Rivalry Weak

This past weekend, I found myself in the strange position of being at a comic book convention and talking pro basketball.

The Lakers are the closest thing the Suns have to a true rivalry.
(Noah GrahamNBAE Photos)

For those of you who have never been to a comic book convention (I write comics and collect them, which makes me a geek in two fields, I suppose), talking pro basketball at such an event is a little like talking trout farming at a quilting bee.

But there I was, talking to an editor who happened to be a big Portland Trailblazers fan. He said he wasn’t much of a Suns supporter, owing to the beatings the Suns have given his favorites over the last ten years or so, and I reminded him that the Blazers of the Drexler-Porter-Kersey vintage broke the Suns’ hearts a few times in the late 1980s and early 1990s. After we’d finished our little exchange, I asked him, “But do you really hate the Suns? Do you feel like the Suns and the Blazers are or were really rivals?”

He shrugged. “I guess not. Not really.”

“How about the Blazers and the Sonics,” I went on to ask. “At least they’re closer geographically than Portland and Phoenix.”

Again he shrugged. “Rivals? Nah. In fact, when Seattle wins, I kind of feel good for them. It’s a win for the Northwest, you know?”

Good grief, what’s happened to sports?

Ask any Suns fan who the Suns’ rival is, and they’re likely to tell you it’s the Lakers. Ask any Lakers fan if they feel the same way about the Suns, and they’re likely to give you a weird look, then run you over with their Ferrari.

That, folks, is not a rivalry.

A rivalry is a mutually-agreed-upon deep-seated dislike between two sports franchises. Ideally, it’s balanced, with neither side dominating the other for too terribly long. In my opinion, rivalries are best when there’s some geographic proximity between the rivals, but this isn’t a deal-breaker. And rivalries are long-lasting, existing regardless of who’s playing – it’s the name on the front of the jersey that fuels the rivalry, not the names on the back.

Over the years, throughout sports, there have some been some doozy rivalries. The Cowboys and Redskins inspired strong emotions in fans of the teams when they clashed on the football field (so, too, did Cowboy-Eagle games and Cowboy-Giants games). The Dodgers and the Giants had some incredible animosity over in baseball. And, of course, the Lakers had the Celtics for about 30 years.

Now, thanks to free agency, marketing of stars, and the pervasiveness of national media, rivalries are pretty much a thing of the past. Fans root for individual big-name players, rather than teams, and because of free agency, stars can change teams many times, making it hard for fans to build loyalties for their hometown squads. Further, players aren’t as invested in the teams they play for. There was a time when playing for Boston really meant something – there really was such a thing as “Celtic pride,” just ask John Havlicek or Bill Russell or Larry Bird. And with the Internet and cable television serving as global media resources, you’re less likely to find your news dominated by the local teams – You’re seeing the highlights of everyone equally.

If you want great rivalries these days, you look to college – where the players can’t jump teams quite as easily, and the big money isn’t as out in the open as it is in the pros, so local communities can relate better and invest more emotionally. There’s nothing like a Duke-North Carolina basketball game – Tyler Hansbrough has the broken schnoz to prove it. Or a Texas-Oklahoma football game. Or an ASU-U of A game, for that matter.

There have been brief rivalries in the NBA over the years since the Celtics-Lakers thing sort of fizzled. Remember when the Bulls and the Pistons would fill local emergency rooms after their games? Remember when you could tune into a Knicks-Heat game and wonder if you might see a coach biting another player’s ankle? Even those high points are starting to feel like a long time ago. The best the NBA has done recently is an extremely manufactured Christmas Day matchup over the last couple years between the Lakers and the Heat… And that’s more about morbid curiosity over the Shaq-Kobe feud than anything else.

I love any Suns game I get to attend, it doesn’t matter who they’re playing. But I think it’d be even more fun to look at a schedule when it comes out and circle the dates when “you know who” is coming to town, whoever “you know who” happens to be. There doesn’t have to be bad blood, just an extra level of intensity. But who could fill the bill as that nebulous “you know who?”

Considering the criteria listed above, the Lakers would be an obvious choice. There’s geographical proximity, and a reasonable expectation that both franchises are going to remain competitive for years to come. They played a riveting 7-game series in the playoffs last season, during which tempers flared, and a healthy dislike for each other appeared.

