October 17, 2012

A former Suns center, Suns TV broadcaster, four entertainers and a gorilla spend three days together on the bus. This sounds like the start of a very funny joke. While so far it’s been fun, it’s not a joke.

The Phoenix Suns’ “All for Orange” bus tour is in full swing and we’re having a great time interacting with kids and seeing their reactions to our assemblies; particularly The Gorilla’s story and his surprisingly
brutal orange leotard.

We started today with a couple radio interview and some school assemblies in Yuma then headed to Lake Havasu City where we ran a basketball clinic with kids at the community center and a tip off party
at a local restaurant. The basketball clinic in the big LHCC was near to my heart since my lovely wife, Elaina, and I host the South Mountain Basketball and Education Camp every year.

Since we’re promoting a physically active lifestyle, basketball is my activity of choice. But it goes beyond that. I think of it like a lure to get the kids to not only be active but to teach them life lessons like staying in school, going to class, not following peer pressure and being accountable for your actions. Of course, the exercise part comes with it since it’s hard to be a good ball player without being physically fit. Even ifyou’re not interested in playing in the NBA/WNBA, shooting the ball around from time to time is a good way to stay in shape.

During tonight’s basketball clinic, I was asked repeatedly what it’s like to have the kids looks up to me. Honestly, I don’t really think about that much. Since I am 6 foot 10, everyone looks up to me! What I
think about instead is when I was a kid, growing up in the Vietnam era, we use to have soldiers come to school and speak with us. It was neat having someone that I admired speak to us kids. It left an impact
on me. I’ve had people come up to me that tell me, “I remember when I was five years old and you lifted me up to the basket at an event.” I hope that the impact I’ve had on the students during our assemblies
and the kids at the clinic is a positive message. In return, if they’re ever in a position to reach out to help and encourage someone else, I hope they do the same.

Earlier this evening, we visited a local restaurant called the Javalina Cantina. Leander and I did a Q&A about our 2012-13 Phoenix Suns team. I have to say, I am really excited about seeing the game of another strong team coming along. The Suns organization has a history of developing strong, successful players, including KJ, Amar’e and Shawn Marion. Once again we have some strong pieces on our team that can grow together and become a strong unit. Like our fans, I am eagerly awaiting to get this season started on October 31. You can tune into Suns.com later this week and listen to some of my insights on the Suns hitting the hardwood this season.

I’m sure all you Suns fans reading this are wondering if anyone has pulled any practical joke on the bus. Well, there haven’t been any jokes played on anyone yet, but the trip is not over. The Gorilla on this trip, so you never know what can happen. Then again, I’m the biggest one on the bus so I don’t think anyone will mess with me. I don’t fit in the bunks and Leander and the others are currently in the bunks crashed
out. I sleep sitting up. Let’s see them try.

Well, folks, I’m turning in for the night. We have an early morning bus to catch on our way to Flagstaff. I have had a great time aboard the “All for Orange Express” but I’m ready for some sleep, good food and
most importantly, to see my family.

Big Daddy, out.

- @MWest41

Day 3 aboard the “All for Orange Express” and I officially know what it’s like to be in a boy band. With superstars like former Suns center, Mark West, Suns TV broadcaster, Tom Leander and the best entertainers in the NBA, our Solar Squad we are a teeny bopper’s wildest dream. We’ve officially visited six elementary schools, a community center, hosted a Suns Season Tipoff Party and a Channing Frye
autograph session, and I can’t go anywhere without fans jumping for joy at the sight of me. You think a guy like me, who barely makes a splash in Phoenix, would be small potatoes in towns like Tucson, Yuma,
Lake Havasu City and even Flagstaff; but these people act like they’ve never seen a gorilla walk into a Fry’s Store before! Really?!

I don’t want to come off as egotistical and don’t tell Mark or Tom, but I know for a fact that the kids cheer for me the loudest. I mean it’s clear to see that I get the most applause. Any 6-10 guy
who made it to the 92-93 NFA Finals team and a well known Suns TV broadcaster can stroll into a room (that sounds like the start of a bad joke) but when a gorilla enters, something special happens.

Now, I’ve had a few shining moments on my trip. Where I may or may not have accidentally taken the decorating cars with Suns décor a little too far and painted a car in lieu of the window with non-washable paint. BUT the family was “all for orange” and loved the new paint job on their KIA Optima.

In Lake Havasu City during our basketball clinic I pulled a stunt that literally made fans speechless. I ended our basketball clinic at the community center early in order to pull all 100 kids out onto the
sidewalk to watch me repel from the London Bridge! Don’t worry, Mom. They know not to try that at home.

Then, at Northern Arizona University I caused a slight raucous in the Student Union when I donated all my old stinky basketball shoes into the food drive bins. I think the NAU basketball students who were running the drive were very appreciative. They kept yelling “GO!” at me which was obviously a cheer as they adopted my nickname.

With as much fun as I’ve had spending time with our fans during all of our community work, the bus situation has become a different story. Solar Squad keeps hiding my Suns jersey’s because they think
it’s funny to see me try to make an appearance work in my skivvies. Don’t even get me started on Tom Leander, he keeps stealing my bananas and eating them as if I bought them specifically for him. Mark
West thinks it’s funny to put things on the very top bunk so I have to crawl up to the top like it’s a tree. Someone should tell Mark that gorilla’s don’t climb trees and him yelling, “Climb monkey, climb!” isn’t very funny.

