Suns.com: This is Your Life

I’ve taken a lot of trips down memory lane this week, as we prepared for the re-launch of Suns.com. I vividly recall reading a memo from the league office in 1995 describing plans for a new NBA portal that fans could access through their computers to get score and schedules for each team.

I probably shouldn’t admit this now, but I had no clue what they were talking about.

I remember the first time we ever posted video on the site in 1997. It was a 10-second, choppy clip of rookie Marko Milic hurdling a car during a dunk contest in Europe. That was some classic video!

I’ll never forget taking digital pictures of Jason Kidd and Penny Hardaway eating breakfast at the team hotel in Flagstaff during training camp 2000, and having the revelation that THIS was the kind of behind-the-scenes content that fans would eat up on Suns.com.

I remember all the live chats we scheduled during the weeks of camp, only to end up banging on players’ hotel room doors, trying to get them to wake up and answer the NBA moderator’s calls.

I’d like to forget our first-ever episode of Nothin’ But Net, which featured a very nervous Kayte Christensen as Cedric Ceballo’s co-host (she got much better as the weeks went on), and a very confused Bryan Colangelo, who had to be wondering why we kept interrupting his interview to put goofy props up in front of the camera lens. Thankfully, very few fans actually ever saw the debut, as an arena maintenance worker mercifully tripped over our extension cord, pulling the plug on the live webcast. True story.

I could go on and on, of course, but I thought I would share a few screen shots from Suns.com of years past instead. After all, a picture tells a thousand words, right? I hope you enjoy this 6,000-words worth of flashbacks, courtesy of the Wayback Machine, as much as I have, and enjoy the new-and-improved Suns.com even more!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big and Busy Summer for Suns.com

“So what do you do during the summer?” I get that question a lot this time of year. When new acquaintances find out that I work for the Suns, they often assume that the NBA’s so-called “off”season must be slow or even boring.

Far from it!

Now, I do admit that I spent more than a few of my summer hours as an intern in the early ’90s playing H-O-R-S-E on a Nerf hoop with Frank Johnson and David Griffin. But those days are nothing more than a distant memory at this point.

 

Summers for the Suns.com staff are almost as hectic as the regular season these days, though. From the moment the playoffs end, we move into full NBA Draft mode. Then there is Summer League and the free-agency period with press conferences and introductions of new players, a la Grant Hill. And in recent years, we’ve had Suns players and coaches participating in USA Basketball to keep an eye on, as well.

 

Throw in the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, who we also cover for PhoenixMercury.com, and Suns front-office maneuvers such as the hirings of new GM Steve Kerr and assistant coach Jay Humphries, and we are running like the LB on a fast break.

[Quick tangent: I can't forget to mention that we were also asked to record video tours of a couple of potential new homes for Hill and his wife, Tamia, who was eight months pregnant and unable to travel to Phoenix to see them in person. Not that I'm complaining. My crew enjoyed it and we now hope to feature the Hills on a future episode of Suns Home Court!]

 

I personally, however, did very little of the above this year. Instead, I’ve spent the majority of the summer playing GM. Thanks to the vision of Suns owners Robert Sarver and Sam Garvin, and President Rick Welts, not to mention the full support of Suns Sr. VPs John Walker and Lynn Agnello, I was given approval to double the size of our Suns.com team!

 

So for the past two-plus months, I have been evaluating talent, recruiting free-agents and negotiating contracts. Or something like that. After sifting through more than 300 resumes and conducting some 40 or 50 interviews, I am proud to officially introduce the newest members of our team:

 

Dan Hilton: I don’t think I could have found someone better suited for our newly created Web Analytics Coordinator position than Dan Hilton. Not only does he bring more than nine years of web metrics experience with him, but he is a lifelong Suns fan and actually ran his own Suns fan blog site in his spare time!

[Read an interview he did with his successor at BrightSideoftheSuns.com earlier this week]

Dan will be responsible for analyzing and reporting on the daily, weekly and monthly traffic on Suns.com, as well as the online behavior pattern of our visitors, to assist in sponsor integration, search engine optimization and ease of site navigation. Confused yet?

