As if my Twitter handle @orange_crusader wasn’t an indication of this enough, I am not only an admitted comic book geek, but one who embraces that geekness. To maintain some level of coolness over the years (and to avoid wedgies), I have also presented myself as a sports fan, thus requiring me to learn such complicated terms as “trifecta”, “clutch basket” and “flagrant foul.”
Since joining the Suns in 2005, I have tried my best to fuse comic books and sports as often as possible, regardless of how much of a reach it may appear I’m trying to make. Who could ever forget my beloved blog “Which Sun is Most Likely to Benefit From A Radioactive Spider Bite?” back in 2009?
With The Avengers now in theatres, the opportunity to turn my inner geek into Suns.com content presented itself through our Vice President of Suns Digital, Jeramie McPeek (@jmcpeek), when he asked if anybody would be interested in discussing which Suns players over the years best represented the Avengers. Pretending this was a chore of enormous inconvenience, I gave a rolling of my eyes and a half-hearted, “I guess I can do it.” I then almost let my geeky cat out of the bag when I asked, “We’re talking about the Avengers from the film, right? Not the original team of which Captain America was not a member and not the Ultimate Avengers team of which Ant-Man and Wasp are members.” After noticing the looks I was getting by the department, I shrugged my shoulders and just gave a nonchalant, “I can work on something like that.”
I compiled my roster, and after some debate with both McPeek and our Social Media Specialist, Greg Esposito (@espoaz), over who had made the final cut, I am ready to present to you the doppelgangers who compile “The Ultimate Avenging Suns.”
CAPTAIN AMERICA – It’s fitting that the NBA player to have worn the Suns uniform more times than anyone in team history would be the one to kick things off. With superhero-like monikers including “Double A” and “Oklahoma Kid”, Adams remains a legend in the state of Oklahoma to this day. With Oklahoma right there in the heartland of America and a state motto that translates to, “Labor conquers all things” you can’t find a Sun who better epitomizes Captain America than Adams.
Adams never took a day off, but thanks to his consistent work ethic, still managed to sustain a successful 13-year career. Even in his final season during the 1987-88 campaign, Adams suited up for all 82 ballgames, a testament to how much of an effort he gave all the way from his Rookie of the Year season in 1975-76 through that final regular season.
Like Adams, Captain America also knows how to put in a full day’s work, an attribute that was never on display more than during Marvel’s Civil War. The storyline saw Captain America lead a team of anti-registration superheroes against a government that had made it mandatory for “costumes” to register before fighting crime. Civil War helped revitalize Captain America, in large part because it proved there wasn’t a force on the planet that the character would back down from.
When you combine his work ethic with his attitude (there aren’t many more wholesome and genuinely good guys than Adams) a more fitting Captain America you could not find.
IRON MAN – This one can be summed up with a simple number - 1,192. That is the number of consecutive ballgames that forward A.C. Green suited up for over the course of his NBA career. He may not have always been suiting up in purple and orange, but regardless of the team name on the front of his jersey, it was the name on the back that symbolized the man’s iron will to keep moving forward through various nagging injuries.
If Suns fans can make a favorite out of somebody who played more than twice as long in Los Angeles with the Lakers than he did with Phoenix, it’s obvious that there’s something special about him. Fans in Phoenix probably best remember Green for the incident that took place against former Knicks forward J.R. Reid, who elbowed the Suns’ veteran forward during a ball game knocking out two teeth (teeth that Green calmly walked over and picked up off the hardwood like a man we might add). It looked as if the streak would come to an end following the injury, but thanks to a protective mask (honestly, it’s like this stuff writes itself), Green was in uniform for the team’s next game and managed to keep the streak intact.
