If you’re of a certain age, you undoubtedly remember where you were and what you were doing the moment Luis Gonzalez’s bloop single landed on the outfield grass in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.
It was a moment Diamondbacks fans never will forget.
Suns fans haven’t been quite so lucky. The franchise, celebrating its 50th anniversary this season, doesn’t have that one forever play.
That said, Phoenix has had its share of indelible memories, both for better and worse. Here are five moments that have come to define 50 years with the Suns:
Alcindor coin flip
The date was March 19, 1969. In his New York office, then-NBA Commissioner J. Walter Kennedy tossed a half-dollar coin into the air with his right hand.
The prize, as the coin began to descent, was the No. 1 pick in the draft and the right to select UCLA center Lew Alcindor. The Suns called heads, deferring to the majority vote in a newspaper poll. The Milwaukee Bucks had tails.
“The coin has come up tails,” Kennedy announced.
And so, perhaps, the greatest what-if in Valley sports history was born.
What if the coin had come up heads and the Suns drafted Alcindor, who would go on to capture six NBA titles and be a six-time Most Valuable Player? How many championships might the Suns have won? One? Two? Might they have become a dynasty?
The consolation prize in the draft was Florida center Neal Walk. He had a solid career with the Suns, with his best season coming in 1972-73 (averaging 20.2 points and 12.4 rebounds per game). But he wasn’t Alcindor, later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
All because of one flip of a coin.
Gar Heard’s shot
“The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” had to be in here, right? How could it not?
Forget the Suns. Gar Heard’s turnaround jumper with one second left in double overtime in Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals was one of the most astounding moments in league history.
Think about what led up to the moment. Curtis Perry gave the Suns a 110-109 lead with four seconds left in the second overtime, but Celtics veteran John Havlicek raced the length of the floor and banked in a 15-foot shot. The buzzer sounded. Boston Garden erupted. Fans stormed the floor and one of them attacked referee Richie Powers.
Eventually, after order was restored, one second was put back on the clock. The Suns were out of timeouts but Paul Westphal called time anyway, knowing it would give Boston a free throw on the technical foul – but also allow Phoenix to inbound the ball from midcourt.
Perry threw the inbounds pass to Heard, who caught it just to the right and above the free-throw line. Heard turned and launched a jumper that seemed to hang in the air forever before it grazed the front of the rim and fell through the net.
It was the first triple-overtime game in NBA Finals history. The Celtics went on to win, 128-126, but for the Suns and their fans, Westphal’s quick thinking and Heard’s shot will forever be legendary.
Charles Barkley trade
Some of the biggest moments in a franchise’s history don’t occur on the court. So it was June 17, 1972, when the Suns dealt Tim Perry, Andrew Lang and Jeff Hornacek to the Philadelphia 76ers for Charles Barkley, who wanted out of the City of Brotherly Love.
Phoenix thought Barkley was the missing piece for a team that had been great but not great enough, losing in the Western Conference finals or semifinals three of the previous four seasons.
Not everyone, however, was immediately in favor of the deal.
“I was disappointed,” forward Tom Chambers said. “We were a good team without Charles and we were giving away two young stars and one of my favorite teammates ever in Hornacek.”
Barkley would soon change Chambers’ mind – and the Suns’ image throughout the league. Phoenix would reach the NBA Finals for the first time since the 1975-76 season and it was Barkley who got the Suns there. His jump shot over David Robinson clinched Game 6 and the Western Conference semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs. Then came his dominant 44-point, 24-rebound performance in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals against Seattle.
And to think, the Suns deliberated for more than a month, unwilling at first to include Hornacek, Dan Majerle or Kevin Johnson in the deal. Finally, coach Paul Westphal poked his head into Jerry Colangelo’s office and said, “I think we have to give up Hornacek and make the deal.”
Within 24 hours, Barkley was a Sun.
Steve Nash signing
Like the Barkley trade, the idea of signing free agent point guard Steve Nash in July of 2004 wasn’t a slam dunk.
Yes, Nash was a two-time NBA All-Star and the previous season had averaged 14.5 points and 8.8 assists for the Dallas Mavericks. But Nash also was 30 years old and experiencing back problems. Dallas owner Mark Cuban refused to match the six-year, $63 million offer the Suns made to Nash because he feared Nash’s body would deteriorate.
So much for Cuban’s medical acumen.
Nash, of course, would go on to win back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards, revolutionize point-guard play in the NBA and conduct the “Seven Seconds or Less” Suns offense that stunned the league and was the forerunner to today’s pace-and-space game.
No, the Suns didn’t win a championship when Nash had the ball in his hands but he is, without question, one of the top three players in franchise history.
John Paxson’s shot
If this was a list of the five greatest moments in Suns history, Paxson’s 3-point shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals wouldn’t warrant a thought, much less a few words.
But when it comes to defining moments in Suns history, how can it not be on the list?
The details are still burned in the mind so there’s no point in rehashing the gory details.
Instead, consider this quote from Majerle: