MVP Three-Peat

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote that “Man tends to become what he thinks most about.” Or in my case, what I was forced to think about. My dad, a very successful college coach had decided to leave his profession to take over his father-in-law’s farm in western Kansas.

Wilt Chamberlain changed the way the game of basketball was played.

Now understand, it was not the type of farm you would see in a Better Homes and Garden Magazine. The farm was 40 miles from the nearest town, and I was forced to attend a one room country school. As a seventh grader, my total existence during the summer was on a tractor plowing a field.

I would get up at 5:00 a.m., milk two cows, eat breakfast, gas up the tractor, eat my sack lunch in the field, gas up the tractor again, plow until sundown and then milk those same two cows, eat supper and go to bed. Exciting, huh!!

So, to survive those long hot summer days I was forced to make up ballgames on the tractor. I would act like I was in Yankee Stadium one day, the Rose Bowl the next day and sing the National Anthem before every one of my imaginary broadcasts. I would even do the commercials!

My Dad, after suffering through four years of drought, couldn’t make any money so we moved 40 miles into a small town and he resumed his coaching in the local high school. In my junior year we had the first undefeated football team in the school’s history and as an end result my dad promised he would take me 400 miles to see Wilt Chamberlain make his debut at the University of Kansas. Freshman were not eligible to play in college at the time and so Wilt’s first appearance would be against Northwestern at Home in Allen Field House as a sophomore.

The game was an epiphany for me! Wilt “the Stilt” appeared in a sold-out field house, bigger than life. At 7-1, he was all arms and legs. He exploded for 52 points in a performance that convinced me I wanted to be a sportscaster.

Why do I tell this story? All year long in the Suns Game Notes, it’s been noted that only three players in NBA History have captured three straight NBA-MVP Trophy – Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird.

Steve Nash has a chance to be only the fourth to do so. I think it’s a mistake to try to compare the previous three greats with Nash. For instance, Wilt one season averaged 50.4 points a game, in one contest scoring 100 points and in another game grabbing 55 rebounds. He with tremendous grace and power changed the face of the game.

But, so has Steve! He is changing how the point guard position is being played. Statistics don’t completely tell the story, even though the reigning back-to-back MVP is averaging a career-high in points and assists, and on pace to be the first since Magic Johnson to average 19 points and 11 assists.

Joe Gilmartin, one of the best basketball minds I’ve ever been around, says Steve does things that only Boston Celtics Great, Bob Cousy was able to do. If you watch some old black and white TV games, you can see some similarities. Their creativity is matchless.

Steve does something nobody else does; he will dribble into the middle of an opponent’s defense, continues the dribble until he finds the open man, and then sets his teammate up for a wide-open shot. I could go on, but my point is this; Nash, like Russell, Wilt and Bird changed the way the game is played.

That’s enough in my books to make him an MVP 3-peat!

The Great Dictators

For a mid-season, midweek game, the Suns’ recent battle with the Wizards in Washington earned a lot of hype. It was billed, in many quarters, as “the Suns vs. the Suns of the East,” which I thought was a pretty telling description.

There is only one Amaré Stoudemire.(NBAE Photos)

The Wizards, like several teams, have decided to use the Suns and their fast-paced, freewheeling offense as a template, trying to build their team to the Suns’ specifications. The game, it was said, was going to be a measure of just how legitimate the Wizards were as a contender, while it would also show what the Suns could do against a team with their full roster of top players, a team that was one of only two to beat the Suns in the prior month and a half.

The first half of the game left little doubt as to the answers to any of those questions and as I watched the Suns hang a staggering 71 points on a pretty fair Wizards club in the first 24 minutes, I realized why these Suns look so different to me from any other incarnation in the team’s history – even last year’s squad, which had basically the same key personnel. And four letters kept repeating in my head:

U.C.L.A.

Famously, John Wooden’s college basketball powerhouses of the 1960s and 1970s spent very little time preparing specifically for opponents, if they spent any time at all. Instead, they spent all their practice time on their own game plan, refining it, tweaking it, drilling it over and over and over until it was flawless. So secure were they in their own system, they didn’t bother scouting or game-planning to combat an opponent’s strengths or exploit their weaknesses.

“Here we are, here’s what we’re going to do,” they seemed to say. “If you can beat us at our game, more power to you.”

And as we all know, they lost very few games (Yes, it certainly helped that many of those Bruin teams were built around Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton, but UCLA under Wooden won titles before, between and after those players). It wasn’t arrogance, per se, but a kind of supreme confidence that if they did their best at what they did the best, it would be enough to better anything that could be thrown at them.

Other basketball teams through history have exuded the same kind of confidence. I think of the Celtics of the 1960s, with their fast break and legion of versatile role players. I think of the Lakers of the 1980s, and their rivals, the Celtics of the same period, both of whom were committed to particular styles of brilliant play, and both of whom made no allowances for the style of any opponent – which made their matchups all the more fascinating.

The Bulls of the 90s had their relentless Triangle Offense (which, by the way, Cotton Fitzsimmons had the Suns running in the early 1970s). In college, Princeton stubbornly rode their deliberate offense of high-post passing and back-door cuts to repeated NCAA basketball tournament upsets in the 80s and 90s.

And there are examples outside of basketball, as well. Bill Walsh’s San Francisco 49er football teams of the 1980s notoriously scripted their offense’s first twenty-five plays.

All of these teams, it’s vital to note, were trend-setters. Teams that followed them looked to their styles and asked, “How can we make that our own?” These teams found successful formulas and then bred imitators, few of whom ever did it as well as the original.

Team sports contests are often decided by which team can impose its will on the other. Can I get you to stop what you’re trying to do and focus on trying to stop what I’m trying to do? Can I get you in a position where you’re not doing what you do best, but rather trying to outdo me at what I do best? Can I force you to try to run with me, or shoot with me? If I can get you out of your comfort zone by executing so well within mine, if I can dictate tempo and style, I like my chances of winning.

That’s what these Suns are doing, on a night-by-night basis – fifteen games in a row, now, thirty of their last thirty-two games. They’re dictating to their opponents, forcing them acknowledge, “Our style doesn’t work against a team like this. How can we become more like them?”

Only to run up against the considerable roadblock of the fact that there’s only one Steve Nash. Only one Shawn Marion. Only one Amare Stoudemire. One Boris Diaw, one Raja Bell, one Leandro Barbosa. And one Mike D’Antoni, one Marc Iavaroni, one Alvin Gentry one Dan D’Antoni and one Phil Weber. Only one team that can combine all of them. That’s a lot of parts you have to replicate if you want to be like the Suns. And, we may find out come June, too many, if you hope to be better.

Even in the “gloriest” of glory days of the franchise – the Westphal-Adams-Davis powerhouses, the KJ-Chambers-Majerle-Hornacek young guns, the Barkley-led juggernauts – I’ve never seen a Suns team like this, with this kind of look in their eye.

It’s a look that barely acknowledges the team right before them, but at the same time doesn’t ignore or take for granted the immediate challenge. It’s the look of a team continually striving to play the best possible game their system will allow – they’ve come scary close already. It’s the look of a team – dare I say it? – that has its eyes on the prize.

Here they are, NBA, here’s what they’re going to do. If you can beat the Suns at their own game, more power to you.

But, fair warning: It’s only happened twice in the last thirty-two games, so I don’t like your chances.

Going for Sweet 16!

Wow, what a fast start for us in Washington. I think that was the best quarter of basketball I’ve seen in a while. It felt good to avenge the loss in Phoenix.

J.R. is a jhoopSTAR!
(NBAE Photos)

That said, the Wizards are a good team. They could have laid down, but they fought back and made it a
game. Arenas and Butler deserve to be All-Stars. It’s going to be tough to beat us when we play like this. We need fast starts every night.