Now, I realized that Tony Stark and A.C. Green are as different as night and day. But when Stark puts on that Iron Man suit, he is transformed into something greater than a cocky, millionaire playboy. Stark becomes conscious of the “we” that doesn’t exist in Stark Tower, and learns the benefits of turning away from a self-serving livelihood and working towards assisting a “greater good.” Over the years, he’s even learned how to be part of a team rather than trying to do everything on his own. Like Stark, Green also understood the benefits of being a team player, and finished his career with some champion experience to thank for it.
THOR – The God of Thunder meets “Thunder” Dan Majerle in a fairly simple fusion of Suns and Avengers. The Suns’ All-Star and current assistant coach may be remembered by some as a threat from downtown, but that’s not to say that the forward didn’t also have the ability to throw it down inside the paint. How else do you explain his 1989 playoff slam over the 7-7 Manute Bol? Regardless of whether or not it counted, you would be hard-pressed to find a dunk better described as “thunderous.”
The Avengers may have had reservations about teaming up with a relative of the antagonistic Loki, but they eventually saw the error of their ways and welcomed Thor aboard. Suns fans, too, were hesitant over Majerle joining their team back in 1988 and even booed the selection. But as legendary coach Cotton Fitzsimmons promised, “You’ll be sorry you ever booed this young man.” Fitzsimmons was right, and like the Avengers, Suns fans too eventually embraced the outcast as one of their own.
Through the decades, the Marvel Universe’s adaptation of the Norse God has been counted out many times (after all, it’s not easy keeping a guy hip when he speaks like a character out of Shakespearian literature). But through the creative genius’ at Marvel, they manage to not only keep Thor involved in major storylines, but have even made him the catalyst. Recent examples include popular storylines like Siege and Fear Itself.
Since his playing days, Majerle has remained a fixture in the Suns’ organization through various facets – first as a broadcaster and now as an assistant coach. He, like Thor, appears to have a firm understanding of how to remain part of a winning team. And like Thor, Majerle’s success can be credited to finding the balance between playing with discipline while knowing how to call upon a little reckless abandon when the time is right.
HULK – Sir Charles sounds like it would be a nickname reserved for a mild-mannered citizen, but that’s what helps make this merging so perfect. Like Bruce Banner, Sir Charles is a genius in many ways, and like the Hulk, former Suns forward Charles Barkley really liked to smash the opposition.
Barkley was loud and to the point during his time with the Suns (not to mention his time ever since), and never held punches metaphorically or literally. This is very similar to a Hulk character who is such a pain to the rest of the Marvel Universe that its head honchos once tricked him into being shipped off to another planet altogether. As you can imagine, this didn’t sit well with the green guy, and soon after his return to Earth in the World War Hulk storyline we received another reminder why nobody really likes this guy when he’s angry.
Suns opponents didn’t like to see Barkley angry either, as his first matchup against his former Sixers can attest. In a 125-115 victory against Philadelphia, the superstar pitched in a line of 36 points, 17 rebounds and nine assists (unfortunately, the Suns found out a few years later what it’s like to be on the other end of the spectrum of a “Barkley smash” performance when in his first game against Phoenix as a member of the Houston Rockets, Barkley pulled down an astonishing 33 rebounds).
“The Round Mound of Rebound” played with a bit of a chip on his shoulder – a large reason why he is arguably the most popular Sun of all time. He played by his rules and insisted on playing the game his way. Best of all, the MVP “hulked up” more than ever when the stakes were at their highest. Case in point, Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. Barkley told the world he would score 40 points and grab 20 boards against Seattle and then announced his totals each time he ran by the Sonics’ bench on his way to a 44-point, 24-rebound night and the 1993 NBA Finals.
In a star-studded cast like the one seen in The Avengers, many wondered who it would be stealing the show. Surprisingly enough, it just might have been the Hulk, despite the fact that he can barely put together a complete sentence. If anybody in Suns history knows how to steal some spotlight, it’s definitely the Saturday-Night-Live -hosting, TNT-postgame-boasting, Charles Barkley.