But the Lakers organization is a smug one. They barely acknowledge the existence of other teams, let alone that any might be their equal. If anything, they regard the Suns as a pesky little brother. Suggest the possibility that the Suns might be on par with the Lakers, and their fans will just sniff at you and point to the banners on the wall of Staples Center. And though it kills you, you don’t really have a comeback.

Then, to make matters worse, the Lakers’ fans will again run you over with their Ferraris.

The Suns and Utah had a good thing with the Suns going in the Malone-Stockton years, particularly when KJ and Tom Chambers were running their own version of the two-man game. But Phoenix and the Jazz are in different divisions and don’t meet frequently enough, or with enough at stake, for there to be any real rivalry.

I had high hopes that the Clippers and the Suns might start something good and long-lasting after last season. The Clips finally appeared to have a foundation in place that would keep them competitive and maybe even start some kind of tradition, and they extended the Suns to the limit in a well-played playoff series last year. But this year they’ve taken fifty steps back. Besides, the Clippers need to prove they’re the best team in their own building before they can be anyone else’s rival.

So here we are. The Internet isn’t going away, and neither is free agency. The Lakers are the Lakers, and the Clippers are the Clippers. And I doubt the NBA will be expanding into Chandler anytime soon. It’s a shame, because I really think it would make the whole experience more interesting, but it doesn’t appear the Suns are going to find a rival anytime soon.

Unfortunately, it seems about as likely as someone talking trout farming at a quilting bee.

Final Push

It is amazing to think that there is only 22 games remaining in the 2006-2007 season. If has certainly flown by. The team looks to be back on track after a bit of an up and down past two weeks, probably due to the injuries sustained by Kurt, Shawn, Boris and Steve.

Getting a little help from a friend before a recent home game.
(NBAE Photos)

Thankfully, all but Boris is back (no pun intended, hopefully Boris’ back will be 100% very soon) for what will be our final stretch before the playoffs.

The team came back from All-star Weekend for the most part feeling rested and refreshed – of course for our three All-stars and the coaching staff the break would have felt pretty tiring and short.

I spent the break in Cabo San Lucas with my wife, Jennifer. We were able to leave our two boys at home with their Grandparents, so it was a great relaxing time for Jennifer. There were a number of other NBA players in Cabo, so we were unable to completely get away from the game. It is obviously becoming a favorite travel destination during All-Star break.

Since the break we let a win against Philadelphia narrowly escape us. That win would have set a record for having swept an opposing conference on the road, something that has never been done.

The record would have been nice, but hopefully at the end of the season there is a much greater prize awaiting us. The Philly game came at the end of a week long road trip out east which seemed to go on forever. During the trip we visited Minnesota, Indiana, Atlanta and Philly and at this time of year you sure realize how great the Phoenix weather is.

Many of us spent most of the trip hitting up various malls (indoors of course) and movie theaters Here are a couple of movie revues for those interested:

Number 23 starring Jim Carrey gets two thumbs way down. Stick to comedy Jim. Little Miss Sunshine was a very enjoyable, lighthearted film that had most of us laughing out loud.

Well, that takes care of the prior two weeks. Now we are down for our final six weeks of the regular season and our playoff push.


The Real McCoy

One of the traits you learn as a sportscaster is survival. The sportscasting business is fraught with politics, subjective evaluation and huge egos. But, one guy was honored this past Friday for surviving all that with class. Al McCoy for 35 years has described the action for the Suns.

Al McCoy has been the Voice of the Suns for 35 years.
(NBAE Photos)

Not only did he survive, but he crafted a style that will never be duplicated. His ability to paint the picture has been a way of life for Suns Fans. As my producer David Hughes of the Fox Arizona Games put it, “he is the greatest Sun ever.” Al for David was the Suns.

I marvel at the way Al coined phrases such as “Shazaam” and, “Oh brother” to let you know immediately what happened. He became the way people talked about the games, continually repeating his trademark phrases around a cup of coffee or their favorite brew.