When we play like this teams have nothing in the tank for the 4th Quarter.

The SUNS shine in N.Y.

It’s cold everywhere on this trip. But that’s O.K. the Suns are heating up.

Despite this sluggish start, we handled our business. We knew it wouldn’t be easy and it wasn’t. Eddy Curry is huge. There’s no way he can be guarded 1-on-1. He was tough in the first half.

Our double teams were good but their execution was better. I made too many stupid fouls in the first half. I tried fouling Curry, but he made free throws.

But all of that didn’t matter. In the second half we came
alive. Once we did that, it was over.

Look out MIL, here we come. Its time to go to Milwaukee and re-introduce ourselves to the Bucks.

WE NEED NUMBER 16.

JHOOPS hoops with the J ….. J.R. is a jhoopSTAR !!!

Nash's Unseen Assist!

The whiskers are falling, but the Suns are still rising!        

Rendering of Nash’s ‘stache.

While many of the Suns have ditched their “facial hair pact” due to rashes and itchiness (and overall grooming dissatisfaction — Sean Marks DID look like Tom Hanks in Castaway!), the team is bonding better than ever and flat-out taking care of business on the court.

As I sit here tonight in Milwaukee — awaiting a possible team-record 16th straight win — it occurs to me that we may never experience a team or a run like this again! Two 15-game win streaks before February 1st is a lot like Joe D’s hit streak, the Dolphins impeccable, unbeaten season or UCLA’s dominant run in college hoops.

We’ll probably never see anything like it again in our lifetime, especially when you consider how much parity there is in sports (and the NBA) due to salary caps and player movement with free agency.

We will be weaving stories about the exploits of Steve Nash for years to come. A little (by NBA standards) Canadian who can dominate a game dominated by taller, stronger, faster freaks of nature. His fire and desire is unmatched along with the leadership skills he brings to the locker room.

Before one of the more anticipated games of the season — in Washington versus a Wizards team that undermined the last Suns 15-game win streak and called themselves the “Suns of the East” — Steve took the edge off by taking his scraggly beard off… though leaving a razor-thin mustache that must have made Boris Diaw feel right at home!

“Pepe” Nash looked like a lil’ Frenchman from a bad movie when he got onto the team bus. But the result was more fascinating.

Raja Bell did a double, then triple-take and burst out in hysterics, later telling Steve, “I needed a good laugh.” Shawn Marion hopped on the team bus, walked right past Nash and sat down. We all just waited for Shawn to get a good look at Steve, and when he finally did, “Trix” too erupted and asked Steve if he was really going to take the floor looking like that!

Steve then made his way into the visitors’ locker room in D.C. to the hooting and hollering of his teammates, coaches and training staff (Aaron Nelson, Mike Elliott, Eric Phillips and Jay Gaspar were also leaders of the Beard Brigade). Nobody could believe what they saw.

But what they were really seeing was their team leader, their two-time league MVP (and working on a third) and darling of the basketball nation not taking himself too seriously. Steve eventually shaved the mini-moustache off before taking the court, but his sense of humor and sense of timing had an astounding impact.

If you caught the first quarter, you saw a loose team that unleashed its offensive fury on a dazed Wizards squad. Before Gilbert Arenas could say “hibachi” for the second time, his “Suns of the East” were down by 27 to the one and only Suns team.

Now, could the Suns have come out that way if Nash had not pulled-off his “Pierre” impersonation? Maybe. Possibly.

But the end result speaks for itself. Steve’s “stache” ploy helped relax and propel a team that seems to be on a journey for the ages led by their captain who has captivated us all!

Hitting the Coach's Buttons

If you want to hit the hot button of Coach Mike D’Antoni, just ask him if he is concerned about the minutes his players are averaging per game.

