Phoenix Suns celebrate 50th season in the valley

Photo by Michael Tipton

Photo by Michael Tipton

Austin Bell, Staff Writer

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Few things can bring a country, state or city together than sports. The very state of playing or watching sports brings different people across cultures together to share something we can all enjoy.

2018 marks the Phoenix Suns 50th season and year in Phoenix. At the start of the season, the Phoenix Suns held a special commemoration event at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport aptly named Slam Dunk at 50, which kicked off a season-long celebration of the Phoenix Suns

50 years in the Valley. Not only did the event feature the past and present, but a new jersey redesign from Nike blended the old uniforms with the new.

The 2017-2018 season has been underway for a few months; we’re not even a quarter into it, but the present Phoenix Suns team is already showing promise. Before the present or the future can be discussed, it’s helpful to see how the Phoenix Suns got here.

The Beginning of the Sun Burst

The Suns were one of two franchises to join the NBA at the start of the 1968–69 season, alongside the Milwaukee Bucks. This made the Phoenix Suns an expansion team, the first pro team to appear in the Valley. It wouldn’t be until 1976 when the Suns would reach the NBA finals. After that final appearance, the Phoenix Suns enjoyed several successful seasons, but never quite reached the heights of the finals during their 1976 season.

Around the late to mid-nineties, there was a resurgence in talent, with Kevin Johnson and future Hall of Famer Charles Barkley joining the team. Again during the 90s,  the team achieved many levels of success. This success culminated in a return trip to the NBA finals in 1993. In the finals games, the Charles Barkley-led Suns faced off against the Chicago Bulls where they eventually lost, four games to two.  After this, the Phoenix Suns had average seasons.

AP Photo/Fred Jewell

Phoenix Suns' Paul Westphal (44) drives toward the basket as Chicago Bulls' Tom Kropp (44) makes an effort to block his advance duirng NBA action in Chicago, Jan. 12, 1976.

Steve Nash Era    

However, the 2004–05 season marked the Sun’s return to the NBA’s elite, finishing with the best record at 62–20, and tying a franchise record set by the 1992–93 team. This was a major improvement from its 29-53 record just the season before. They ended up setting a team record for greatest season improvement with 33 games. This feat was made possible by the off-season signing of All-Star point guard Steve Nash from Dallas, who had formerly played for the Suns at the beginning of his career. During this season Nash won the Most Valuable Player award joining Barkley as the only Phoenix Suns player to win MVP. The following year would be another stellar year in which Nash would win another MVP. The Phoenix Suns would make it all the way to Western Conference Finals, albeit with a string of high-profile injuries before losing to the Dallas Mavericks.

Under coach  Mike D’Antoni, the Phoenix Suns implemented the “seven seconds or less” rule. This offensive philosophy was highlighted by fast offensive breaks that left opposing defenses.  At the time, the Phoenix Suns were considered one of the most exciting teams to watch.  

Phoenix native, Berto Gonzalez recalled, in an e-mail interview, his favorite moments of this era since the Phoenix Suns inception.

“I would like to think I’ve always been a fan, but the moment that really resonated with me is back during a bout with the Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals when Goran Dragic came off the bench and dropped 26 in the 4th quarter alone to give us a crucial game 3; that was when I really felt the passion come out as a Suns fan.”

Present and Future

Following a string of up and down seasons from 2007 to 2012, the Suns traded Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers. During that five years, other key players were traded as well such as Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion. Also, after an assortment of rotating coaches being hired in brief stints then let go, including, Alvin Gentry and Jeff Hornacek, lead the Phoenix Suns to where they are today. The current Suns team and management is embracing what fans call the “The Timeline,”  a catchphrase that reflects the current philosophy of slow growth through drafting and developing young players. This started with the 2015 draft acquiring Devin Booker. He has become the defacto leader of the current Suns team along with younger players Marquese Chriss and Josh Jackson.

 Even with the young talent, it will be a long uphill battle to return to relevance. During the prior offseason, many western conference teams made blockbuster trades that have made it more competitive than ever.

The beginning of the season got off to a wrong start; the Suns head coach Earl Watson was fired and Eric Bledsoe, a key player in the Sun’s rotation, demanded a trade from the team.

Gonzalez stated,  “It’s, unfortunately, going to be a long and arduous journey, but overall one for the better because Booker is without a doubt the next superstar in line, in another year or two. It all depends on this coming offseason with a new coaching hire to solidify the young core we have and also, cashing in the assets we have like draft picks for some good and usable veterans to increase the quality of play and for the guidance of putting the raw young talent together.”

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Phoenix Suns celebrate 50th season in the valley