What is so nice about the recognition for Al is that he such a good guy. An Iowa farm boy who admitted he just can’t believe he lived out his dreams! The Suns Organization is to be commended for giving Al this honor now instead of posthumously. The Lakers had their own legend in Chick Hearn who for 40 years was the “voice” of the Lakers only to struggle with failing health at the end of his career and then not having a street and media room named in his honor until he passed on.

It seems everybody thinks they can do play-by-play! Admit it, you who are reading this probably think you can do a better job that I can. Recently the trend at the networks is to take a “studio host” move him into an arena and turn him loose. But, the guys like Al who learned a discipline, developed a style in the small towns like Iowa are… special!

When somebody tells me that Al can be difficult, my response is, he’s earned the right to protect his territory. I tell young guys in the business don’t be so quick to think you are Al McCoy. There is only one “Real McCoy”, and we have all been blessed to have him! For 35 years his has gotten the job done with excellence.

I am just proud to have him as a friend and peer. Shazaam!!!

On the Road Again

I am back on the road after having basically a month off to watch my son Justin finish his high school basketball career at Brophy College Prep high school. I have been harassed by a number of the players mainly Kurt Thomas for taking too much time off.

Amaré Stoudemire was one three-pointer away from his first All-Star MVP award.
(NBAE Photos)

They say I am stealing money, but my response to him was that I was losing money because I could not play poker against him on plane trips.

I also think that I will start charging Shawn Marion for signing his shoes before games a normal ritual of ours the last three years. I forgot to do it before the Timberwolves game and at half time he came over and requested I do it now and he proceeded to go 6-6. I need to get paid!

Every time someone gets busted in our poker game and has to buy back in we announce it to the whole plane.

It’s pretty funny. For instance if I get busted — Kevin Tucker (Suns head of security) screams out Rebuy for Blade III Trinity my nickname or he might scream out rebuy for Shrek a reference to Jumaine Jones. By the way when he rebuys his nickname is Bookman.

I did take some time to attend All Star weekend and all I can say is WOW!

I have never seen that many people at one event in my life. People watchers would have had a grand time in Vegas last weekend.

I saw some outfits and hair do’s that I thought would never be seen again, but it was fun.

My favorite event is the Retired Players Brunch hosted by Retired Players Association.
It is always so nice to see so many players I played with or against during my career. They honored all the ABA players at the event and it is so nice to see so many great players like Julius Erving, Rick Barry, Maurice Lucas, Connie Hawkins etc in one room.

Finally it was so nice to see Amaré and Shawn show how deserving they are to be All Stars. Amaré was one three-pointer away at the end of the game to garner the MVP.

Remebering DJ

DJ did a funny thing when he shot free throws. He bent all the way over at the waist and dribbled the ball a few times with both hands. That part wasn’t so unusual.


Former Suns guard Dennis Johnson had a unique approach at the free throw line.
(NBAE Photos)

Everyone has a different routine when they shoot free throws – Nowadays, players blow kisses to their kids or smooch their tattoos, or do whatever else. But back then, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the difference in free throw style was generally limited to how many times you dribbled before you shot – and everyone shot the same way (Rick Barry, with his underhanded “granny style” charity shots, being the exception).

But after he finished his dribbling, that was when DJ did the strange thing. Staring at the basket, taking a deep breath, he’d sort of wrap his arms around the basketball, then unwrap them, almost uncoiling them, before raising his arms to shoot. And they almost always went in.

My friends and I were fascinated by this. We’d go out to the playgrounds, and because we were still at the age where we did such things, we’d imitate distinctive players. We launch cobra-like jumpers and call out, “Jamaal Wilkes!” We’d heave up junior-junior-junior-junior sky hooks and scream, “Kareem!” We’d take six or seven non-dribbling steps as though we were flying through the air, the ball cupped between our small hands and our wrists, and pantomime a physically impossible dunk. “Doctor J!”

Eventually we’d get to the free throw line, and we’d be DJ. We’d bend at the waist, dribble with both hands, coil around the ball and let fly. We never had to say the name. The action spoke for itself. And it was cool. DJ was cool.