Mike D’Antoni has made all the right calls this seasons.
(NBAE Photos)

I made the mistake of inquiring about a recent article by the much-respected Paul Coro in the Arizona Republic, which voiced concern about the Suns work load. Mike wasted no time telling me, “Why is everybody so hung up on having to play more than seven or eight players in the rotation? Can’t people change their thinking?”

Mike has been on the cutting edge of changing some thinking on how to approach the game since he took over as the Suns Head Man. Initially, the naysayer’s said the offensive system of the Suns just couldn’t work.

You can’t run like the Suns do and survive! That theory or thinking has been put to rest, as many teams are attempting a facsimile of that approach. So as Mike is suggesting, those same doubters are surfacing in regards to mpg. He thinks the only concern is to slice Steve Nash’s minutes by maybe two per game, but he is very comfortable with what’s happening with the rest of the team.

“We have some 24 year old players who can handle the load and I am not concerned about their minutes played,” Mike said. Diaw just never gets tired, Amaré and Shawn thrive on their work load and would complain if asked to play less. Bell is so tough that the minutes he plays don’t even compute.

What is so helpful is how productive Leandro Barbosa is when he comes off the bench. Mike continued, “LB thinks he is superman right now and there’s nothing he can’t do”

A healthy Kurt Thomas is critical come playoff time, as is the continued return of James Jones’ shot now that he has his leather ball back.

Most experts will tell you that Dallas’ depth will be the difference in the playoffs. The Mavs have a deep bench with many interchangeable parts. But, the Mavs don’t have a Steve Nash and some believe the continued growth of Amaré Stoudemire’s game will be huge by post-season play.

What if all means is… These two teams are headed on a collision course, with a broadcaster like me and fans like you, salivating for the showdown!

Stay tuned!

Suns Using Chemistry For Historic Run

The Suns have reached the halfway point of the season, having put together one of the best runs in NBA History! It’s a team that has that one ingredient that makes it special…. Chemistry.

Suns Head Coach Mike D’Antoni. (NBAE Photos)

It’s a team that’s so uniquely individual, but in some grand way fits together. You have the “Frenchman,” Boris Diaw, the poker-faced big man who has a pass-first mentally. His high basketball IQ allows him to give the team what it needs at critical stages of the game.

Then there’s Raja Bell, the smiling assassin who brings to the team such toughness. He is borderline out of control and if you’re his opponent, he scares you!

Amaré Stoudemire plays the game with such fury, with anger as he tries to overcome lost time with his injury. I think Amaré uses his game to overcome a difficult family background.

The Matrix plays the game in a different atmosphere, defying gravity, giving us an electric moment every night.

Then there’s Steve Nash, who is playing point guard like nobody has ever played the position.  Sometimes I want to freeze the moment and just keep replaying what he just did. His greatness has redefined how the position should be played. He leads the system that has taken the league by storm. I hope fans realize they are seeing a player in their lifetime that will be the standard by which all who follow will be judged

It’s an old adage that a team is an extension of the coaches and that’s where all of this great chemistry is coming from. All you need to do is sit in a corner of the coaches’ office and watch. They are on each other all the time! They like each other to the point that nothing is out of bounds. As Phil Webber put it with a smile, “What they say about me is none of my business.”

Phil is the brunt of unmerciful kidding about all the beautiful women he dates. But, his ability to help the players with their shooting technique is huge. By no small measure he is the reason the Suns are the best shooting team in the NBA.

Mark Iavaroni, a quietly efficient coach with a fire in his belly, is in charge of the big men. Mark, who played on an NBA Championship team, attended several Pete Newell Big Men
Camps, the standard by which all coaches use. In his understated way, Mark holds his own in the intensely funny debates.

Then there’s the vet, Alvin Gentry – very serious, a worrier who has a way of summing up the entire moment in a humorous way.

