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?