By Jeff Munn
As the Golden State Warriors celebrate another NBA title, unsettling is the best word to describe the emotions when one realizes who was in the NBA Finals in 1993.
Your Phoenix Suns.
It’s not unsettling because of the recent struggles of the Suns, it’s just that feeling you get when you are reminded, yet again, of how fast time moves.
Many of you who are reading this weren’t here then. You and a million others. No, seriously, there were about a million or more fewer people who lived here a quarter century, a generation, ago (mindboggling, isn’t it?).
Let’s skip the stats. This is a story of what happens when an entertaining basketball team, who is as much a part of the community as its fans are, takes those fans on the wildest ride imaginable.
From the start of the 1992-93 season, Suns games weren’t really games, they were events. Watch parties any night of the week. Sports bars packed, including the one Dan Majerle and his business partners built across the street from the Suns new home, America West Arena. Majerle’s was the place to see and be seen, with celebrities and VIP’s going in and out at a rate that would make social media explode.
It stretched to the schools. An Arizona Republic columnist noted one Valley school was having trouble teaching their students spelling because they kept thinking of Kevin Johnson:
“A B C D E F G H I K J”….
Kids knew Santa had been to the house Christmas Eve if they awoke the next morning to find a Suns jacket, T-Shirt or Basketball under the tree.
Local television stations nervously looked at the schedule to make sure the Suns’ game that night wouldn’t go up against their 10:00 news. If it did, a test pattern would have been a better option against the Suns (If you don’t remember test patterns, it’s okay).
The 30 or so radio stations who didn’t carry Al McCoy’s broadcasts were so desperate to get on the bandwagon that they would send reporters who up until then thought a slam dunk was something you did with a donut and coffee. They were there to get whatever sound they could from the outspoken Charles Barkley. He rarely disappointed, in turn giving those stations something to talk about the next morning.
Remember “What A Shot – Whataburger!”? Al would say that right after “Shazam” signifying a Suns three-point field goal. First-time visitors to the Arena had to visit the Whataburger concession stand to find out what he was talking about.
A radio station on the Navajo Reservation broadcast Suns home games in Navajo during the Finals. If you were listening and didn’t speak the language, you did know when the Suns made a three-pointer. Yes, that broadcaster said “Shazam” too. In plain English.
There was the couple standing outside the arena after the Suns beat Seattle (yes, the NBA had a team in Seattle then) in Game 7 of the Western Finals. There was a USA Volleyball Match later that night in the arena, and the couple wanted to buy tickets. Volleyball fans? No. They just wanted to be able to say they had been in the building the Suns play in. During the Finals, the Arena was opened so fans could watch the road games together. Many had never been in the building, but for a canned food donation, they got the sights and sounds of almost the real thing.
The basketball story ended, of course, with the Bulls winning in six games. Yet, the emotions of the community dictated that the Suns be celebrated with a downtown parade that attracted 300,000 people on a broiling hot Saturday morning.
This all sounds like we were a small town instead of a big city in 1993. Population-wise, we were a big city. In terms of what the Suns placed in our hearts, we were a village.
If you think it was either silly of Phoenix to react that way or that it just wasn’t possible, you’d be right in today’s Phoenix. We’ve done a lot of growing up over the last 25 years. Baseball and hockey joined the sports landscape, the Cardinals moved into their own palace in Glendale, and we’ve had a lot more championship events come through here since 1993.
But no matter when the Suns return to the NBA Finals, it won’t be like it was in 1993. Ever again.