Thomas Sidelined with Elbow Injury

Well, the boys are streaking again. Ten in a row after a magical night in Memphis. What an intense experience being blocks away from the Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and soaking-up the history and the respectful presentation the Grizzlies team produced on his holiday.

  Kurt Thomas could be out from 3-6 weeks after an elbow injury in Monday night’s win over the Grizzlies.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE Photos)

I was mesmerized by the video at halftime depicting MLK Jr’s life and impact. Then Patti Labelle came out and sang “New Attitude,” which also describes the Grizzlies’ team under Tony Barone. The game turned-out to be quite the scoring-fest: 137-122. Now that was entertainment! Amare thoroughly dominated the 3rd quarter and put on a show that is as close to his form of two seasons ago that we have seen so far.

But the evening was tainted by the loss of Kurt Thomas, who came crashing down in the 1st quarter. We’ve been told he’s out anywhere from 3-6 weeks with the left elbow injury. It blew up like a balloon moments after the fall.

Great story, though. Kurt popped-up and began to head to the free throw line. I saw he and Nash laughing and figured Steve must have said something funny to ease Kurt’s pain. Well, after the game, both guys said it was actually Amare who made them laugh. “Dr. Stoudemire” reportedly went to Kurt right after the fall and told Kurt to “squeeze my hand” with his injured limb – apparently to test the severity of the injury. Well, Kurt and Nash got a big kick out of their teammate and his grasp of “modern medicine,” or attempt at a diagnosis.

Unfortunately, the end result is no laughing matter. The Suns will now turn to Boris for more minutes at the “5 spot” and Marion picks-up more minutes at the power forward position. Worked quite well last season!

Kurt left the team to have an MRI back in Phoenix. We will miss his presence. I have been with the team 14 years now and he has become one of my all-time favorites in terms of professionalism and just a wonderfully approachable person. He is warm, friendly and just a solid guy. I have to admit that when he came over from New York, I was expecting a menacing, surly sort. I couldn’t have been more wrong. But don’t mess with him on the court!

Meanwhile, a day off here in Houston, where it is bitterly cold and windy – we’re told it’s no different in Phoenix! I tried to catch a movie with our producer, David Hughes, but after walking a mile and a half in the frigid conditions, we found the theatre closed! “Blood Diamond” will have to wait for another day. I know Raja Bell really enjoyed the flick… and was so impacted that he is thinking twice about buying diamonds anymore. Must be a powerful film.

Looking forward to heading home and hooking back up with Tom Chambers at the Bud Light Paseo Friday Night. Hopefully he will leave his Beaver-pelt cap at home this time. You have to admit, it took great courage to wear that thing on live TV! He must be very secure with himself. That’s my guy…TC.

See you all on the tube Wednesday night vs the Rockets (6:30 p.m., My45).

Later,

TL

Suns.com in the Bayou

A week ago tonight I was eating dinner alongside the Mississippi River and watching paddlewheelers, tugboats and cruise ships pass by. About a dozen of my fellow Suns front-office executives and I were in New Orleans for the NBA’s annual marketing meetings.

It was my first trip to the Big Easy and I’d have to say I enjoyed the experience. Not as much as some of my co-workers, perhaps. I did have a couple of cold Bud Lights in tribute to our official blog partner, but I’m not really a Bourbon Street kind of guy. [Watch for exclusive video of Suns.com TV’s Jamie Morris on the karaoke circuit, coming soon to a monitor near YouTube]

Our conference was in the heart of the French Quarter, which is back in business now, for the most part, nearly 18 months after Hurricane Katrina. Its fingerprints were visible everywhere we went, however, from the understaffed and understocked restaurants to the still-dark and deserted shops in the Riverwalk Marketplace. The local IMAX is featuring a film on the aftermath, and a Public Health notice taped up in the window of another movie theater caught my eye. “This establishment has been approved for reopening.”

We did take one trip into a nearby community, which was virtually wiped out by the natural disaster, one of the worst in U.S. history. On our way to a local charter school, where we helped construct a new playground as part of the NBA Cares initiative, we passed empty apartment buildings and deserted strip malls. Very strange seeing an Eddie Bauer and an Office Max abandoned. And then came the homes, or what was left of them.

Although I was told we barely saw the surface of the destruction that remains, we passed several blocks worth of rubble; one-time neighborhoods reduced to piles of brick, wood and debris. An eye-opening and humbling experience to say the least. I couldn’t help but feel both blessed and selfish at the same time.

NBA Commissioner David Stern hard at work in New Orleans.While several hundred NBA team representatives helped construct an impressive playground and pretty-up the grounds of the charter school, dozens more helped Habitat for Humanity construct a home in the pouring rain. Even NBA Commissioner David Stern (pictured) and legends Dominique Wilkins, Clyde Drexler and Willis Reed picked up hammers, and lifted new walls made of 2x4s and hope.

The Commissioner made a statement during an interview with a local TV station that I thought was particularly insightful. He admitted that our efforts were primarily symbolic, with few of us bringing experience in construction or architecture. But that we were there to show our concern for the people of New Orleans, and the NBA’s long-term dedication to the city and Hornets franchise.

The marketing meetings themselves were fantastic. At least the breakout sessions that I attended. This was the first time the league had included specific internet sessions as part of the two-day event, and the first time since 2001 that the team web site editors had gotten together as a group to share ideas. My only criticism at the conclusion was that the meetings didn’t last longer. We could have easily spent another two days diving deeper into internet strategies, of which I won’t bore you with here.

I will, though, ask for your opinions, your feedback and your requests. In another paragraph or two, that is. But first I have to thank my fellow web site editors around the league, and my creative, talented and hard-working staff (Steven Koek, Josh Greene, Brad G. Faye).

I am very proud and grateful to report that Suns.com was named the Site of the Year, as voted on by the 30 NBA teams. Although I was very excited to accept the award (one of eight marketing awards the Suns family brought home) and to have my photo taken with the Commissioner, I have to admit there are a number of teams that could have just as easily claimed the crystal trophy.

That was, perhaps, the biggest thing I took out of the meetings. Seeing some of the “best practices” from around the league and hearing about some of the unique content and components my fellow web editors are creating, left me feeling inspired, if not inadequate in some ways. The internet is continuing to evolve and the possibilities and opportunities that still exist for Suns.com are literally endless.

Now where do we begin? I’ve got a list a mile long of things I would like to add to the site, but I want to hear from you first. If you’re a regular visitor to Suns.com – or even an occasional visitor, for that matter – tell me what you want to see us add. What do you enjoy most about the site currently? What do you dislike about the site? What are we missing? What have you seen on other sites that you think we should incorporate?

While we consider Suns.com our baby, Suns.com is really your site. We want this to be THE place you go for your Suns info and entertainment, and everything in between. Now tell us what you want. Let the replies begin…

Phoenix Suns "Cowboy" Up in 202007

Wow, been a pretty hectic week here as you can imagine. Five straight home games have meant a lot of work not only for Suns.com, but everybody here at the US Airways Center – except maybe the players.

Come to think of it, playing at the arena for five straight contests must be pretty inviting as opposed to the alternative of flying from Boston to Golden State.

Nevertheless (or none-of-the-less as I’ve also heard it pronounced), you can’t really complain when the Suns are enjoying such great play. Three games against subpar teams like Miami, Golden State and Seattle could’ve easily led to a let down, but the Suns didn’t allow that to happen which is a mark of a Championship-caliber team.

The team has the makings of a champion in other ways as well. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger discussed a few of those characteristics with me on Tuesday after the team’s shootaround. He had stopped in for a surprise visit as you can read about through Head Athletic Trainer Aaron Nelson’s blog. I’m far from a Steelers fan (they’ve burned my Colts too many times this past decade), but talking to Ben was pretty cool. Since joining the Suns last season, I’ve also had the opportunity to interview Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart and Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, both of whom seemed cool. Being a Syracuse guy, talking to McNabb was probably the highlight of the three.

Shaq and T.O.I think the funniest Suns-football story though involves current Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens (big surprise, right?). The thing to keep in mind is that these guys are celebrities and interact with the media a million different ways during any given week. They’ve got local guys to talk to, national guys to talk to, the list goes on and on. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to see Steve Nash leave straight after a practice as he will usually have a responsibility with anyone – from an exclusive with the Tribune, an interview for ESPN or TNT, a commercial for FSN AZ, a photo session with Wheaties, ect, ect. Anyway, during the playoffs last season last season, Owens spoke with fellow Suns.com coworker Josh Greene during a Lakers home game. The interview was brief, maybe a minute as we always respect the fact these guys aren’t out in public to do interviews. The following series, (if memory serves correctly it was Game 7), Owens made his way back to the Valley, and I figured I’d get a couple quotes from him about how the Suns had battled and all that good stuff. I’ll never forget standing a few feet away when hearing him tell his PR person, “Suns.com? I talked to Suns.com back in Los Angeles.” I just remember thinking to myself, “How the heck does he remember that?” Then again, I guess when you’re a NFL player, memorization is a key when dealing with all those plays.

I’m not usually a big celebrity person (unless it’s like a comic book writer or something really cool like that). Guess I’m just a bit caught up in the 7th Annual Jack in the Box Celebrity Shootout coming up this weekend. My desk is just outside the office of Public Relations Director and Nothin’ But Net host Jamie Morris, so I’ve been hearing first hand how much work has gone into coordinating this event. I used to be a big Warren G fan so seeing him on the list is pretty cool, and being a comic book nerd I’m also glad to see Superman himself (Brandon Routh) is stopping by.

As far as Suns talk, expect a battle when Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic come to town on Saturday. I’ve been telling people since day one that this guy would be a monster in the NBA and he’s proven me right on a regular basis. Against Golden State this week, the 21-year-old had 30 points and 25 rebounds. Are you kidding me? I’d play games of NBA Jam without lines that impressive and in that game you only had two people per team. Howard won’t be happy about his last outing against Phoenix which saw the center in early foul trouble, so expect a foul mood from the future All-Star. Amaré Stoudemire should also be up for this game, he always plays his best against the best (see 2005 Western Conference Finals please). The fact that I’m officially naming this the Marquee Matchup of the Month all but insures it will be one to watch. My last honor (Steve Nash versus Jason Kidd) did not disappoint so I’m fairly confident we’ll see good stuff from both STAT and Howard this weekend… In a Suns victory of course.

Big Ben in the House!

I figured that now would be a good time to post another blog. On Wednesday, we had a special guest appearance to our shootaround by Super Bowl Champ Ben Roethlisberger. For those of you who are solely NBA (Phoenix Suns) fans, Ben is the starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Aaron and Big BenFor those that don’t know me, I am a huge Steelers fan (since I was 4 years old). My high school football jersey wore #88 in respect for Lynn Swann (my favorite receiver growing up). I am always being pummeled with abuse about my love for the Steelers by both the players and the coaching staff. Last season was great for me because I could daily inflict all of them with torture about how good the Steelers were—all the way to their Super Bowl win. Coach D’Antoni (a Browns fan), even had to wear a Steelers hat during a practice and for post-practice interviews after the beating his team took from the hands of the Steelers.

Now, on to the original story.

Last year, there was a charity event at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge called Celebrity Fight Night. Steve Nash was one of the celebrities to be in attendance. A couple of days before the event, Steve said that Ben Roethlisberger was going to be there. The Steelers had just won the Super Bowl, so he knew that would excite me.

This entire story will show just what kind of guy Steve Nash is if you weren’t sold on how nice and down to earth he really is.

Steve asked me if I wanted him to take a jersey to get autographed. It just so happened that prior to the start of the NFL season, I had an authentic #7 Roethlisberger jersey made by our associates at Reebok via NFL Onfield Apparel. It had/has extra sentimental meaning because I was wearing it when I proposed to my then girlfriend/now wife at our fantasy football draft. (I selected her with my first pick in front of many unknowing family and friends). It would be the perfect jersey to have signed. So, Steve took the jersey to the event and carried it around with him the entire night. He searched for Ben’s table and asked him if he would mind signing the jersey. Come to find out, Ben is a huge basketball fan and a fan of Steve Nash. Steve offered to sign one of his own jerseys (as a swap). Ben signed the jersey “Aaron—Congratulations on your engagement! We won it for you! Ben Roethlisberger #7.” It doesn’t get much better then that! Ben and Steve exchanged phone numbers and that was that.

Fast forward to this week.

Ben called Steve on Monday to see if he was going to the BCS game Monday night. Steve told him no, but asked if he wanted to come to our shootaround on Tuesday morning. He obviously said yes, but it was still unknown by all of us. Tuesday morning I got a call from Steve asking if Coach was in the arena yet. I arrive early and hadn’t seen him. Steve asked if I had a different number for him because he really needed to talk to him. Steve and I are good friends and I thought it was strange that he wouldn’t say why he needed to talk to him, but Coach D’Antoni’s approval for Ben to come to shootaround was the reason and Steve wanted to keep it as a secret from me.

