The Clone Wars Continue

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

Okay, it wasn’t really all that long ago, and it was actually on an orange planet pretty close by. But if you attended our game on April 11, you enjoyed a thrilling double-feature, as the Suns beat the Rockets on “Star Wars: The Clone Wars Night.”

The hardwood court at US Airways Center was invaded by Stormtroopers, bounty hunters and Sith Lords during the elaborate pre-game introductions, while the Gorilla used the Force to fight off the Dark Side and defeat the Rockets’ bear mascot, and the Suns Dancers wowed the crowd in vintage Princess Leia attire.

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All-Star Round Table

blog_mcpeek_roundtable1
Steve Nash, Bill Russell and Chris Paul shared a few All-Star laughs on Thursday.
(Jeramie McPeek/Suns.com)

I almost missed out on a great photo op today.

With more than 100 All-Star events or player appearances throughout the Valley this week – yes, more than 100 – it’s been a challenge trying to put together our plan of attack for Suns.com. While we always work to bring you in-depth coverage of All-Star, we wanted to take our collective game to another level this year with the NBA’s midseason extravaganza here in our hometown. Still, we obviously had to pick and choose which events we were going to tackle.

Well, I didn’t pick or choose Steve Nash’s afternoon interview with CNN over at “Stoudemire’s Downtown.” Sounded kind of boring, to be honest. But after sitting in my dark office all day long (the giant adidas signage covering the north glass wall of US Airways Center is NOT see through), I decided to get some fresh air and see if I could get a photo or two of Nash arriving at the restaurant. [Read more...]

New 'Do for Diaw


Diaw talks with a reporter from France after Tuesday morning’s practice.
(Josh Greene/Suns.com)

More than 4,300 fans voted in the recent Suns.com poll asking whether Boris Diaw should keep his “new long hair and goatee look” or go back to the clean-cut style he sported during his first three seasons with the Suns.

The final margin between the two choices was far greater than the reported gap between Obama and McCain is currently, with 61% of fans telling 3D to keep the new look. Apparently, the margin was not large enough, however. [Read more...]

Yo STATta STATta!

Courtesy: YoGabbaGabba.com

Courtesy: YoGabbaGabba.com

I used to be frightened by the TeleTubbies. Well, frightened and somewhat intrigued at the same time. I’m still convinced there was some sort of subliminal messaging going on there, especially whenever that sun with the baby face would rise over the bunny farm and start to laugh. I have no idea what that was all about. I think it was laughing at the audience.

But this new hit kids show, Yo Gabba Gabba! disturbs me in an all-new way. I can’t tell you why exactly, because I loved Sesame Street as a kid and enjoyed watching Bear & the Big Blue House with my son when he was little. But there’s just something about giant furry creatures bouncing around with a dude in an orange jumpsuit that weirds me out.

What’s this have to do with our beloved Phoenix Suns, you ask?

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Bell Brings It in Do-or-Die Game 4

There were 25 reporters crowded around Raja Bell’s locker after the game today. Yes, I counted. That’s 25 more than Game 3, as he ducked out the backdoor before the media was let in after Friday’s ugly loss.

Bell wasn’t going down without a fight.
(NBAE Photos)

“Man, I haven’t seen this much action since I clotheslined Kobe,” Bell joked as he attempted to dress in his claustrophobic fish bowl.

Truth be told, the Suns’ guard probably hasn’t had a game like today’s since that 2006 playoffs when he wrestled with Bryant in the opening round and drilled the clutch three-pointer vs. the Clippers to force OT in Game 5 of the Semifinals.

It was good to see Bell being aggressive today, driving inside, fighting for loose balls and banging the three-balls. Coach D’Antoni has often called him the heart of the team in recent years, and that heart was beating fast in this one.

On the afternoon, “Raj” finished with 27 points on 5-of-7 shooting from behind the arc, plus six boards and five assists for good measure.