The two D’Antoni’s couldn’t be more different. The older brother, Dan, has a way of subtly causing the whole fracas. Dan, who has changed Leandro Barbosa into an almost unguardable player, comes to it naturally after developing so many outstanding point guards in his days as a high school coach in South Carolina.

But, the man who put them all together, who brought the system to the Suns, Mike, is hilarious. As intense as he can be on the sideline, he is as fun loving off the floor. He loves to stir it up, then sit back and watch.

If this team stays healthy, the franchises’ first NBA Title may be a reality! Wouldn’t it be timely that as Jerry Colangelo vacates his office in the Arena in June, that he takes an NBA Trophy with him!

The Feats of Strength

I know there are some that come to Suns.com in hopes of reading the latest in basketball news, but with the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl I’m afraid I’m going to have to start elsewhere.

Wilt’s 100-point game has been a sports record that has so far passed the test of time. (NBAE Photos)

I do this not because I am a long-time Colts fan, that’s not it at all. It is also in no way an attempt to gloat towards Patriots fans I know who have disgusted me for years, I’m much bigger than that (although not much). I’m doing it because in recent years the Colts have been viewed by some as the Phoenix Suns in cleats. Like the Suns, the Colts have had the reputation of being an offensive juggernaut who couldn’t win in the postseason because it is defense that wins championships. Quarterback Peyton Manning and company quieted naysayers on Sunday with one of the most impressive comebacks in NFL history, leading some to believe it only a matter of time before the Suns do the same. Yes, I believe defense does win championships and yes, I believe rebounds do get you rings. At the same time, however, there’s no denying that if you outscore your opponent you will win the game. And in the words of Chiefs Head Coach Herm Edwards, “You play to win the game.”

During practice today there was plenty of Super Bowl talk, primarily on the parts of Mike D’Antoni and Shawn Marion. Mike is a Colts fan and an admirer of Manning while Shawn is a Chicago guy who isn’t shy about being a Bears fan. There was also some talk about some streak I guess the Suns are enjoying, something about 13 games.

I’m following the lead of Steve Nash in being modest about the accomplishment, the truth is what the Suns have done is amazing. The team has won 32 of 34 games, the two losses including an overtime defeat at the hands of the Wizards and a tight contest lost in Dallas. Two losses by a combined seven points separate this team from challenging one of sports seemingly most unbreakable records.

Obviously you could play devil’s advocate and point to the games Phoenix pulled off by the most narrow of margins. Leandro Barbosa not making an incredible three-point shot in Chicago or Steve Nash not coming up clutch the next night in Toronto could have easily had those games going the other way. The fact of the matter is though, that those shots did go in and are responsible for Phoenix’s current streak which stands at 13. A streak which has people remembering an unforgettable record set by the 1972-73 Los Angeles Lakers. That team featured legends like Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West who ran off 33 consecutive victories on their way to a 69-win season and an NBA title. No team since has even surpassed 20 consecutive wins, and only eight teams have even gotten halfway there.

This leads me to my blog topic of discussion (just six paragraphs in, not bad): Which record is the Al Capone of the sports world? Which record is truly untouchable?

If I could veer away from basketball for just a moment, baseball truly has some spectacular records which I don’t think will ever be touched. Cal Ripken Jr. playing in 2,632 consecutive ballgames certainly comes to mind. The streak – in the words of broadcaster Dan Majerle – is inconceivable, especially when you consider baseball is generally played six days out of the week. Most impressive about that mark is the fact that it ever got any steam to begin with. Players taking a day off is nothing rare in the game (especially for Barry Bonds, he seems to do it three or four times a week). That said, it would’ve been no big deal for Ripken Jr. at around consecutive game 150 to say, “Hey coach, I’m gonna sit this one out.” I doubt he had the record on his mind at 150, and I doubt his coach would have had any problems with the future Hall of Famer taking a breather. But as Ripken saw it, if he could walk he could play and it’s why he’s one of baseball’s all-time greats. The other mark in baseball I’m constantly amazed by was accomplished by Vander Meer in 1938, a pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds who threw two consecutive no-hitters. To break this record, a pitcher would have to pitch three consecutive no-hitters!!! It’s a thought so improbable it demands three exclamation points, punctuation I’m not usually too generous with.

