Lovable Losers: A New Series of Installments

18 Aug

I’ve been a basketball fan since I was about 12. I grew up in Dallas during the Mavericks worst years when they were owned by a guy who ran car dealerships and bowling alleys. The mavericks sucked and though I rooted for Popeye Jones, Tim Leger, and George McCloud to be successful, the brand of basketball they played was not in the least bit entertaining.

This forced me to open my eyes up to the national scene to find out what good basketball was elsewhere. 1992 was a pivotal year for me and sports: The Ticket radio station became Dallas’ first all sports station. The Cowboys won their first Super Bowl since I’d been born. My mom got me a subscription to Sports Illustrated. I had a Sega Genesis to geek out with Madden, Hardball III, NHL, and Bulls vs. Blazers. My obsession with sports began and here I am today, blogging about my favorite teams that did not win a championship (on a Saturday night no less).

There is only one team a year that can win a championship. Sometimes it doesn’t seem fair, especially when a team is thoroughly fun and the brand of ball is oh so entertaining. But entertaining doesn’t always win championships and doesn’t always bring accolades. So this is my way of honoring those teams that didn’t quite have what it took to win it all, but nevertheless won my heart (Yea I know–shit’s corny but it’s true. I guess I’m becoming sentimental in my old age). This will be a series of installments of teams ranging from NFL, to MLB, to the NBA to NCAA.

To kick this bad boy off let’s reflect on the 1992-93 Phoenix Suns.

Phoe

Head Coach: Paul Westphal

Key Starters- Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle

Key bench playersDanny Ainge, Richard Dumas, Tom Chambers

This was the first team I watched thoroughly during their playoff run in which they finally lost to Jordan’s (3-peat) Bulls. They were a lot of fun to watch. Dan Majerle and Danny Ainge with their long range threes. Richard Dumas and Cedric Ceballos were athletic slashers who could get to the rim. Charles Barkley of course was just traded to them and made them immediate championship contenders. The America West arena was a raucous place to watch a game with fans that went ape shit every time the Suns dialed one up from long distance.

I can remember the cover of SI that year and the feature story about Barkley (my favorite player in the world not named Chris Webber–the only pair of Nike’s I ever owned were Barkleys) finally having a legit chance to compete for an NBA title. He was at the peak of his game then and looking back its crazy to think that year was as good as he was going to get. That Finals was one of the best I’ve ever seen. Every game was competitive and entertaining. Though many point to that game 6 with the John Paxson shot that sealed the deal, I remember the equally competitive game 4.

Jordan took over at the end of that game (he had 55 pts that night and Barkley fouled Jordan on a layup attempt and couldn’t keep him from making the bucket and getting the And 1. The game was over after that and Phoenix had to eek out a 3 OT thriller just to force game 6. But they were in every game and could have easily won that series had it not been for timely mishaps and missteps which the savvy Bulls took advantage of (but I guess that is what separates great teams from championship teams isn’t it?)

If you go back and look at this roster, its easy to see why they didn’t have the horses to win. The Chicago Bulls had a better bench than they did and the Suns sucked at the center position. It was a 4 on 5 game pretty much the whole time Mark West and Oliver Miller were on the court. I have tried playing with this classic team on Xbox when me and my homey match-up and its a tough one to manage.

Usually I would play small ball with Tom Chambers playing center, Charles Barkley at the 4, Dan Majerle at small forward, Kevin Johnson running point and Danny Ainge at shooting guard. On offense this spread out the floor and opened up the court a bit (its actually pretty fun because there are so many 3 point opportunities). The problem was that defensively this lineup sucked and nobody could protect the rim and fatigue usually forced me to put in West, or Miller. They only went 8 deep and only 5 of those guys were legit offensive threats. So imagine trying to coach this team in real life instead of a video game. Paul Westphal had to get creative with that lineup.

I was incredibly annoyed to see Jordan rip their hearts out, but now with a little bit of hoops knowledge I understand why it didn’t happen for them. They were facing Jordan and Pippen and Phil Jackson, and they just weren’t balanced enough to win. Ce la Vie. I still remember the stunned feeling when this happened.

Bang! Season over that fast.

That would be the closest Barkley, KJ and company would ever get to sniffing a championship with that group. Dumas would never match the stats he put up that year (15.8 pts and 4.6 rebounds per game) and would end up finishing his career in Greece. Ceballos went on to create the “Lake Show” up in Los Angeles with Eddie Jones and Sedale Threatt. Chambers never did much after season and the core players left never seemed to get over the hump.
The Suns would bring in Danny Manning, and Waymon Tisdale to try and bring Phoenix a title, but it never happened. Mario Elie slammed Phoenix’s championship window shut with a 3 pointer in 1995. The Suns had commanding 3-1 series leads over Houston two years in a row and let them slip away twice.

In 1997 Barkley would try to team up with Drexler and Olajuwan in Houston, and that team almost made it to the Finals but someone let Stockton take a wide open 3. Once again Sir Charles was sent home to go fishing.

Though the Suns never won it all on the basketball court, some of the key players found success off the hardwood. KJ is the mayor of Sacramento and much to the chagrin of Supersonics fans was able to help keep the Kings in “Sad” Sac-town. Majerle is the head coach at Grand Canyon University according to Wikipedia. Danny Ainge helped rebuild the Celtics franchise and get them a title in ’08 as the GM (he is in the middle of another rebuilding job as we speak). And of course Barkley is ubiquitous. You see him on commercials, you see him on TNT. He is on every talk show being entertaining. So there you go, as Jalen Rose likes to say, “There is the score on the scoreboard and there is the score in the game of life.”

62 regular season wins and a thoroughly enjoyable playoff run, culminating in one of the greatest NBA Finals I have ever seen; I wouldn’t necessarily call them losers.

Jordan would soon wipe that smile off Barkley's face.

Jordan would soon wipe that smile off Barkley’s face.

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