(Side note: The only other Sun we’d imitate at the foul line was their burly, hirsute backup center of the day, Rich Kelley. Copying him consisted of standing at the line, rearing back, and throwing the ball off the backboard as hard as we could. Not because Kelley was a particularly bad foul shooter…It just looked like the way someone like him should shoot a free throw. And it never failed to crack us up.)

It took a little while for me to realize how cool Dennis Johnson was. I was heartbroken when he came to town, because Paul Westphal, for whom he was traded, had long been my favorite player. Westy was the face of the franchise in those days, he’d been there since I started really following the team in earnest, and it was impossible to imagine the Suns without him. In my young mind, DJ was the guy who’d driven Westy out, and he’d never, ever be able to replace my hero.

But after just a few games, I saw the truth. DJ was a different kind of player from Westphal, and in his own way, just as admirable. He wasn’t in Westphal’s class as a scorer (not many were), but DJ could score well enough (and particularly in important spots), he was a true point guard who could direct an offense, and there was no one like him when it came to defense. He was tenacious. He never quit. He never backed down. After a long period of time when the Suns were considered the bantamweights of the league, DJ gave them an image of toughness. And soon, as much as I aspired to the moves of Westphal, I found myself aspiring to the grit and determination and headiness of Dennis Johnson. I never got there as a basketball player, of course, but very few can say they did. But the things I aspired to then that were part of his character…Well, I still aspire to them. They’re good things to want in yourself.

As heartbroken as I was when DJ came to town, I was just as heartbroken when he left, gone in a trade to Boston for Rick Robey. I knew what the Suns wanted from Robey – he was the latest step in the team’s ongoing quest for a franchise center – but I couldn’t help but feel like the Suns were giving up more than they were getting. DJ was a rare player, a throwback who could fit in seamlessly in the modern game, and when you find someone like that to lead your team, it’s hard to let them go.

DJ went on to great glory with the Celtics, as we all know, and I was happy for him. I remained a fan. As much as I held a grudge against the Celtics for beating the Suns in the 1976 Finals, it was hard not to root for DJ, if not the Celtics, when he wore the green. And certainly, when the Celtics played the Lakers in the Finals during the 1980s, I not only wanted the Celtics to win, I wanted DJ to do especially well. But there was always that little tug when I watched him play for Boston on television, that sense that he could – should – still be a Sun, doing for us what he was doing for Red Auerbach, Larry Bird, and everyone else in Boston. For the remainder of his playing days, I missed Dennis Johnson.

I miss him a little bit more, now.

Back From Vegas, Ready For Second Half

I’m back from Vegas and ready to focus on the second half of the season. I really enjoyed my time back in Las Vegas, did a couple of appearances but mainly hung out with my family.

Marcus and the Suns headed back out on the road.
(NBAE Photos)

Regardless of whether or not the All-Star Game was going to be in Vegas, I probably would’ve spent my weekend there anyway, that’s where everybody is. I’ve been to an All-Star Game in the past and think it’s a great experience for fans to see some of the NBA’s best. Having gone to one before though, I didn’t really feel the need to attend all the events but had more fun hanging out with my people.

One thing is for sure, Vegas was definitely a site to see over the weekend. It was probably the craziest All-Star Weekend ever. I mentioned in my last blog that I thought the city would be a good destination for a team and I think the weekend just enforced that. The fans love the players and they treated them well throughout the weekend.

Like I said earlier though, it’s time now to focus on closing the season out strong. A lot of people have made a lot of the bench getting extended minutes including myself, Pat Burke and Leandro Barbosa. Everybody is quick to assume we’re not happy, but we understand we’ve got a team with a two-time MVP surrounded by great players in Raja, Boris, Amaré and Shawn. We also understand as the bench that those guys are going to need a breather every once in a while and our job is to just be ready to get in there and provide a spark. You do that by practicing hard and keeping strong throughout the season.

We’re just a few minutes away from departing for our four-game road trip which starts against my former team in Minnesota. Then it’s off to Atlanta, Indiana and Philadelphia. We’re getting everybody back, getting everybody healthy and want to keep it going after these back-to-back wins. We’re going to stay focused, do what coach wants us to do and hopefully come back with some more victories.

Talk to you guys soon.

Unique DJ Will Be Missed

News of Dennis Johnson’s death was as sad as it was shocking.