HAWKEYE – With a name like Hawkeye, Suns Ring of Honor member Connie Hawkins would appear to be the route to go. But the Suns “Hawk” was smooth, too smooth to ever share any commonality with the rough and rugged Clint Barton.
McPeek recommended taking the “Greyhound” here (as in Walter Davis), and normally it’s tough to argue with the Suns’ VP of Digital (you know, because he’s also our boss and all). But while Davis is the franchise’s all-time scoring leader, that doesn’t constitute him being the ultimate marksman. Davis shot a very solid 51% from the field over the course of his career, but that percentage dipped dramatically from downtown. The Suns’ legend connected on 157 of his 577 overall shot attempts from 3-point land, giving him a career percentage of 27%. Not exactly a number you want to bank on from a guy holding a bow and arrow at 50-plus yards away.
It will pain Suns fans who probably perceive Hawkeye as a “bit player Avenger,” but you’ve got to fill this role on the team with Steve Nash. I mean, is there a Suns player you would trust more to connect from anywhere on the court than the “Canadian Kid?” Field goals, trifectas and free throws are all at Nash’s mercy, as he proved yet again this season by shooting 53% from the field, 39% from downtown and 89% from the charity stripe. The playmaker missed the completion of a fifth career 50-40-90 shooting season by just a hair, a feat that has only been accomplished a total of five times in league history by players other than Nash. He did manage to finish the season ranked seventh in field-goal percentage, and first among guards and forwards, and at 38 years young, fell just short of joining Chris Mullin and John Stockton as the only players in NBA history to shoot 54 percent or better from the field and 40 percent or better from 3-point range in a single season.
To Steve Nash, the basketball is his bow and arrow, the bottom of the net his target, and bringing the two together is an art form that he only appears to get better at with age.
BLACK WIDOW – One would think that the saucy mink known as Black Widow would be a personality Suns players would not want to be compared to, but in terms of on the court, is there a better Avenger for an NBA player to emulate? To anybody not familiar with the character, Black Widow is a former assassin turned spy who has pure ice water running through her veins. In other words, she’s the “guy” you want taking the shot late in the game with everything on the line.
It’s a characteristic exhibited by many of the aforementioned Suns in this blog. In fact, it’s difficult not to duplicate a player we’ve already mentioned here for this spot. Barkley knew how to close out a game better than almost any superstar while Nash has hit game-winning shots time and time again. Then you’ve got a player like Garfield Heard who – while not particularly known as a clutch player – hit one of the biggest clutch shots in NBA history.
This one ate at me so badly that I actually picked up the phone for a little consultation. And who better to give me advice than a man who is not only in the Suns Ring of Honor himself, but also a member of the very team I myself am assembling – Alvan Adams. You see, Adams not only played with the Suns from 1975 through 1988, but has remained involved in the team’s facility management ever since the opening of their current venue. It means that he not only played with everybody from Dick Van Arsdale to Kevin Johnson, but has been in the building to watch everybody from Barkley to Nash.
When posed the question, Adams first explained that he thought the best definition of “ice water in their veins” wasn’t so much “somebody who didn’t care” as I had explained it, but as somebody who was “less bothered under pressure.” And he said that the first person he thought of when matching a face to that definition was his former teammate, Walter Davis.
“Every play at the end of a ball game was designed for Walter,” Adams said. “It was just a matter of how many picks the rest of us were going to be setting for him.”
As Adams himself pointed out, this isn’t to say that Davis hit all of these shots or that he’s hit more of them than any other player in team history. But with Davis’ combination of shooting form, accuracy and the fact that he didn’t mind taking the last shot, the team’s all-time leading scorer does appear to be a great choice.
THE TEAM – Steve Nash, Walter Davis, Alvan Adams, Charles Barkley, Dan Majerle and A.C. Green. You could probably win a few games by assembling that starting five and sixth man. You could also “avenge” some disappointing postseason exits from year’s past. Maybe the question now is which Suns head coach would you throw an eye patch on and ask to lead them?