Back to basketball, the first record which usually jumps out at NBA fans is Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point performance against the Knicks in 1962. A feat you’re more likely to see in a farfetched Disney cartoon than accomplished on the hardwood again. But while the feat is nothing less than amazing, and while it may never be duplicated again, I wouldn’t say it was necessarily untouchable. Kobe Bryant went off for 81 last season against the Mavericks and that’s with Phil Jackson as his coach. Imagine if he had a coach who encouraged him to take every single shot from the start or if a great player actually game planned to do it. I’ve seen guys call a timeout to get a triple-double, I don’t think it too farfetched a guy would ask his teammates to help him reach the plateau.

On the other end of the spectrum is a record set by former Orlando Magic point guard and former Suns Head Coach Scott Skiles who dished out 30 assists in a 1990 contest against the Denver Nuggets. Again, a jaw dropping accomplishment, but one which is not untouchable considering Steve Nash has reached the 20-assist margin twice this season. No, 20 is not 30 but the argument is not whether or not a record is impressive, the argument is whether or not it is untouchable.

Known to some for his Lucky Charms-like hair, former defensive specialist Dennis Rodman was known to many as an unbelievable rebounder. So unbelievable that he actually led the league in the statistic for seven consecutive seasons. Chamberlain meanwhile once grabbed 55 in a single game against the Syracuse Nationals.

The numbers are preposterous, but to me none equal the accomplishment of that 1973 Lakers team. Chamberlain’s 100 point game will most likely never be touched, the chances of that 55-rebound game being approached perhaps even slimmer. But while they may never be broken, the fact is all it would take is one game. Not to downplay those marks, but it takes one really, really ridiculous game for the numbers to be surpassed. For that 1973 team to see their record shattered would take a total team effort for 34 consecutive games. Thirty-four consecutive games where a ballclub is able to stay healthy, stay consistently on the same page and pull out a victory. It’s a mark so impressive, the Suns have us talking about it and aren’t even halfway there.

Lucky No. 13

We are currently on our way out east for a five game trip that will take the next seven days. Up first are the previous streak busters, the Washington Wizards.

Steve Nash is getting closer to the Tom Hanks Casaway character every day.
(Image courtesy of fan Joe Corrao)

This first game should be a very tough one, with the Wizards superstar, Gilbert Arenas having really established him as one of the top marquee players in the league.

Last nights game marked the second time this season that the team has won thirteen or more games. Hopefully we can keep this streak alive for a long time yet. Going along with the streak is the facial hair that many of you may have noticed on several of the guys. It would be great if we could all end up looking like Tom Hanks in castaway, however our wives would probably beg to differ. All I can say is that I have not packed any razors on this trip.
One of my interests outside of family and basketball is classic and American muscle cars. Last week I was able to head down to the Barrett Jackson and Russo and Steele car auctions for a day. What a sight! There were some absolutely incredible cars there. What was perhaps even more remarkable was the turn out of people that had come from all over the world for the events. Hopefully once we get back a successful trip we will be able to see the Phoenix open, something I have not yet seen. From everything that I’ve heard from the other guys its another fun event to be apart of here in the Phoenix area.

The more time I spend in Phoenix the more things I find the city has to offer.

Keep the streak and the beards alive…..

A Three-Second Memory Lane Violation

The advent of online auction houses was the best and worst thing to happen to me. For years before they came around, I’d been on the lookout for Suns memorabilia, most of it from the era I remembered most fondly, the era of my childhood, the “Original Logo” years.