Dennis Johnson (1954-202007)

Not only was he a great player to watch, but great to be around. During his three years with the Suns he was a go-to guy for quotes as well as points.

He arrived here in a controversial trade that sent Paul Westphal to Seattle, and departed in an even more controversial trade that sent him to Boston along with first and third round picks in exchange for Rick Robey and two second round picks.

He missed only five regular season games in his three years as a Sun, while averaging 17.5 points a game, and totaled 204 points in 17 playoff games.

Before coming here he guided the Sonics to their only NBA title in 1979. And after leaving here he helped the Celtics win their last two.

He was a tremendous defensive player and demon rebounder. And beyond that he had to be the best 6-4 shot blocker in the history of professional basketball.

In the Sonics’ title run he blocked an astonishing 26 shots in 17 games and had 28 steals while averaging 20.9 points and 6.1 rebounds. And while he was no more than a so-so shooter in the first three periods, he was an outstanding one in the fourth period, and a deadly one in the last two minutes. He was one of those rare players (and trust me, they are a lot rarer than you think) who really wanted to take that you make you win you miss you lose last shot.

So basically what you had in D.J. was a player whose combination of skills made him unique in the literal sense of the word.

That’s why as a member of the panel that selected the top 50 players of all time I had him among my 50. He didn’t quite make it, but I still think he should have.

Mind you, I didn’t say he was a perfect player. Just unique. In truth, he was an engaging eccentric whose eccentricities didn’t always endear him to teammates, and endeared him even less to his coaches, especially in practices.

In fact, in a crucial early round game in ’79 that the Sonics seemed on the verge of losing teammate Paul Silas found it necessary to refocus Dennis’s attention with a sharp verbal elbow to the ribs. But once refocused, Dennis calmly proceeded to drill home the winning shot.

The bottom line on Dennis Johnson: If you could somehow add him in his prime to this year’s Suns you could start engraving the trophy and designing the rings right now.

That’s how good he was. And how much he will be missed.

Stevie Wonder

Nobody has summed up the Suns Fortunes better than veteran Eric Piatkowski. “The Polish Rifle,” a 13-year NBA veteran stated, “As long as superman stays healthy, we could win a championship.”

“Superman” donned his cape again in the Suns’ win over the Clippers.  (NBAE Photos)

It was never more evident than Tuesday Night in L.A, as “Superman” Steve Nash returned to the lineup after missing 41/2 games due to an inflammation in his right shoulder. Nash returned versus the Clippers and instantly re-established the Suns moxie, their breathtaking style of play. During his absence the Suns looked quite ordinary, suffering through a three-game losing streak. Nobody, but nobody in the league changes the personality of a team like Steve

Sometimes you can take for granted what he does, only to see in the first five minutes vs. the Clips, that he is the system, he is the one who makes it all work! If your vote for MVP is based on how one player changes the entire personality, the entire fortunes of a team, Steve is your man!

Sports Illustrated in their midwinter break claims that Nash has the inside track for his third straight MVP Award, unless his friend Dirk Nowitzki’s Dallas Mavs significantly outdistance the Suns for the league’s best record.

“Stevie Wonder” is back and as long as he stays healthy, he will not be dethroned by his friend, Dirk.

Las Vegas All-Star Adventure

Friday Feb. 16, 202007

I have never seen the line for a security checkpoint so long in my life! I began to panic that I might miss my flight. Thankfully they redirect the hundreds of people to the west security check point.

Saturday night was party night at All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas.
(NBAE Photos)

As I finally get through, I stop at the magazine store to pick up the latest celebrity magazines. After all, I do need to be caught up on all the current celebrity gossip so I know what I am dealing with when I get to Vegas..

As I finally get to my gate C8, people are already lined up for the flight (40 minutes before departure). Yes, I am flying Southwest Airlines. The people behind me are talking about my beloved Phoenix Suns. How they can’t win without Nash, yadda yadda. Everyone thinks they are coaches, EVERYONE! I say leave it to the 2004-05 Coach of the Year. And the people sitting next to me are going out to Vegas in hopes to get their hands on All Star tickets. GOOD LUCK!