All this traveling has been fun and I’ve enjoyed all my adoring and loyal fans …er I mean Suns fans I’ve
met along the way but truth be told, this primate is getting a little home sick. I think it’s time for me to say thank you to the big AZ and head back to home sweet Phoenix, where I can start prepping with our team for our home opener on October 31st.

Thank you, Arizona! The Gorilla has left the building!

Mark West and Tom Leader’s reactions to The Gorilla’s blog post.

Mark: Let’s be real, Gorilla. Tom and I obviously had a louder applause from the students than you did. Also, that stunt during the basketball clinic in Lake Havasu City almost got us banned from the city for

Tom: All those cries of joy you heard from the kids were clearly screams of terror. I don’t know how you got away with writing on someone’s actual car with window paint. We had to have Channing Frye walk her and her kids around the Fry’s Store to help them pick out their groceries in exchange for not pressing vandalism charges.

Also, you’re NAU dirty sneakers stunt caused us to toss all the food in that box. They were yelling, “Go!” to get you to leave before you caused anymore damage.

Mark: I still stand by that top bunk prank.


October 16, 2012

#AllforOrangeExpress Bus Tour: Day Two

It’s day two on the “All For Orange Express” bus tour and we have been busy.

It was an early morning wake up call for “Big Daddy” Mark West and I as we headed down to Yuma’s KTII country station. We forgot our cowboy hats, but luckily for us, the Gorilla came to our rescue and saved the day. Unfortunately for the station, GO had a slight mishap with the satellite dish, but lucky for us duck tape can fix almost everything.

After we visited with KTII and KBLU (Yuma’s news talk radio) it was time to head to the Desert Mesa Elementary School where almost 800 students were waiting for our arrival. Wow! What a show! The energy those lil’ ones had was electric, and just amped up our crew even more. Even though this was our fourth school assembly, it was just as exciting as the first.

The second school, James B. Rolle Elementary, in Yuma was equally as energized and the spirit they had was infectious. I After each school assembly and community visit we have, our team is more excited then before, despite the long hours and lack of sleep. The enthusiasm and energy is a true testament to the commitment of our fans statewide.

We are on our way to Lake Havasu, to host a basketball clinic and a Suns community tip off party. I think I am going to try and get a few hours rest if I can. Although, trying to grab a bit of shut eye when you are on a bus with the Suns Solar Squad who are doing flips in the aisles and the Suns Gorilla who thinks the bunk beds are trees in the rain-forest, can be a bit challenging.


October 15, 2012

All aboard the #All4OrangeExpress!

Okay, so maybe it is a sign that I have seen the movie “Almost Famous” one too many times, but as soon as I stepped foot on the “All For Orange Express” tour bus early this morning, I felt a bit like Penny Lane.

It dawned on me early this morning as we left US Airways Center that I would be traveling across the state with “rock stars,” who by just walking into a room have the ability to get hundreds of fans up off their feet and cheering. Okay, so the screaming fans may be school-aged children, and the stage would be a make-shift platform in a school’s cafeteria or gym, but it still counts!

Although the “rock stars” on this bus are not musicians, their star power cannot be denied.

Aboard the tour bus, named the “All for Orange Express” are Phoenix Suns rock stars: Mark West, former Suns center who played on the 1992-93 Finals team and has the third all-time highest percentage in career field-goals; Suns broadcaster Tom Leander, who has not only reported for the Suns for more than 20 years, but has began his career with the Suns as a ball boy (I won’t reveal how long ago that was ;) ); four members of the Suns elite hip hop squad, the Solar Squad, and of course, the NBA’s most valuable primate, The Gorilla.

The bus, which we have already nicknamed “Betty” (don’t ask why) is taking us around the state of Arizona on a three day bus tour to visit with fans in Tucson, Yuma, Lake Havasu and Flagstaff.

As you can imagine, a bus ride with 13 people including a monkey can be messy. If someone could tell The Gorilla to stop leaving his banana peels on the floor, I would really appreciate it. I have slipped four times already (seriously…it’s not funny GO!)

But despite my OCD, on a high level of dysfunction, I am able to see past the mess and see the excitement and what really counts.

Today alone we were able to connect with more than 700 fans as we visited three schools (one in Phoenix and two in Tucson) and held a community event, featuring Tucson’s favorite Sun Channing Frye.

To see the smiles on all of the children as The Gorilla busted through their school doors, and the amazement in their eyes when they saw Suns legend Mark West is something I won’t forget. Or how the little girl wearing a Frye jersey completely lit up when Channing gave her a high-five and thanked her for being a fan.

The Phoenix Suns are not just Phoenix’s team… we are the Arizona’s original team, and it feels great to connect with our fans across Arizona. As they share their stories of how they traveled two hours each way, just to see our team take the court, made me realize how amazing our fans are.

So although I may not be traveling with Stillwater, and we haven’t yet broken out into a rendition of “Tiny Dancer” (there’s still hope, fingers crossed), I am “home.”

- @SunsPRgirl

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