All The Phoenix Suns Have To Do Is Rewrite Their Own History
8:39 PM EDT on May 23, 2021
All marriage advice is really the same advice: compromise. This means I'm married to a man who has no choice but to name every single Pittsburgh Steelers running back in my lifetime, as well as every member of BTS. It also means that I can tell you all too much about the long arc of the Phoenix Suns and their failure to win an NBA championship. Every single one of those details swirled through my brain Sunday as I watched the Suns defeat the Los Angeles Lakers to start the NBA playoffs. Because what should be straightforward—the No. 2 seed beating the No. 7 seed at home—is tied up in decades of Suns bad luck, bad timing, and possibly a curse, if you believe in those things.
Even I can concede that the historical facts aren't great for the Suns. Perhaps it is the curse of the coin flip; the year being 1969, the coin flip being, ludicrously, how the NBA would decide which team got the No. 1 draft pick, a guaranteed chance to have future legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The Bucks won the pick after then-Suns owner Jerry Colangelo picked heads over the phone. Abdul-Jabbar led the Bucks to an NBA championship in 1971 before moving on to the team he's better known for, the Los Angeles Lakers. The Suns, well, they drafted Neal Walk.
From that point on, the Suns seemed to always find a way to lose some proverbial coin toss done by a cruel universe. Charles Barkley, Dan Majerle, and Co. had the misfortunate of playing during the Michael Jordan era. During the two years in which Jordan left the NBA to play baseball, the Suns blew a 3-1 lead in the playoffs to the sixth-seeded Houston Rockets; they lost Game 7 of those Western Conference Semifinals by one point. Fast forward to the mid-2000s—the heyday of Steve Nash and Seven Seconds or Less—and you'll find injuries at the worst times (Joe Johnson's displaced orbital fracture during the playoffs, Amar'e Stoudemire's microfracture surgery) and the callousness of David Stern's NBA, which suspended Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for a critical Game 5 in the playoffs because they stepped off the bench after Robert Horry hip-checked Nash into the scorer's table. There's more, like the litany of bad trades recently recapped during our own Defector Friday Night Trivia, but by now you should see my point and this paragraph needs to end.
All this, fair or not, came along with every member of the Suns when they took to the court on Sunday. With about nine minutes left in the second quarter, Chris Paul left the court with a shoulder injury. My husband insisted this was not a coincidence, even after Paul returned to the game.
Except the Suns won the game. Not only did they win, they made the Lakers seem mortal. The Suns took the lead in the first quarter and never gave it up. Devin Booker scored 34 points with eight assists and seven rebounds. Center Deandre Ayton scored 21 points and grabbed 16 rebounds. The Lakers did go on a 8-0 run in the third quarter, to make it 71-64, but the Suns pulled away. Another Lakers run in the fourth quarter made the score 86-77, but right afterward Paul, who did look off after his shoulder injury, hit a shot and the Sun were rolling again. Booker ended the game with the most points by a Suns player in a playoff debut, and afterward the Suns players all talked about stepping up their games after Paul had to leave. Sure, the easy take is the Lakers looked bad, but the other side of that is, whatever plan the Suns had, it worked. It was the team's first playoff win in 11 years.
The coming days will be about James and the Lakers, and I can't say I don't understand why. They are the Lakers, this team is the defending champions, James is one of the greatest basketball players in history. Win or lose, the national narrative will be Los Angeles, can the Lakers repeat, James's health, how James is playing, and James's legacy. I can't say I don't see the logic. But I don't believe that human beings watch sports solely for the sake of logic, or the analytics, or the ultra-memorizable statistics, as helpful those they might be, especially when a man wants to tell me that I'm wrong. We watch for the joy they bring us and maybe, just maybe, the Suns and their fans can have some joy too. Team Overcomes Curse Of The Coin Flip To Win Their First NBA Finals! It's not the obvious narrative, but it's the one I'll be rooting for.