A Brief Q&A With The World’s Most Pessimistic Phoenix Suns Fan
1:07 PM EDT on October 26, 2023
For some basketball fans, the start of a new NBA season brings with it fresh joy. They awash themselves in the hope that this will be the year, in the belief that off-season roster tweaks have made the difference. They dance at the thought of rookies translating their skill-sets to the pros. They delight in the return of the sacred fan bonding ritual of sharing highlights with buddies and offering such deep insights as "hey, did you see that?" followed by "dude, I cannot believe he did that" and "sick, bro, sick." Like other species in the genus of sports fans, the NBA fan is an optimist. Or, you could say, a hoop-timist.
This is not an interview with such a basketball fan.
There is another species of NBA watcher: the Phoenix Suns fan. The Suns fan is a curious case, for it both loves basketball but also feels betrayed by these emotions. The Suns have never won an NBA title; they are the oldest and winningest NBA franchise to fail to reach the mountaintop, and one of the historically best in all of North American sports never to do so. To love the Suns is to be ruled by worry, doubt, concern, and a perpetual sense of doom. Where other species see joy, this one sees dread. And yet, drawn in by their instinctual love of the game, the Suns fan still makes its migratory return every year.
To help us better understand this strange species, one totally anonymous and random Phoenix Suns fan has agreed to be interviewed. In the name of science, we must keep their identity a secret. They have chosen to go by the initials M.D.
How do you feel about this season?
But you’ve got Kevin Durant! And Devin Booker! And Bradley Beal! All you have do is make the playoffs and then it’s anyone’s game, right?
This is a fair question! The truth is, I always have two minds when it comes to the Suns.
The first is the intellectual/analytical one, as if I’m approaching this not from the perspective of a long-suffering fan, but someone who believes that this team is merely one of 30. From this point of view, there’s plenty of reason to think Phoenix will be very good. Booker has developed into a borderline top-10 player, someone whose defense has nearly caught up with his quite prodigious offense—he’s far more than just a scorer, too; he absolutely can be a lead ball handler as expected this season. He also has come up huge in very big moments; this isn’t a guy who has shown a tendency to shrink. Beal, while he is a couple of years removed from his peak and certainly has some health issues (as does Booker, if we’re being honest), was the absolute best acquisition the Suns could have made given their circumstances. (A subset of NBA fans and analysts spend an awful lot of time worrying about a billionaire owner’s luxury tax bill three years from now; it’s kind of strange.) The Jusuf Nurkic-Deandre Ayton trade brought with it some nice additional depth, which further supplements several savvy signings the Suns made in the summer, and also saw the exit of a max-contract player who is an immense talent but, to be diplomatic about it, might have been a little frustrating to play with at times.
If there’s a worry I have—beyond the team’s health, which is hardly unique to the Suns—it’s Durant. NBA champions have, historically, needed a lead player who wasn’t just good, wasn’t just great, but for lack of a better way to put it, was next-level awesome. Booker isn’t quite there. Durant has been, but not while he’s been in a Suns uniform, and at age 35 I worry that those days might be past him. With Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Steph Curry, Anthony Davis (if he’s playing at his peak), Luka Doncic (ditto), Kawhi Leonard (him too) and many others as possible obstacles, a “pretty good” Durant probably isn’t going to cut it, championship-wise.
The second mind I have about the Suns is that they’re cursed, so none of the above matters. They’ve never won and they never will. I don’t know how or why they’re cursed. I just know that they are. As long as they’re the Phoenix Suns, they could suit up five prime Jordans and still somehow lose in the NBA Finals to a single barrel cactus with a Celtics jersey draped over it.
That answer was very long, but you clearly know a lot about them. How many games will you watch this season?
I made it through almost one quarter of the first game before I rage-quit and didn’t go back. I think that’s about eight minutes longer than I lasted a season ago! Maybe that means they’ll be a bit better this year.
All of this is to say that I usually experience my team’s games exactly how Jerry West did in Winning Time: stomping around spewing expletives but refusing to actually watch any action. I learn everything via box scores and Suns bloggers who have a stronger countenance than me.
If the Suns are so doomed, why do you think about them so much?
Who are you, my psychiatrist? Hahaha. Sigh…
But seriously, I feel like if I answer this question too honestly, it might include some sensitive information that could reveal my very well-hidden identity. For the time being I’ll lean into the idea of “identity.” Though I don’t live there anymore, Phoenix is where I’m originally from, and the Suns connect me to that place. There is some real comfort to the purple and orange, the sunburst logo, the sound of the just-retired Al McCoy saying “Shazam!” It’s a warmth that goes beyond even the memory of 100-degree nights. (And it should be said that I genuinely have fun with this team when it has no expectations. The tanking years of the 2010s were often an unironic delight! Come back, Dragan Bender. I miss you.)
Also, maybe I like the pain. Maybe I’m secretly afraid of success. Maybe if I leaned away from the cold, hard reality of impending despair and bought into a mix of entitlement and delusion, I would experience unencumbered prosperity and a joy free of pesky things like conscience and awareness. In other words, maybe I should be a Lakers fan.
(I’m kidding! I have lots of Laker fan friends! I don’t resent them at all for being born on basketball’s version of third base! Honest!)
The thing is, though, I have eyes, I can see reality. This very Earth we live on is a place right now of despair, of doom. I might posit that being a fan of a team like the Suns—named for the celestial body this ill-fated planet revolves around, no less—is the most honest thing one can do.
What advice would you give to, say, friends or, uh, spouses of long-suffering Suns fans?
Forgive us. We didn’t ask to be this way. It’s just in our nature.