Story by Evan Oscherwitz
Eddie Johnson has seen the absolute best and worst of Phoenix Suns basketball over his 20-year-long tenure as the team’s television color analyst.
After making the playoffs in six of Johnson’s first nine seasons behind the microphone and advancing to the Western Conference Finals twice along the way, the Suns embarked on an 11-year postseason drought that they only managed to break out of this year.
Johnson endured agonizingly bad performances night after night, but his passion for the game and the memories of the team’s success in the mid-2000s kept him invested even as the Suns’ fanbase grew more disinterested.
“It’s not good [being a broadcaster for a losing team],” Johnson said in an appearance on The Brad Cesmat Show. “What gave me the energy to get through these last 11 years is just the success that they had before that. It tests you, I mean, everybody’s tested. You have to keep giving the professionalism, you have to keep believing.”
It may have taken over a decade to accomplish, but the Suns have managed to repay Johnson and his colleagues for their loyalty.
As much of a reprieve as the team’s newfound excellence has been for Johnson, he feels even more relieved for Suns owner Robert Sarver, who faced widespread criticism and pressure to sell the franchise during Phoenix’s prolonged period of losing.
“I’m happy for Sarver, I really am,” Johnson said. “He’s gone through it. He would admit that it was a learning process for him, but what he’s done over the last year, during this pandemic, has been simply amazing. Building that practice facility and fighting to re-energize this Phoenix Suns stadium and getting it re-done is exactly what the city needed and what this team needed.”
As much as the renovations to the Suns’ home arena have helped recapture the attention of their fans, the on-court product has served as the main attraction.
While Phoenix quickly transitioned from a perennial basement dweller to a frontrunner, the team’s resurgence required everyone from the top down to make adjustments and fully buy into the franchise’s new culture.
“It’s not what you’ve done in the past, it’s what you’ve done lately,” Johnson said. “From Robert (Sarver) all the way down, James Jones for putting this team together, Monty (Williams) and how he’s taken this team and molded it and gotten [the players] to focus, to Devin Booker, who changed his game. It’s all the way down.”
The Suns’ return to prominence, though long overdue, has come at the best possible time in Johnson’s eyes. With the COVID-19 pandemic drawing to a close, Phoenicians are eager to leave the confines of their homes and experience the thrills of their hometown once again, and when the Suns are relevant, their games are one of the best entertainment options in the city.
“The Phoenix Suns, they’re the first-born of this city,” Johnson said. “They always will be. With all due respect to the other professional teams that are here, [they] will never win over the hearts of this city more than the Suns will, and we saw that [in game one against Denver]. I saw so many fans who were excited the Suns were winning, but also excited that they’re back in the midst of a bunch of people. As a human, you need that.”
As was the case during the Suns’ conference finals runs in the mid-2000s, Phoenix’s basketball community is once again abuzz with optimism.
The franchise has taken the scenic route back to relevance, but its commitment to reinventing itself has paid off in a big way, and the seeds of sustained success have been firmly planted in the desert soil. If the team continues to follow their current trajectory, the dark ages of the 2010s may soon be little more than a distant memory.