We shoot at 9:45am on home game days and about 9:00am, Steve came walking in with Big Ben. Several of us were in the training room and I couldn’t believe it. I have been around many NBA stars and other celebrities and it doesn’t even phase me. But, when the starting quarterback for your lifelong favorite football team comes around, it can be flat out exciting. I was speechless for a few minutes while several of the players and coaches laughed at me. The crazy thing about all of it, everyone else was about as excited as I was (asking for autographs and pictures). Maybe it was because they all felt they already knew him in some way because of my daily taunts during the NFL season about Ben and all of the Steelers.

Coach allowed Ben to go through the entire shootaround. We got him some Suns gear and shoes and he did everything from the film sessions to the shooting drills with the guards. He is a big quarterback (6’5” 245lbs) and held his own during the shooting, making most of his shots.

After practice he came back up to the locker room for pictures and more autographs. He even signed a basketball for my wife and me. My wife and her family are all huge Steelers fans as well, so they were equally excited. Ben finally got the autographed jersey Steve had promised him, then Steve drove Ben and two of his friends back to their hotel in north Scottsdale. They couldn’t stay for the game because they had a plane to catch a few hours later. Maybe he will make another visit in the playoffs! Who knows?!

Go Steelers! And Suns!!

How I Cost the Suns a Victory

The following story is true. No names have been changed to protect anybody.  Regular readers of this blog know there’s no questioning my love for or loyalty to the Phoenix Suns. And that’s what makes this tale all the more painful for me.

Because the last thing I’d ever want to do is make any season any more difficult for my team. For instance, I always look before crossing the street – not just because it’s the smart thing to do from a self-preservation standpoint, but because I want to make sure anyone who might run me over and damage their car isn’t a player for the Suns; I wouldn’t want to be responsible for his being upset about having to deal with his insurance company on a game day.

That’s the kind of fan I am.

Anyway, this story takes us back to the near-forgotten days of 1982. John Cougar sang a little ditty about Jack and Diane, E.T. tried to find a pay phone that took alien currency, and the Suns practiced at the old Phoenix Jewish Community Center on Maryland and 15th Avenue. Like the Romantics and leg warmers and (presumably) E.T. itself, it’s not around anymore (the PJCC moved to the northeast part of the Valley).

I spent a good portion of my childhood at the old PJCC. I went to summer camp there, participated in a touring theater group for kids that was based out of there, and played in the PJCC’s Sunday afternoon basketball leagues for many years (Suns legend Ronnie Lee gave me a trophy one year at the league’s awards banquet, and you literally can’t see me because I’m completely shaded by his Afro).

The Suns were always around. In addition to practicing there as a team during the season, individual players would stop by to work out in the health club or just shoot around. Suns Coach John MacLeod sponsored basketball camps there for kids in the summer. The team opened their rookie camp to the public — somewhere I have a mimeographed roster (on purple paper) of rookie and free agent participants from one camp – and a few dozen die hard supporters (mostly retired gentlemen like the late, much-missed Willie Levinson who didn’t have other obligations on a summer weekday) would sit in the bleachers and watch John MacLeod and Al Bianchi and, later, John Wetzel, put the kids through their paces. It was fairly common to see a Sun, past or present, in the PJCC’s parking lot. Probably in the same folder where I have that rookie camp roster, I have autographs from Paul Westphal, Alvan Adams, Gar Heard, Curtis Perry, Don Buse, Dennis Awtrey and a host of other players. One more than one occasion, I happened to be in the gym when a Suns player would be there working out, and I’d wind up rebounding for them as they shot – no greater fun could be had for a young Suns fan.

Video games became a big deal in the early 80s, and arcades sprung up around Phoenix (The Red Baron at Chris-Town, anyone?) offering contests such as Space Invaders, Asteroids and Centipede, and the PJCC got on board soon after and invested in a couple of the bulky consoles – Donkey Kong and Galaga. Like most boys my age in 1982, I was fairly into video games – although most of my friends were flat obsessed with them to the point that few other things mattered (Girls would change that, soon enough). While I wasn’t obsessed with video games (I was more into the Suns – after all, none of my friends sat through rookie camp with me and Willie Levinson – and while girls soon became a big deal for me, too, clearly the Suns have remained a high priority), I did enjoy playing them now and then. So on days when I’d walk the half-mile or so from my house to the PJCC, I’d often have a couple quarters in my pocket so I could play a game or two after shooting baskets for a while.

