The Suns have not won a championship in their 50 years in the NBA. They’ve been close, reaching the NBA Finals twice (1975-76, 1992-93) and the conference finals a whopping nine times.
Phoenix also, historically, has been one of the most successful NBA franchises. Despite not making the playoffs for the past eight seasons, the Suns still own the seventh-best all-time winning percentage (.535).
It’s not as easy as you might think, then, to pick the five best Suns teams of all time. But here goes nothing:
The obvious pick, right? Yes, the 1975-76 team was inarguably the most surprising team in franchise history – it somehow reached the NBA Finals after going 42-40 in the regular season – but that 1992-93 squad was an all-timer.
The 62 wins set a franchise record (later tied by the 2004-05 Suns). Charles Barkley was the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. Jerry Colangelo was voted the NBA’s Executive of the Year.
And to this day, 25 years later, the memories of the NBA Finals clash with Chicago are still fresh and painful. Just mention the name John Paxson and longtime Suns fans will shake their head in dismay.
(What were you thinking, Danny Ainge?)
The Suns also might have been the most popular professional sports team in Arizona history. Yes, the 2001 Diamondbacks won the World Series, but the 1992-93 Suns and their iconic figures – Barkley, Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle, Ainge – drove the Valley crazy, in a good way.
“That whole year was magical,” Majerle said. “It’s always been a Phoenix Suns city. That year we captured it.”
“I think everybody would probably agree that’s the best team the Suns ever had,” added Al McCoy, longtime voice of the Suns. “You talk to those guys and they still think they should have defeated Chicago and won the NBA Finals.”
On Jan. 29, 1976, the Suns lost to the Milwaukee Bucks 105-96 to fall to 18-27 on the season. Three days later, they acquired Gar Heard from Buffalo and, just like that, one of the most remarkable, unlikely seasons in pro sports history began.
Phoenix went 24-13 the rest of the regular season, beat the Seattle SuperSonics in the first round of the playoffs and shocked the NBA by dispatching the defending champion Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.
But that was just the appetizer. The NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics produced arguably the best playoff game in NBA history, the 128-126 triple-overtime loss in Game 5 in Boston Garden that was defined, forever, by “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” – Heard’s buzzer-beating jumper that sent the game into the third overtime.
Longtime Valley columnist Joe Gilmartin dubbed Phoenix the “Little Team That Could And Almost Did.” The season was, in retrospect, the blossoming of a love affair between the Suns and the Valley.
“I think that’s when the city really came together and got behind its team,” Heard said.
The beginning of the “Seven Seconds or Less” era.
The 2004-05 team did so much more than win 62 games and advance to the Western Conference finals. Mike D’Antoni, Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion revolutionized the NBA, setting in motion – literally – the pace-and-space game you see today.
Nash was the conductor, winning the first of his back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards. Stoudemire was a lightning bolt at center, averaging 26 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. Marion was the jack-of-all-trades, with 19.4 points, 11.3 rebounds and two steals per contest.
To watch the Suns that season was to be amazed every night. They were a revelation.
“We revolutionized the game,” Stoudemire said. “To see what’s happening in the NBA now is truly gratifying.”
Yes, the year of the suspensions. To this day, Suns fans are convinced – probably with good reason – that Phoenix would have won the NBA championship if Stoudemire and Boris Diaw hadn’t been suspended for Game 5 of the Western Conference finals for leaving “the immediate vicinity of their bench” during an altercation that followed Robert Horry’s hit on Nash in the final minute of Game 4.
Phoenix won 61 games in the regular season. Nash averaged a double-double (18.6 points, 11.6 assists) and the Suns had their deepest team of the “Seven Seconds or Less” era with Diaw, Raja Bell and Leandro Barbosa all playing important roles.
But with Stoudemire and Diaw suspended, the Suns lost Game 5, 88-85, and then were eliminated in Game 6 in San Antonio.
“The way this worked out for us, it was, I believe, extremely unfair,” Managing General Partner Robert Sarver said at the time. “The team that plays dirty should not be rewarded and the team that plays fair should not be penalized.”
Raise your hand if you saw this season coming.
The Suns had suffered through four straight losing seasons. In April of 1987, then-Phoenix Police Chief Ruben Ortega held a press conference to announce that three current Suns players and two former players were indicted by a county grand jury investigating cocaine trafficking. In addition, the Suns suspended Walter Davis, who testified before a grand jury under a grant of immunity. The drug scandal cast a pall over the franchise.
But in February of 1988, the Suns traded All-Star forward Larry Nance, Mike Sanders and a 1988 first-round draft pick to Cleveland for an untested point guard named Kevin Johnson, Tyrone Corbin, Mark West and first- and second-round picks in the ’88 draft and a 1989 second-round pick.
Then, in the June draft, Phoenix drafted Majerle, an unknown from Central Michigan. Fans booed the pick. One week later, the Suns signed Seattle forward Tom Chambers, the first unrestricted free agent in NBA history.
In less than five months, the franchise got the makeover of makeovers. New coach Cotton Fitzsimmons put the ball in Johnson’s hands, told him to run and, stunningly, Phoenix went 55-27 and reached the Western Conference finals.