edwards, as well as opposing players such as Rick Barry. Had sent sample draft chapters to Ambrose. He approved them, but I also assumed he had shown them to Colangelo, who had also approved.

Was I wrong.

He didn't show Colangelo the first half of the book until, of all times, on a plane trip back from Portland after a humiliating playoff loss. I had just gotten to the point in Suns history where Walter Davis was having drug issues. Colangelo blew up, said that wasn't the book he wanted (you can look at the memorandum of agreement, which stated it was exactly the kind of "warts and all" book I planned to write and which he approved). Anyway, the Suns paid off my contract, buried the book, and put out a "coffee table" book that was all unicorns & puppies and lots of pictures.

Among the things I found---the story lines---were that the Suns as an organization were deeply wounded by the coin flip that gave Lew Alcindor to the Bucks. The Suns took Neal Walk---a good college player, a sturdy guy, but a shadow of Abdul-Jabbar (as almost all centers were). At the time I interviewed Neal, he was in great spirits but in a wheelchair suffering from MS---back then, a near death sentence for a male.

When the Walk era ended, the Suns made a shocking selection in the draft by taking Alvan Adams, a 6'9" U of Oklahoma center who played from the high post. He could shoot well from there, was excellent at pick and rolls & dunks, ran the court really well, but had no chance against traditional post centers that dominated the league at the time, like Jabbar, Artis Gilmore, Willis Reed, and Wes Unseld. To make up for the rebounding deficiencies, the Suns took on a character that stayed with them for decades. They brought in two superb power forwards, Curtis Perry and Garfield Heard, who provided the rebounding. With Paul Westphal, Ricky Sobers, Dick Van Arsdale (nearing the end of his career) and an unsung hero, Keith Erickson obtained from the Lakers, the Suns reached the NBA Finals vs the Celtics. Everyone remembers the classic 3-overtime game in which the Suns could have won if Ritchie Powers, who was looking right at John Havlicek when he called an illegal time out (which would have given the Suns the winning FT) ignored Halicek. Old timers still maintain we were jobbed. But few recall that Keith Erickson, who had been key in beating a high-powered Golden State Warrior team with Rick Barry, Phil Smith, Keith Wilkes, Gus Williams and others. Erickson had been on fire in the playoffs but sprained his ankle early in the Celtics series and was more or less out or hobbling.

Still, the Suns were known for being a weak defensive team. They brought in Don Buse, who was a good defender and led the ABA in steals, but the team defense never jelled. They added Ronnie Lee of Oregon---a true flash in the pan but fun---but Perry hurt his back and the formula was dead. A new power, the Trail Blazers with Bill Walton and Maurice Lucas, had risen in the West. The Suns continually got bounced, needing toughness. They added the great Walter Davis who was offensively unbeatable at small forward, but was bullied, esp. by Lonnie Shelton and Jack Sickma when eliminated by Seattle.

Again, desperate for rebounding and still lacking a powerful center, they brought in Len "Truck" Robinson who in NO had been a rebounding machine. But in Phoenix, he continually played outside and certainly was no shot blocker. The Suns put up points, but could never shut down an opponent.

This search for defense led them to acquire Dennis Johnson from their archrival the Sonics, and to get Maurice Lucas from the Blazers, moving Davis to guard where he was good, but never had the same offensive dominance as he did over slower forwards. Lucas and Johnson brought defense, but not enough to win the title, especially against the new Magic-led Lakers.

By the late 1980s, Lucas, Truck, and Johnson were gone and new Johnsons were in---KJ and Eddie. With Jeff Hornacek and Tom Chambers the Suns were again excellent offensively but still weak in the middle. They revisited the formula with the X-Man, Chambers' 20--ppg teammate at Seattle, but the chemistry wasn't there. And EJ had been traded to get McDaniel. A very unpopular draft pick---Dan Majerle, whose selection was booed---later became a great defender and integral part of the Suns. But they could never fill the hole in the middle, especially now that centers such as David Robinson, Moses Malone, Jabbar (still), Robert Parrish, and Olajuwon were on the other teams. Briefly from 1992-1996 with Charles Barkely it appeared the Suns might finally overcome the lack of a defensive center, only to be beaten by one of the best teams ever. I still believe that if Tom Chambers had been in his form from just 2 years earlier, the Suns would have won that series.

This character of the Suns as a guard/forward offensive team stuck through the time long after I turned in my manuscript. It was supercharged under Mike D'Antoni, who shocked the league for a couple of years with Nash, Stoudamire, and the "6 seconds or less" mentality. Ultimately, every year, the Suns were slowed down as they got deeper into the playoffs and once again great defense prevailed.

This current Suns team is interesting. While Ayton is not a modern-day Shaq or Malone, he plays solid defense, is as mobile as Adams was, and can provide reliable rebounding. (Against Jokic he had 15 rebounds and I think played good defense. Jokic got his points, but could not make anyone else a star and Ayton provided enough of a threat to stop may drives.) The key is that all the other players on this team, unlike the 6-second-to-shoot squad or most of the KJ/Chambers teams, are good defenders. Some of them are really good. Thus as long as Ayton can play even, the Suns are defensively excellent.

Probably the only thing missing from the current squad is a Dennis Rodman/Happy Hairston/Curtis Perry/Kurt Rambis low-post offensive rebounder. Course, those do not grow on trees.
 

Mainstreet

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It's not hard to see why the Suns have always been infatuated with big men after missing out on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and David Robinson even to the extent of trading Dennis Johnson for Rick Robey.

They had a stroke of good luck in drafting Amare Stoudemire only to see his career shortened by injury.

Hopefully the Suns struck gold when they drafted Deandre Ayton.
 

Mainstreet

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Also I failed to mention the tragic death of center Nick Vanos in a plane accident.
 

Larry Schweikart

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Amazing post. Curious why you're calling it "6 seconds or less" though?
First, they owned the rights and could do with it what they wanted. So I could never publish it.

Second, I did not call it "six seconds or less," that was the catch phrase used to describe Mike D'Antoni's style of play.

There was a little history called "The Little Team that Could" done right after the 76 playoffs. Pretty fluffy, but some good stuff.
I'm still troubled because I really was a fan and was really putting the best spin on everything, but you HAD to deal with Davis's drug stuff. It was
in all the papers.
 

Larry Schweikart

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Also, for those of you who remember 33 1/3 LP records, there was one done of the Suns for that 76 playoff season that was
the playoff games called by Al McCoy from the first opponent (can't remember who---I think it was pre-Shelton Seattle), then the Golden
State series, then the Celtics. It was really fun to listen to.
 

Hoop Head

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First, they owned the rights and could do with it what they wanted. So I could never publish it.

Second, I did not call it "six seconds or less," that was the catch phrase used to describe Mike D'Antoni's style of play.

There was a little history called "The Little Team that Could" done right after the 76 playoffs. Pretty fluffy, but some good stuff.
I'm still troubled because I really was a fan and was really putting the best spin on everything, but you HAD to deal with Davis's drug stuff. It was
in all the papers.

I believe you were asked about this because it was commonly referred to as the "Seven Seconds of Less" Suns. Just a small discrepancy. I'm sure D'Antoni tried making them finish in six seconds before he settled on seven.

Loved hearing everything else you said. Hope you're enjoying this run as much as the rest of us fans are. Its good to be good again.
 

AzStevenCal

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Also, for those of you who remember 33 1/3 LP records, there was one done of the Suns for that 76 playoff season that was
the playoff games called by Al McCoy from the first opponent (can't remember who---I think it was pre-Shelton Seattle), then the Golden
State series, then the Celtics. It was really fun to listen to.

I still have the album although I haven't listened to it in probably 40 years. It was fun listening to it once I could finally look back on those playoffs and actually enjoy the memories.
 
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