“You know, I was embarrassed. I was really, really embarrassed by my play and our team’s play in the last game, so it was hard to sleep,”
he admitted. “If you come out and give 110 percent and you feel like you’ve done everything, you can sleep at night. But I was restless with that and couldn’t put it to bed. I wasn’t frustrated so much, but just really embarrassed, so I wanted to come out tonight and just fight.”

Bell wasn’t the only one fighting, of course. The Suns looked like a completely different team today than the one wearing purple and orange on Friday. Now the question is, which team will show up Tuesday in San Antonio? One local TV reporter asked Raja if he had a prediction for Game 5.

“I don’t make predictions, but I know the series isn’t over. I know until they win four games, we have a chance. That’s what I know.

“We’re still in a deep hole. We understand that. But we still have life… No one’s folding up the tent and making summer plans yet. We’re too proud for that.”

The Shaq Attack: 15 Years Later

  

15 years ago today, Shaq Daddy brought down the basket.  

(NBAE Photos)

Believe it or not, it was 15 years ago Thursday that Shaq Daddy – he hadn’t adopted the Diesel or Big Aristotle nicknames yet – made his first NBA appearance in Phoenix in front of a national television audience.

Like most fans, I was fired up for the Sunday afternoon game, caught up in the marquee magic of the big kid with the bigger smile from LSU. Just a 20-year-old rookie myself at the time (I had just started working at the Suns Team Shop at Metrocenter), I couldn’t wait to see the Blue Chipper go head to head with Sir Charles and Co.

I actually taped the NBC broadcast, and after some extensive digging through my closets around 1 AM last night, I located that old Kodak VHS “High Quality” tape, which also has the 1993 All-Star Game on it, I might add.

[Video: Shaq Attack]

If you saw the game, you know the one I’m referring to. Less than three minutes into the game, Shaq went up for a rebound and dunk and… well, I should probably let the guys who were actually involved tell you the story:

“I was on the court at the time,” says then-Suns center/current Suns VP of Player Programs Mark West. “Anthony Bowie was going to the basket, and I went over to help on defense. Shaq just came from behind me, and he dunks the ball, and all of a sudden the basket just collapsed.”

Suns broadcaster Tom Chambers, an All-Star forward at the time, just laughs when remembering the surprising result of Shaq’s slam.

“It was like this big dinosaur-looking thing going down, just in slow motion,” says TC. “It wasn’t like it happened real quick. We all just stood back and watched this thing go down. It was incredible.”

Suns VP of Facility Management Alvan Adams had been retired for five years at the time, but probably felt as though he was the one who had been dunked on.

“I was at the center of it, because the referees knew that I was involved with the facility,” he says. “I was the sporting event coordinator at the time. I wasn’t in charge of the facility yet, although I was the one who bought the goals. I had inspected them and bought them. [Read more...]

Talking Hoops with Donald Faison

If you’re a fan of the NBC sitcom Scrubs, you’re probably not surprised to hear that Donald Faison is a big basketball fan.

The 33-year-old’s character, Dr. Christopher Turk, has had a number of scenes over the years playing ball and even painted his “basketball head” in one episode.

“Turk likes to blow off steam by playing basketball before surgery,” explained Zach Braff’s character before one of their many pick-up games in the parking lot outside “Sacred Heart Hospital.”

 

Faison will get a chance to blow off some steam on Saturday when the actor competes in the Suns’ Jack in the Box Celebrity Shootout at US Airways Center (2 pm). But before the 8th annual exhibition, Faison and his fellow entertainers enjoyed some inspiration courtesy of the Suns and T’Wolves on Friday night. Well, maybe just the Suns.

 

Prior to tip-off, I caught up with him for a few minutes in the “B-Lounge” to talk about tomorrow’s run and his love of hoops. [Read more...]

Runnin' and Shootin' Rebels

The cover of the Suns’ game-night program on Monday featured a cartoon of Shawn Marion rising over a couple of frog-like aliens for one of his patented Matrix throwdowns.

Shawn Marion is known for his dunks but showed a prowess for 3-point shots on Monday night.

(NBAE Photos)

Fan artist Erik Van Buren titled his unique creation “Planet Dunk-On-Ya,” but might have drawn Marion launching missiles instead had he known what the All-Star forward was going to drop on the Denver Nuggets.

Coming off a disappointing six-point outing in Saturday’s loss to New Orleans, Marion came out on fire in this one, draining 5-of-7 three-pointers as the Suns ran out to a sizzling 78-point first half. His inspired effort resulted in a well-rounded 27-point, 14-board, six-block, five-fist-pump stat line at night’s end, not to mention a half dozen jokes “just messin’” with reporters in the locker room after the 137-115 blowout.

But Marion was not the most surprising UNLV alum on the hardwood at US Airways Center on Monday, believe it or not. Way-back-up guard Marcus Banks kept his 2008 streak intact, playing in his third straight game after checking in just three times in December, and had his best showing since signing with Phoenix in 2006.

“He was crackin’!” said Marion of his fellow Runnin’ Rebel. In addition to playing some aggressive D on Nuggets scorer Allen Iverson, Banks buried 7-of-8 deep balls for 23 points in 19 impressive minutes.

“I guess Shawn handed me the hot hand,” laughed Banks, who was all smiles surrounded by reporters for the first time this season. “He came out and hit about five of them, and I was like ‘Man, that looks pretty fun!’”

Banks realizes, of course, that minutes will continue to be hard to come by on a team featuring four All-Stars (Marion, Nash, Stoudemire, Hill), a Sixth Man of the Year (Barbosa) and an All-Defensive First Teamer (Bell). But his recent run has given him confidence that the next time he plays he will be ready.

“It’s definitely contagious,” he said. “I hope to build from this game, not so much scoring wise, but in other areas on the floor, just helping my team and doing whatever it takes to win.”

DJ DEVELOPING IN ALBUQUERQUE

Suns guard Alando Tucker, who will be our featured guest on this week’s edition of Nothin’ But Net (plug, plug), was happy to hear that fellow rookie DJ Strawberry was named D-League Performer of the Week today.

Strawberry, on assignment to the Albuquerque Thunderbirds, won the award a month after Tucker took the honors.

“I was excited,” Alando said of DJ’s recognition. “I told him he had to do it, since I did it. That’s one of the things we talked about when he went down there. I told him to focus and make sure you play hard. When I went down there I didn’t really know what to expect, so I tried to fill him in and make him comfortable before he went down there.”

The Suns are expected to call Strawberry back up to Phoenix and send Tucker back down to Albuquerque at some point, taking full advantage of the NBA, D-League affiliation system, now in its third season.

“I think it helps keep them in game shape more than anything,” said Suns Head Coach Mike D’Antoni, who has been keeping an eye on Strawberry’s stats in the DL. “In past years they would have just sat all year and done nothing. They need to play some.

“Hopefully it will help him. I’m looking forward to him coming back, practicing some and seeing where he is. I think it’s been very beneficial for him.”

HILL PULLING FOR COWBOYS

If anybody in the Suns’ locker room could break down the NFL Playoffs it would be Grant Hill, son of former Pro Bowl running back, Calvin Hill. Or so I thought. The Suns’ forward admitted during a little pre-game small talk that he doesn’t actually follow the NFL all that closely.

“I was forbidden to play football growing up, so as a result I’m not a big football fan,” he explained. “My dad didn’t play until he was in high school, so he didn’t want me to play until high school. And by then, I didn’t want to play.

“But I do root for the Cowboys. That is my team and it’s good to see that they’re playing well. I’ll be watching them next Sunday. I’m hoping they can make it here to Glendale (for Super Bowl XLII).”

Okay, so Hill may not have had the inside scoop on the NFL I was hoping for, as I scout for my fantasy football playoffs. But he probably would have an interesting take on Cowboys QB Tony Romo’s relationship with Jessica Simpson, I figured, as an athlete who married a pop star himself.

“I really don’t know what’s going on there,” he laughed. “I’m out of the loop on that. But I know things in Dallas with that team and that franchise get blown out of proportion. Apparently T.O. was just joking around (about Simpson being a diversion) and it became big news. But I think the guys will be ready and there will be no distractions. They’ll be ready to play.”

Finally, in other celebrity news, our own Steve Nash and his wife Alejandra were pictured in the latest issue of US Magazine (my wife pointed out it out), strolling the streets of Beverly Hills on the day after Christmas with actress Jessica Alba and her new fiancée Warren Cash.

A Reunion with Penny

One of my former co-workers used to give me a hard time, saying that I didn’t know anything about the NBA, pre-Penny Hardaway. While that was a bit of an exaggeration, Penny was one of my favorite players to watch in the mid-90s during his heyday with the Orlando Magic.

The “special edition” cover of Fastbreak

(NBAE Photos)

I loved his smooth and explosive, inside-outside game. I loved his pairing with Shaquille O’Neal; together the NBA’s version of peanut butter and jelly. And who didn’t love those Li’l Penny commercials? Those are still all-time classics.

If you happened to read my Citizen profile on PlanetOrange.net, you might have noticed that listed “Recruiting Penny” as one of my all-time favorite Suns moments. It was the first time I was ever asked to help our basketball operations staff attempt to lure a free-agent to Phoenix, which was a thrill in itself. But hearing my then-hoops hero acknowledge that the fake Suns magazine we put together with Penny and Jason Kidd (Backcourt 2000) on the cover really made him feel wanted by the Suns? That was a moment I won’t soon forget.

Unfortunately, Penny’s career in Phoenix wasn’t what we had all hoped. Or what he had hoped for that matter, after tattooing “Part 2, Heaven Cent” on his bicep. He had a great playoffs in 2000, leading the Suns in scoring, but was hampered by knee problems the rest of his time in purple and orange.

Injuries continued to follow him to New York, after the Suns traded him and Stephon Marbury to the Knicks in 2004, and had seemingly ended his career in 2006. Although I don’t even remember hearing about it, Hardaway was apparently traded back to Orlando in Feb ’06, only to be waived and find himself out of the league.

After playing just four games in 2005-06 and sitting out the entire ’06-2007 season, Hardaway is back at age 36 for one more go-around, having earned a roster spot with the Miami Heat. While it’s not the comeback story of his teammate Alonzo Mourning or the Suns’ Grant Hill, Penny has fought his way back into the Association and I, for one, am happy to see it.

I caught up with the Heat veteran, always a great interview and a class act, for a quick Q&A before tonight’s game.

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McPeek: How does it feel to be back in the league after a year away?
Hardaway: It feels good, man. It’s a blessing because so many people had given up on me. That’s always the easy thing to do, but I felt in my heart that I wasn’t finished yet, so that’s why I continued to proceed to go out there and work hard, and try to get back to the league.

McPeek: How did you spend the past year?
Hardaway: I was just working out. That’s all I did. I just focused on working out every day, because I was so hungry and really wanted to get back into the NBA. It was very hard to be away, because I felt like I deserved to be back.

My name was so big back in the day that I think it kind of came back to haunt me. When I wanted to get back in the league last year, I think a lot of teams just didn’t want to take that chance. But I’ve proven to teams that I’m healthy. Hopefully I’ll get that respect that I never gave up and I got back.

McPeek: Did you have any doubts yourself as to whether or not you would make it back?
Hardaway: Before I had surgery about a year and a half ago, I did have doubts, because I felt like, “If this is where my knee is, I’m not going to be able to play.” Luckily I found out that there was a bone spur lodged in the back of my leg and removing that allowed me to get back on the floor.

McPeek: Do you cherish this opportunity even more now?
Hardaway: I do. I’m enjoying it. It’s such a different league, man. There are so many great young guys. But it’s still an opportunity to be back out on the floor and to have as much fun as possible.

McPeek: How strange is it teaming up with Shaquille O’Neal again?
Hardaway: It’s strange and fun. It’s something that I didn’t think would ever happen again in our careers, but you never say never. This season started out really bad with our record, but it’s still been a pleasure playing with him again.

McPeek: How does it feel to come back and play another game in Phoenix, where you spent several years of your career?
Hardaway: It feels great. I still have lots of friends here and I still come back here during the summer time and play golf. I still love Phoenix. You know, it’s a spot that I really didn’t want to leave, but unfortunately I got included in a trade with Steph. I went to New York and that didn’t work out, but now like I said, I’m back.

McPeek: What are your thoughts on this Suns team?
Hardaway: A great team. I mean, Coach D’Antoni has done such a great job. I knew how smart he was when he was an assistant coach and then became head coach with us. I knew his mind was just unlike any coach that I had ever played for because he’s offensively amazing. He’s just a great coach.

McPeek: There are still several players on this Suns team that you played with, but how happy are you for Leandro Barbosa with the growth that he has made in the years since you were teammates.
Hardaway: That’s my boy. He’s a man now. He’s learned how to play the game. He had a lot of help with (assistant coaches) Phil Weber, Coach Grgurich when he was here, and I guess that Coach D’Antoni’s brother has really helped him. His natural-born talent was always good, but he just needed some help, and he listened well and learned well.

McPeek: Lastly, I’ve got to ask you about Amaré Stoudemire, who underwent a micro fracture procedure on his knee in 2004, a few months after you were traded to New York. Having gone through that surgery yourself, what was your reaction when you heard and did you share any advice with Amaré afterwards?
Hardaway: Yeah, I spoke to him a lot during that time as he was coming back from the micro fracture. I just told him to stay patient. It’s frustrating and you don’t understand the injury, and it’s just hard to come back from. But you have to be patient with it, and now he’s overcome it really well.

I’m happy to see it. Amaré is a good guy and he has become a great player, which we all knew he could be. He’s fought through his injuries and is playing well.

Searching for Starbury

I couldn’t find Stephon Marbury. I looked at Madison Square Garden. I went to the top of the Empire State Building and surveyed the city. I strolled through Central Park. I took the subway up and down Manhattan, and a ferry over to Liberty Island.

Stephon Marbury was eventually found and made up with his coach, Isiah Thomas. 

(NBAE Photos)

I even went to Tom’s Restuarant (aka “Tom’s Diner” from the Suzanne Vega song; aka “Monk’s” from Seinfeld Fame) in search of the Knicks guard this past Wednesday after he went AWOL, leaving his team in Phoenix Tuesday to return home to the Big Apple. But, like the local media here that staked out his driveway, I had no luck.

Okay, I wasn’t really looking for “Starbury,” but with a long ride back to JFK this morning, I thought I’d share some thoughts while blogging from the backseat of my taxi.

I may not have run into Marbury, a former Suns guard I’m sure you recall, during my trip to NYC for a Sports Media & Technology conference, he was all over the place. There he was on the front (and back) page of the Daily News with articles titled “Warbury” and “Bizarrebury.” There went his name across one of the giant scrolling news tickers on Broadway, with the headline “Knicks Fine Marbury $180,000.” And there he was screaming on one of the enormous digital screens high above Times Square. I couldn’t hear him over all the honks and sirens, of course, but I could read his lips and he was not happy.

Ironically, when I first hit the Square on Monday night on a mission to find “7 shirts for $10,” I noticed a two-sided billboard advertising Knicks tix with photos of Zach Randolph, Eddie Curry, David Lee and someone else I can’t recall at 7 am (5 am Phx time), but someone who was most definitely not Marbury. I was surprised at the time that the pride of Coney Island wasn’t featured front and center, but now maybe we know why.

The rumor going around here is that the Knicks are going to try to buy out his contract, and that Isiah Thomas’ decision to bench Marbury was the first step. It was also apparently the last straw for Marbury, whose alleged outburst on the team charter to Phoenix Monday night after learning of his benching, included threats to dish dirt on his coach.

I have to admit, I actually felt sorry for Stephon. At least a little. Not to try and justify his bolting on his team, of course. And it’s hard to feel too sorry for any athlete making $20-plus million a year. But just having known him for a short time while he was with the Suns, I know that his childhood dream was to play for the Knicks. When he found out that the Suns had traded him in January 2004, he was crushed. For a few seconds anyway, until he learned that the trade would send him back to his hometown to play in the Garden.