After being acquired late in the 1971-72, Charlie Scott went on to play three full seasons with Phoenix. (NBAE Photos)

Trouble was, it was pretty hard to find – there weren’t exactly “Old Suns Souvenir” stores around the Valley, and collectibles shows were few and far between. But with the Internet, suddenly there were centralized locations where I could look for exactly what I wanted, and now I’m almost literally rolling in cool Suns artifacts.

Of course, as a result, now I’m seven months behind in my rent, my electricity was turned off in 2004, and most of my teeth have fallen out because all I can afford to eat are Saltines.

Amazingly, ladies, I’m still single!

The first piece of “Sunsiana” (and if that’s not a word, I’m claiming it – Of course, no one else may want it) I remember owning was an 8 X 10 mounted game action photo of Charlie Scott laying one in at the Coliseum as Neal Walk and the Lakers’ Gail Goodrich look on. I have no idea where it came from or when I acquired it – It’s just been a constant presence among my other belongings for as long as I can remember. I still have it. My suspicion is the Suns must have done a series of them one season, because when I was a teenager, I spied a similarly mounted photo of Dick Van Arsdale in my orthodontist’s office. For the torture I endured there, the doctor should have at least given me the photo in exchange. Many years later, I chanced along a signed photo of Connie Hawkins that looks like it might have been part of the same series, but I can’t know for sure.

I’ve got the requisite Suns basketball cards, the prize amongst them being a 1970-71 Connie Hawkins card, and I’ve also got the 25th Anniversary card set issued by the Arizona Republic and Phoenix Gazette in 1992 – 25 cards, one for each year, each of a different player from that particular year. I framed a number of those cards, and in the center of the display are the two tickets I had to a game that season on my birthday, signed by Connie Hawkins himself. And if you think that’s not a treasured memory, you must be a Lakers fan.

Somewhere, I have a Weiss Guys Car Wash t-shirt I wore as a kid that was signed by Walter Davis. I’ve got the commemorative booklet the Suns produced on the occasion of Dick Van Arsdale’s retirement, and a mug celebrating the Suns’ 1975-76 run to the NBA Finals, with the scores of all the playoff games inscribed on it.

As near as I can figure, I have every book written about the Suns, and many of the team’s media guides from year to year. I’ve got a Barkley bobble head, and a basketball signed by the entire 1990 roster (where have you gone, Kenny Battle?).

I was stunned a few years ago to find a poster, it must have been produced by the team, from 1977 depicting action shots of the squad’s star players (many of them among my all-time favorites), all taken from a single game against the Denver Nuggets. Alvan Adams, Paul Westphal, Ron Lee, Walter Davis, Gar Heard and Don Buse are all there, going against the likes of Dan Issel and Bobby Jones. Actually, not all the photos are game shots. Sweet D is depicted shooting a jumper, but from where he’s stationed on the Coliseum court, he can’t possibly be shooting at a basket, leading me to believe the photo was staged in warm-ups. Anybody who ever saw the Greyhound play knows his aim was much better than that. Every time I look at the photo of Lee on the poster, I flash back to the playgrounds I shot hoops in as a kid, when I’d dive headlong for a “loose” ball like the Tasmanian Devil himself, shouting “Ronnie Lee!” in case anyone who might be watching was unsure who I was emulating. Then I’d go home with my knees scraped bloody, and my bewildered mother would wonder if I’d been beaten up by a vicious gang of midgets. Again.

But of all the Suns stuff I have, my favorite is probably the least objectively attractive, and it doesn’t even come in Suns colors. It’s canary yellow, with a red emblem on it. It’s a coach’s nylon windbreaker with a caricature over the left breast of a basketball player, high above the rim, stuffing through a basketball labeled “44.” In his other hand is a ball labeled “33.” Written in a circle around it: “Adams/Westphal Basketball Camp.” As mentioned in a previous column, in my school-age summers, I attended John MacLeod’s summer camp at the Phoenix Jewish Community Center. But I had friends who went to the Adams/Westphal camp, so the jacket is a tangible, happy reminder of those summers. And canary yellow though it may be, I do wear it…proudly.