I love the quick flight from Phoenix to Vegas! MGM Grand here I come. I have about an hour and a half before we have to go to Elaine Marion’s house (Shawn’s mom). We are shooting an edition of Phoenix Suns Home Court with Shawn at his home away from home.

We arrive to the Marion household at 10 a.m. She and her family greeted us (Suns.com staffers Jeramie, Steve and Josh) with open arms! We had a great time at her home and learned some great things about Shawn and his family. Then she insisted we stay for breakfast. How could we resist?

Next, we were off to the Palms Hotel for All Star media availability. It was a total zoo but very interesting to see how the media mob the players and fire questions at them..

As the day went on more and more people arrived in the city. Not only is it All-Star here this weekend but it is also the Chinese New Year. So, you can only image how many people are in this city! Some people waited 2 hours for a cab.

Saturday Feb. 17

Our Suns.com crew stayed up until 6:30 a.m. editing all the footage that you see the website, which turned out awesome!

At 11:30 a.m. we head to Mandalay Bay where the All-Star practice is being held as well as Jam Session.

We watch the West All-Stars practice for about an hour then walked around Jam Session. Coach D’Antoni and Phil Weber was hosting a clinic for 20 lucky kids, Amaré was judging a slam dunk contest and Shawn left to play in 50 Cent’s Celebrity Poker Tournament.

As Steve Koek and I are standing in the long line for a cab, we meet a very nice couple who we shared a ride with to the MGM Grand and they turned out to be the parents of Jason Collins (Nets) and Jeren Collins (Jazz). Very sweet people.

We were rushing to get back for the poker tournament, but we missed most of the red carpet arrivals because of the traffic again.

We talked with rapper Akon on the red carpet, but missed most of the others. When you are sharing the red carpet with CNN, US Weekly, People Magazine, Extra, and many other celebrity publications, Suns.com is not the celebrities’ first priority. But that didn’t stop us from trying.. I was up there with the best of them trying to get my questions in!

Since I made friends with PR Director at the MGM he managed to get us an exclusive sneak peak inside where the action was going down.

There were about 100 people in the room, most of them playing poker, and some just watching. Loud music playing, lots of giveaway items like watches, luggage and Vitamin water, which 50 Cent owns. The room was filled with celebrities like 50 Cent, his brother 30 Cent. Ok, just kidding. The Matrix, wearing a white Nike sweat suit, Queen Latifah, wearing a hat and sunglasses, Jamie Lynn Sigler, sitting at the poker table counting her chips, DJ AM, Eva Longoria, wearing all black and sunglasses, Tony Parker, wearing a nice tan suit, Danny Masterson, with a full beard and a plaid shirt on, Akon, with sunglasses on and a watch with so much bling! Ellen Pompeo was wearing jeans and a black shirt (she is so SKINNY, her pants were falling off her) I guess wearing sunglasses inside is the thing to do.

Those were just a few of the celebrities that I saw. As we walked in, Shawn had gone all in with his hand of poker and lost to DJ AM. After all the practice he gets on the team flights, he still lost.

Up next was the Steve Nash/GQ party at the V Bar and Lebron/Jay Z at Tao, both inside the Venetian Hotel.

We stopped by the red carpet for the Lebron/Jay Z party where we chatted with DJ Clue, Jason Kidd and Al Sharpton. And also saw Mary J. Blige & Lebron.

Then, we headed downstairs to the V Bar where GQ was hosting a party for Steve Nash. The party was great! There were a number of Suns executives, owners and sponsors at the party. Along, with guests of GQ magazine and Steve’s friends, including Kevin Garnett and Kerry Washington from the movie Ray (she played Jamie Foxx’s love interest).

Other celebrities that I saw last night included Scottie Pippen, Lil Jon, Dennis Rodman, DJ Skribble and David Stern.

I am beginning to know why they call this sin city and the entertainment capital of the world. Next stop, the red carpet arrivals at the All Star game!

Memories, Memories

LAS VEGAS — Memories, memories. This town’s NBA roots don’t run very deep, but they have sprouted some noteworthy branches.

Paul Westphal’s 19.4 average in five All Star games ranks seventh all time.
(NBAE Photos)

In fact, my last visit here in my professional capacity it was to cover one of the signature moments in the annals of professional basketball.