Larry Nance (Artwork by Suns fan Brad Sullivan, who never cost the Suns a win.)On this one particular winter day in 1982, I happened to be at the PJCC shooting around, and I had the baskets all to myself. It was a game day for the Suns, and there were only two other people in the gym that I recall: Larry Nance and Joe Proski. The Prosk, of course, needs no introduction to Suns fans; He’d been the Suns’ trainer since the team’s very first day, proudly bore the nickname “Magic Fingers,” and had an Afro nearly as large as Ronnie Lee’s. Larry Nance was a high-flying 6’ 10” forward who played seven highly-productive seasons for the Suns before being sent to Cleveland in the deal that brought Kevin Johnson and Mark West to town. While in a Suns jersey, he won the very first NBA slam-dunk contest, and he’d go on to have his number retired by the Cavs. In 1982, however, he was a second-year player of great promise. The Suns had Alvan Adams and Walter Davis and Dennis Johnson at the time, but it was already abundantly clear that Nance was a star in the making, and that he was going to be a big part of the franchise’s future. Apparently, he and the Prosk were at the PJCC so the trainer could give the young star some last-minute treatment of some sort prior to the game that night.

As I mentioned, the Suns were always around, so while I thought it was definitely cool that Larry Nance was there (I probably secretly hoped he’d see my shooting prowess and tell MacLeod that the Suns had to sign me immediately if the Suns had any intention of winning a championship), I didn’t gawk much, and just went about my business, clumsily heaving up jumpshots.

When I was done, I stepped out into the hall, fished around for a quarter, and plunked it into the Galaga video game. I lost fairly quickly, my spaceship callously destroyed by evil aliens and, having let the galaxy down, I was ready to head home, when I heard a voice behind me say, “I’ll play you.” I turned around, and there was Larry Nance with two shiny quarters.

What, I was going to say no?

Graciously, the High-Yatollah of Slam-ola (seriously, that’s what someone suggested for Nance as a nickname after he won the slam dunk contest later) let me play first, and as I struggled to play with Larry Nance Watching Me, I again probably imagined Nance introducing me to MacLeod in the locker room that night, “If this kid can shoots eighteen footers the way he shoots aliens, we’re going all the way!” I “died” fairly quickly, and it was Larry’s turn.

Now, keep in mind that Larry Nance was 6’ 10”. The video game was not. Larry had to fold his upper body under the game’s canopy so he could see the game’s screen. He was stuffed in there so tightly, I had no idea if he was doing well, doing poorly…Heck, I had no idea if he could even breathe.

I guess, as it turns out, he wasn’t doing very well, because he “died” about as quickly as I did, but he reacted much more strongly. He stood straight up and shouted a word I’m still not allowed to say. But because he was wedged under the canopy when he tried to stand up – KRACK – he smacked his head right into it. Hard. There was blood. A considerable amount of it.

He stumbled back into the gym, muttering, and I followed. By the time I got in there, he was bending over so Prosk could examine his scalp, and I heard the words, “stitches,” “hope it’s not a concussion,” and, “better not, just in case.” And then I got a look from the trainer that would have melted steel. I stammered an apology, Nance mumbled something about it not being my fault, and I hurried out of the gym and back home.

Larry Nance didn’t play that night, and I distinctly remember the reason
given over the radio being, “a head contusion suffered by an inadvertent elbow during the morning shootaround.” The Suns, without their young star, lost, and I felt terribly guilty. The Suns went on to finish 53-29, and lost to Denver in the first round of the playoffs. I remember wondering if perhaps, like how a butterfly’s flapping wings can somehow cause a series of events that could typhoon halfway across the globe, Nance hadn’t gotten hurt and sat out that game, the outcome of the season might have been entirely different. I sure hope not. I’d hate to think I cost the Suns a championship.

My friends, meanwhile, when I told them the story later, were more concerned with why I didn’t finish the video game. After all, it was paid for.

But like I said, it was 1982. Priorities were different for most boys my age then. For me, though, the Suns were always more important.

A Day at the Races for Cotton

The only thing I remember about the last time I went to the horse race track many years ago was that it smelled awful, the food was expensive and terrible, and I lost a lot of money I could not afford to lose. Saturday afternoon was an entirely different experience.

Night Chapter, ridden by Brice Blanc, won the third annual Cotton Fitzsimmons Mile at Turf ParadiseWhile I still lost some money I really could not afford to lose, there were no objectionable odors, the food was free and delicious, and I was surrounded by some of the biggest names and most popular figures in Suns history. With my girlfriend of eight years, Teresa, I was honored to attend the private party celebrating Turf Paradise’s third annual running of the Cotton Fitzsimmons Mile.