I have neither the largest, nor the most valuable, collection of Suns memorabilia in the world. But every item in it conjures up a very specific memory – of the team or of a time in my life – and I can’t put a value on those memories. The Suns and I started play in the same year, and our histories run parallel. I like knowing that I can look around my own life and remember the great moments in the franchise’s history – and vice versa. And the way the Suns are playing right now (they won their thirteenth in a row tonight), I have a feeling we’re all going to want to rush out and get some souvenirs of this season…because this is a team none of us will want to forget. I know I’ll be scrambling to assemble my 2006-2007 memorabilia…

…Just as soon as I can afford it.

Pass the Saltines!

What’s YOUR favorite Suns souvenir?

Movie Reviews and Mercury News

What a way to bring in the New Year! Our Phoenix Suns have won their last 11 games and boy are they fun to watch. If it’s not Steve Nash with 21 assists, it’s Boris Diaw putting up a double-double. Or Amare Stoudemire getting 42 off dunks – just like the Matrix.

The Merury selected Kelly Mazzante with the No. 5 pick in the Dispersal Draft. (WNBAE Photos)

And don’t forget Raja and Leandro hitting the outside shot to open things up. 76 points at half time vs. Memphis on Martin Luther King Day was pretty special.

It was a good start for the Phoenix Mercury as well. We landed the #5 pick in the Dispersal Draft and selected a pretty good shooter in Kelly Mazzante. She is the all-time scoring leader in Big 10 history from her time at Penn State (male or female). That includes the likes of Chris Webber, Calbert Chaney, Magic Johnson, Steve Alford and our own Phoenix Suns player, Jalen Rose. None of them put up as many points as Kelly (2,919). And Phoenix got her to go along with Coach Paul Westhead’s running game and our other great shooters.

I also had the chance over the holidays to see a few movies with my children, and the one that stood out the most was “Bobby.” It was a powerful movie for us, not only because of the civil rights movement, the marches against Vietnam, equal rights for women, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez and Bobby Kennedy, but my late husband, Hall of Fame Dodger pitcher Don Drysdale, was a main character in the movie which really impacted me and my children. Robert Kennedy talked about Don and his “shutout streak” in his speech at the Ambassador Hotel in LA, the night he was assassinated. On that night, Don broke a 40-year-old record, recording his sixth straight shutout, a record that still stands today. My kids and I kept expecting their Dad to show up on the big screen. It was pretty surreal for me to hear Don talked about so much in the movie, which was done so well. I strongly recommend it.

I also saw “Dream Girls.” I grew up a HUGE Motown fan. I would go to sleep at night listening to albums of Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, the Spinners, Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson and the Jackson 5. I loved the movie. I also saw “Holiday” which was a fun “chick flick,” “A Night at the Museum” which the kids and I thought that was funny and the “Pursuit of Happyness.” That movie definitely shows you there is hope no matter how things can look. A feel good movie.

Back to basketball… our Mercury players are doing well overseas. Cappie Pondexter, last year’s runner-up in the Rookie of the Year voting, is in Turkey and continues to put up big numbers. She had 31 the other night. Diana Taurasi is in Russia playing with All-Stars Sue Bird and Tina Thompson; not a bad threesome. Penny Taylor, the MVP of the World Championships is in Italy, and Kristen Rasmussen is in Australia. Kamila Vodichkova is doing well with her rehab (MCL/ACL tear last season) in her home town in the Czech Republic, and everyone else on our roster is playing overseas.

That leaves us to the “young guns” in college, where Coach Westhead is hitting the pavement on the recruiting circuit with all the other WNBA coaches. Lots of young talent out there, and we will have to decipher who is a #1 pick. Still too early to tell. But whoever she is, she better be able to run like the Mercury and Suns.