It was back in 1984, when, for reasons I don’t remember (unlike most people my age my problem is that my memory IS what it used to be) the Jazz scheduled 10 of their home games for this desert gambling oasis. And as it happens, one of 10 was against the Lakers.

And what made this moment so “signature” was a play that in itself was as routine as they come. How mean, how many times had we seen Magic feed the ball to Kareem on the right side of the lane and watched Kareem methodically score on one of his patented sky hooks?

But this particular sky hook broke Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time career scoring record of 31,419 points. And what followed was one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen as the floor was suddenly filled with photographers, press people, and just plain people. And mind you, this was with the game still technically in progress.

Order was eventually restored, of course. And for the record the Lakers went on to win, 129-115.

Memories, memories.

One that sky hook brought back for me was one Kareem made in his very first NBA game after Magic joined the Lakers. It was a buzzer-beater in San Diego that won the game. And what I’ll never forget is Magic leaping into an astonished Kareem’s arms and hugging him.

Right now you’re probably thinking this isn’t all THAT memorable. But you have to remember that making sky hooks was almost as routine for Kareem as brushing his teeth, and just about as exciting. And this was just the FIRST game of the season for crying out loud.

But of course, Magic was all about exuberance, and eventually some of that, okay, a tiny tad of it, would rub off on The Big Fella.

Memories, memories.

Earlier that year in a game here Adrian Dantley tied Wilt’s record for most free throws made by sinking 28 in only 29 attempts.

Moving right along down memory lane, the Blazers beat the Lakers 102-76 in Game Four of the first round of a playoff series in 1992, the game having been moved out of Los Angeles because of the Watts riots.

Memories, memories. This time strictly All Star.

You probably remember the 1975 All Star Game was played in the Madhouse on McDowell in Phoenix (assuming you are old enough to remember either 1975 or the Madhouse). The East beat the West, Walt Frazier was the MVP, and Kareem had 22 points and 15 rebounds.

And I KNOW you haven’t forgotten the 1995 game at America West Arena (surely you remember America West Arena). Paul Westphal of the Suns was the coach of the winning West team, and Mitch Richmond was the MVP.

There was also sort of a Phoenix angle in the 1987 game in Seattle. Tom Chambers, who would go on to fame and fortune as a Sun, was a Sonic back then, and was supposed to be a spectator at the game. But Chambers was added to the team after Houston’s Ralph Sampson suffered a knee injury and went on to score 34 points and win MVP honors in the West’s overtime victory.

More Phoenix stuff:

Westphal’s 19.4 average in five All Star games ranks seventh all time, and Chambers’ 19.3 in four ranks eighths. FYI, the all time leader is Oscar Robertson at 20.5 over 12 games. Michael Jordan? He’s number three at 20.2 over 13 games.

And on another Phoenix note, former Sun’s favorite Larry Nance is tied with Randy Smith for the best all-time shooting percentage at .714.

On a final Suns note, it was at the 1976 game in Philadelphia that Jerry Colangelo engineered the trade that brought Garfield Heard to Phoenix and propelled the team from the depths of their division all the way to the NBA Finals and that unforgettable Game Five in Boston.

So okay. So these weren’t ALL exactly memories. Some of the stuff I admit I had to look up.

But one thing I DO remember is that, from a strictly basketball viewpoint All Star games used to be more fun. Of course this was probably because way back when that’s all there was to an All Star Game was basketball, basketball, and more basketball. Basketball people, basketball talk, basketball trades. It was all hoop and nothing but the hoop.

Owners, players, coaches, general managers, and writers (We weren’t called media back then, or even press. Just writers) all stayed in the same hotel and mingled at the same functions.

Of curse, I must admit that only basketball people watched the game. Now it’s an MTV-type extravaganza which draws as much coverage from Entertainment Weekly as ESPN. And while basketball talk is not strictly prohibited it’s hard to get a hoop word in edgewise amidst all the corporate sponsors and glitterati.

I’m not saying this is all bad. Heck, maybe it’s even good. I’m just saying All Star games are not as much fun as it used to be for the basketball junkie.

That’s all I’m saying.