We were among the first to arrive and got to spend some time with Cotton’s wife, JoAnn, who shared some great stories about Cotton’s passion for the horses and how the Cotton Mile came about.

• After Cotton’s death, JoAnn received correspondences from several organizations wanting to honor Cotton’s name, but the majority of them wished to use in conjunction with some fund-raising event, which JoAnn felt was not appropriate. Turf Paradise was the first to pitch an idea whose sole purpose was to celebrate his life without any other ties. The fact that among his greatest joys was horse racing in general and Turf Paradise in particular was just icing on the cake.

• Cotton would spread out all his racing forms and papers, and pore over all the statistics and notes like preparing to coach or broadcast a basketball game. He had a rainbow of colored markers which he used to code the various notes and trends for the upcoming races. The bag he toted back and forth to the track that kept all his notes and markers has remained unopened since his passing. JoAnn has gone to open it on a number of occasions but cannot quite get herself to do it.

• At his passing, the Turf Paradise staff that waited on him for years placed purple and orange flowers on “Cotton’s table” and allowed no one to sit there for several weeks.

• Saturdays were his favorite days to spend at Turf Paradise. He would hang out all day and bet on every race. He would call JoAnn and ask, “When do you want me home?” She would reply, “Don’t put that on me. You tell me when you’ll be home.” He would then hem and haw, citing when the last race started and approximately what time he thought he would be leaving, but then would add, sweet as could be, “But I can come home now if you want.” Of course, he would always stay.

• This year, the Cotton Mile had a $75,000 purse, which Tom Leander explained to me did not go to the horse, but to the owner of the horse. (Thanks, Tom, I was really just asking if it had anything to do with the betting.) It was the highest purse of the day and meant that the race had reached a kind of status which brought in some of the best race horses around.

• After getting the rundown on how methodical he was about analyzing the races, the jockeys, the horses, the weather (“His father was a mudder! His ‘Mudder’ was a mudder!”), trying to take in every angle, I asked JoAnn if he was any good at picking the right horses. “No,” she replied very quickly with a sly grin as if that was among the most stupid questions ever asked.

We were seated in a private room overlooking the track and people started filing in as the races began. Suns legend and one-time Harlem Globetrotter Connie Hawkins’ arrival sparked me to include “sweetgeorgiabrown” in a box trifecta for the first race. While it might appear by the use of the phrase “box trifecta” (betting on the top three finishers, regardless of order) that I knew what I was doing, I had actually learned of the term just minutes before from JoAnn. Two of my three horses wound up in a heated battle for last place.

The only race I would up winning was the third, which I had placed a “show” bet (betting the horse will be a top three finisher) on a horse who won the race. I won a whopping 60 cents, which I paraded around the room after I cashed in.

The betting talk centered, of course, on what to bet for the Cotton Mile, the seventh race of the day. The No. 1 horse was named “Marbury” and I do not think anyone put any money on him (the large contract jokes aside). As I barely knew how to read the race book and no other names popped out at me (I, too, declined a tribute to Steph), I decided to switch my attention to the numbers. There were 12 horses in the race which meant that four numbers matched the uniforms of Ring of Honor members  (5, 6, 7 and 9) and No. 8 was Eddie Johnson’s, who looked to Cotton as a father figure. I flirted with a quinella, which is betting on the top four finishers, but settled on the box trifecta again when I discovered that the No. 5 horse was scratched (sorry Van). I went with the Walter Davis/Kevin Johnson/Dan Majerle ticket and another for Eddie Johnson to show.

Shortly after the sixth race, we were led down as a group to a box at the rail where we waited for the Cotton Mile to begin. I’ve sat in the photographer’s box down the third base line at Wrigley Field, I’ve watched basketball and football games from the baseline and sideline, respectively and I’ve watched playoff hockey from ice-level. But there is something unique about being close to those magnificent horses barreling down the grass track. The sights and sounds of that experience are like no other. 

Sweet D’s No. 6 won the race, but none of my other picks came close.   In fact, no one in our group really seemed to be too excited about the outcome. Then a lone voice spoke up from up front. JoAnn held her winning ticket up in the air and said, “I won!” For the record, the winner was Night Chapter, ridden by Brice Blanc for trainer Bobby Frankel.

Our box was adjacent to the winners circle and we were led onto a platform there after the race where pictures were going to be taken. They then led in Night Chapter. What an incredible creature. From its shining coat and pulsating veins after his (her?) victorious run, he (she?) was spectacular to see up close.