I also remember interviewing him in his Paradise Valley home just a few months before that for a cover story I was penning for HOOP, and how he talked all about Thomas, his basketball idol growing up.

Marbury’s homecoming hasn’t quite been the storybook that he imagined, and from the sounds of the big city media, could end up just another chapter in his career. A chapter that may be within pages of being over [Ed's Note: Marbury rejoined his team and was photographed shaking hands with Thomas on Wednesday night].

Meanwhile, as I return home to rejoin my Suns.com teammates, I can’t help but wonder what condition the Suns would be in today had they not made the trade with New York. A trade that I was shocked and disappointed by at the time. Of course, I’m not the only one who doubted the move, but little did I or anyone else know that it would lead to the signing of Steve Nash and the elevation of the Suns to instant title contenders.

One more random Starbury thought before I move on: I just had a mental flashback of the day Marbury arrived in Phoenix. I had followed and photographed him throughout the day, from his hotel to the arena to his introductory press conference. Although it doesn’t feel like all that long ago that he played in Phx, that specific day feels like ages ago; especially when I think about how he walked into the Suns’ locker room for the first time to meet and shake hands with then-Suns coach… Scott Skiles.

NEW YORK STATE OF MIND

I’ve arrived safely at the airport and still have more than an hour to burn, so thought I’d blog a bit more…

>> I don’t know about you, but I’m always looking for Suns jerseys, Tshirts and hats in the crowd when I’m on the road. When I was at Disneyland earlier this year, I saw an assortment of purple and orange gear. But I didn’t see a single Stoudemire, Marion or Nash jersey in New York this week! C’mon people, the Suns are the hottest team in the NBA! Although, New York is in the 40s at night right now, so maybe the jerseys are hiding below the overcoats and sweaters.

>> I couldn’t help but think about Nash as I toured the city. Anyone seen his new Nike spot that’s rolling on YouTube? It’s truly an awesome commercial, showing the two-time MVP at work, playing soccer, tennis, pick-up hoops and even skateboarding through New York WHILE dribbling a ball off the concrete and sides of buildings. I think if I had his bank, I’d want to spend my summers here, too.

>> Passing Chambers Street on the #1 train yesterday brought back memories of Tom Chambers’ monster throwdown over the Knicks’ Mark Jackson, who is now a broadcaster for the Knicks’ YES! network. If you’ve never seen it, TC used Jackson like the Gorilla uses his trampoline.

>> Checking out Madison Square Garden reminded me of Charles Barkley hurdling the scorer’s table to chase after a referree during a Suns visit to NY in ’92-93. Speaking of Chuck, there was a photo of his smiling roundness above my table at Carnegie’s Deli, a famous spot which has framed autographed photos of hundreds of celebrities wallpapering the entire joint. My question is, do the stars bring photos of themselves when they come to eat? I can’t imagine them mailing them to the restaurant afterwards, and you know the place doesn’t have blank photos lying around just in case someone famous walks in. I would have asked my waitress, but I could barely get her to take my order, let along answer any questions. I never did get my iced tea, but the pastrami was good.

>> One final Suns-related story for you… I met up with an old high school friend of mine, who happened to be in New York at the same time, and we went in search of well-known Seinfeld spots around town one day (we’re both big fans). One of the locations we looked up was the “Royal Bakery,” where Jerry and Elaine went to pick up a chocolate Bobka on their way to a dinner party, but ended up settling for a cinnamon Bobka. “Cinnamon takes a back seat to no Bobka.”

So my friend and I were going to go in and order a Bobka and a couple of black & white cookies. “Two races of flavor living side by side.” But after crossing town and Central Park (which, if you’ve never been there, is one HUGE park!) to find the actual bakery used in the classic sitcom, what did we discover? It had been replaced by a new Jenny Craig’s location!

What’s the Suns’ connection, you’re asking? Well, Jenny Craig herself is a minority owner in the Suns’ franchise. If only Jenny had a Bobka in her Menu Planner!