By the time we got back upstairs, Dan Majerle’s kids were eating cake and my Suns.com colleague Josh “JAG” Greene was back at the betting booth.

The Winners Circle

On Friday night, I worked statistics for the Miami Spanish radio broadcast and the broadcaster remarked to me at one point (in English) how many former players are still with the Suns’ organization. A lot of sports clubs hire their former players and while it does appear the Suns do it more than most, I don’t know that for a fact. I do know that a lot of the visiting broadcast crews comment on the number of former players who are still around the team. Watching the way guys that I used to cover as players react to the death of Cotton, both right after the fact and in the ensuing years, it makes sense.

To see guys like Majerle, EJ and Chambers treat JoAnn with so much love and respect is a testament not only to her, but to Cotton, as well as the Suns’ organizational commitment to family over the years (there I go again). It is much too early to determine if that trend will continue in the post-Colangelo era. I suspect and hope it will.

LB For Three, Diaw Enjoys Some "Recreation"

Just watched a replay of Leandro Barbosa’s shot which sunk the Bulls in Chi-town on Tuesday. What an unbelievable game that was.

A contest which appeared so out of reach that broadcaster Tom Leander mentioned the Suns haven’t lost by double digits this season, ends up being a Suns one-point victory? The Suns are winning ballgames they did not last season, and it’s provided a lot of fun for Suns fans like myself.

LB gets mobbed by his teammates after his game-winning three-pointer in Chicago.The shot also couldn’t have been drained by a nicer, more humble guy. Barbosa or “Starbosa”, as we at Suns.com have grown to call him, was my first interview when joining the staff here last season. I had never interviewed an athlete beyond the high school level, and needless to say was a little nervous. Within seconds though, LB’s personality shined through making the job a million times easier. The guy is always available for an interview and his English is much better than people assume (although I think he may enjoy the perception as it gets him out of a lot of media responsibilities). Suns assistant coach Dan D’Antoni has done an unbelievable job working with him these past two seasons, becoming not only a mentor but a friend. Through a fan e-mail segment we ran during the playoffs last season, I got to talk to Dan a lot during the postseason and watched the relationship between he and LB mature. Barbosa has been through a lot in his short career. Devastated when the organization shipped off his friend and teammate Stephon Marbury to the Knicks, Barbosa was forced to mature quickly during that 2003-04 campaign as he stepped in as a starter. He then returned to a backup role behind an All-Star in Steve Nash and learned a different way to play the position. When Raja Bell was suspended for Game 6 of Phoenix’s opening round series against Los Angeles, Barbosa was thrown into the mix as a starter once again and asked to defend one of the league’s most prolific scorers in Kobe Bryant. While he may not ever be the face of the NBA, Barbosa has always stepped up to the challenge and there isn’t a member of this organization not happy to have him on board.

It all seemed to come full circle for Barbosa when he found the ball in his hands during the closing seconds of that contest in Chicago. Barbosa nailed a tough outside shot in a hostile environment and I believe the transformation was complete. The Brazilian Blur is no longer just one of the nicest guys in the NBA anymore, he’s one of the most talented.

Feeling under the weather, Barbosa was not able to attend Suns practice today but the session wasn’t without it’s fair share of fun. The best part was watching Boris Diaw compete in a game of PIG (an abridged version of HORSE) with assistant coach Marc Iavaroni. Iavaroni – who won an NBA title with the 76ers in 1983 – keeps in great shape and is about as versatile as assistant coaches come. My favorite shot was one the coach dubbed the “Charlie Chaplin” shot. This comes in Iavaroni squaring up his heels along the out-of-bounds line in the corner of the court. The action causes the shooter to look like Chaplin – who ironically spent some time in France during his life. Iavaroni was unsuccessful in his attempt, but Boris was so intrigued he decided to give it a shot. The 2006 NBA Most Improved Player nailed it, stunning the capacity crowd (okay so it was really like me and four other people).

Finally, I got to talk to Mike D’Antoni about his winning the Coach of the Month Award for December. As expected, Mike credited the team, stating it wouldn’t have been possible had they not played well. While Mike is doing the responsible thing in crediting his team, the fact remains that there are a number of talented teams out there that still aren’t doing squat. Yes, had the guys not performed it’s doubtful Mike would get recognition, but he should definitely be credited with what was an unbelievable month. Mike is a player’s coach but he doesn’t beat around the bush. He doesn’t sweeten things up and I think we saw that during his post-game press conference following a November loss against Dallas. D’Antoni called out the play of his championship contenders and they certainly responded. After the defeat, the Suns enjoyed back-to-back wins followed by an overtime loss in Utah minus their two-time MVP Steve Nash. The Suns then strung together a franchise-record 15 consecutive wins. Mike knows his guys and treats them as what they are – individuals. Congrats on the honor, and if the Suns keep up the great play there may just be another coaching award coming your way sometime in May. Whether you want it or not.

A New Year's Wish

I was in Chicago last week for the Christmas holiday, and when I returned to my hotel room that night, I flicked on the television to find out who’d won the game between the Lakers and the Heat earlier in the day.

I was thrilled to see the Lakers had been routed, with Dwyane Wade doing most of the damage with 40 points, and Kobe Bryant being held far below his average. I don’t celebrate Christmas, but if I did, it would have been a heck of a present.

The Original SunAs part of the cable sports station’s coverage of the game, they ran a graphic listing the NBA’s all-time top scorers on Christmas day, in terms of total points. To my surprise, among the leaders was Dick Van Arsdale.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, I guess. I mean, the Suns used to play every year on Christmas back in their early seasons, so Van would have had plenty of opportunities to ring up the buckets…I suppose before he even came to the Suns, his previous team, the New York Knicks, might have played a few times on the holiday. I think I was mostly surprised because Van stopped playing almost thirty years ago, so his name rarely comes up in contemporary basketball discussions. And that got me thinking about the guy longtime Suns fans lovingly referred to as the “Flying Dutchman.”

For those of you who don’t know Dick Van Arsdale beyond the name on the US Airways Arena’s Ring of Honor, a quick history lesson in Sunsology: When the NBA held an expansion draft in 1968 to populate the rosters of its two newest franchises in Milwaukee and Phoenix, the Suns chose first, and took Van off the Knicks’ hands. He didn’t want to come to Arizona at first – the Knicks were on the verge of great things, and Phoenix was considered little more than a wild west outpost, but come he did, and he came to love the city almost as much as it came to love him. Van scored the team’s first-ever regular season basket, and went on to be the exceedingly reliable mainstay of the Suns’ often-turbulent first decade. A cross between the clutch, dependable John Havlicek and the selfless, relentless Jerry Sloan, Van earned his way onto three All-Star squads, and by the time he retired in 1977, his name was atop most of the Suns’ meaningful career statistical categories. He segued immediately into a front-office role with the team, as broadcaster, as Vice President of Basketball Operations, and even, briefly, as head coach. He remains with the organization today as a Senior Executive Vice President. Forever and always around Phoenix, he will be known as the Original Sun, and he is a pivotal figure in the history of professional sports in the Valley.

On a personal note, Dick Van Arsdale was a boyhood hero of mine, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with him a few times. He’s as approachable, as kind a guy, and as generous with his time as anyone you’d ever want to meet.

Van suffered a stroke a little more than a year ago. It was a big one — It left his speech and some of his motor skills impaired. It got some press attention at the time, particularly in Phoenix, of course, and there were many letters and e-mails of support in the first days following the stroke, but you haven’t heard much about his recovery since. Anyone who’s ever spent any time with Van can be reasonably sure he’s attacked his rehabilitation with the same gusto he used to fight through Clifford Ray picks to stay with Rick Barry during his playing days. He’s made a remarkable comeback at high speed, by all accounts, and his contributions to the Suns family remain as vital as ever. The man is, by no means, an invalid of any kind.

But anyone who knows a stroke victim knows that recovery never really ends. It takes constant hard work not only to improve relearned skills, but also to simply maintain them. In short, while it may not get any headlines, Van continues to put in the effort on his recuperation.

So, as you’re making your list of wishes for the New Year, next to your wish that the Suns win their first of many NBA championships in 202007, why not send a wish to Van for continued success in his comeback, and remind him that we’re all still rooting for him (You could even drop a check, if you’re so inclined, to Phoenix Suns Charities, which support many worthy medical causes, such as stroke research)?

We’ve all seen what our cheers can do for our Suns when they’re working hard on the court.

Chances are, they’ll have the same effect on the Original Sun as he keeps on fighting off the court.

Suns fans, I wish you health, happiness, smiles and success in the New Year. And I wish for the Larry O’Brien Trophy for all of us…with a four-game playoff sweep of the Lakers along the way.