I have also asked him to take over moderation of this official Suns blog. It wasn’t in the original job description, but his license plate reads “SNSBLGR,” for crying out loud. How could I not ask him to oversee the blog?

 

Stefan Swiat: With two years on NBA.com’s newsdesk writing articles and blogs, posting photos and videos, and updating both the teams and league sites on game nights, Stefan Swiat was another perfect fit, filling our new Web Content Coordinator role.

Convincing him to leave NBA.com in New Jersey and move to the opposite side of the country was the only tricky part. Not that coming to work for the three-time Pacific Division Champions AND the NBA’s reigning Web Site of the Year, wasn’t attractive. After all, Stefan did apply for the position. But changing jobs and coasts is, understandably, a life-altering decision. And so I called in a little favor.

 

After playing at least a wee bit role in helping to recruit Steve Nash back to Phoenix in 2004 – putting together a coffee table book custom-made for the then-Mavs’ playmaker – I figured Mike D’Antoni owed me one. Okay, not really, but Coach is such a great guy, I figured he wouldn’t mind helping me out. So I called Mike, Mike called Stefan, and the rest is history. But I’ll let him tell you more about that in his intro blog, coming soon.

 

Daniel Banks: Although talking, typing or thinking about this past playoff run is still painful for me and most Phoenix fans, our new Suns Structure Coordinator wasn’t quite as hurt by the circumstances surrounding the Suns’ pre-mature exit. You see, Daniel Banks is coming to the desert fresh off an NBA Championship parade (or would that be championship float?) down the Riverwalk, as a web manager with Spurs.com

 

But we can forgive him for that, as long as he doesn’t wear any “rings” around the office, for he has thankfully seen the light. Or, as I’ve proudly been announcing his impending arrival, he’s wisely chosen to “leave the immediate vicinity” of the Spurs’ press box to sign with our team. Let’s hope he becomes the first web geek (no slight to Daniel; I often refer to myself as a web geek) to win championships in back-to-back seasons with two different teams!

 

Daniel, a creative web designer, who brings a wealth of online talents and experience, will be moving to the Valley this weekend and is scheduled to officially begin his career with the Suns on Wednesday.

 

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In addition to adding to our award-winning team, I’m thrilled to announce the promotions of Suns.com’s veteran All-Stars, whose names you might recognize:

 

Josh Greene, aka “JAG,” has been promoted to Web & Publishing Manager. Josh crossed the street from then-Bank One Ballpark to US Airways Center back in 2003 after a year as a ballpark tour guide and several years as a TV sports & entertainment writer in upstate New York prior to that.

In his new role, Josh will continue to oversee the Suns’ print publications, including Free Throw (we’re looking for more fan artwork!) and the Suns Yearbook, in addition to helping manage the day-to-day updates of the Suns and Phoenix RoadRunners‘ web sites.

 

Steven J. Koek (he says “the J stands for J”) has been promoted to Web & Multimedia Manager. Steven joined the Suns in January 2003, but was already a familiar face to many within the organization as he produced video features for Suns TV broadcasts in the early ’90s while with a local television production company.

In his new role, Steven will continue to oversee all of Suns.com’s multimedia productions (webcasts and podcasts) in addition to helping manage the day-to-day maintenance of the Suns and Mercury’s web sites.

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“So what will you do the rest of the summer?”

 

Good question. I thought I’d just take the next couple months off and let my staff of seven (which also includes our “swiss army knife,” Web Content Assistant Brad G. Faye, who does a little of everything on the sites) handle things around here for a while. You guys don’t mind, do you?

 

I wish. My wife and I did get a few days in San Francisco for our 10th Anniversary last week, and my son and I spent a day at Comic-Con last month, but I don’t think I’ll be leaving the office again anytime soon.

 

Now that I’ve got my team in place and we’ve officially opened the new “Suns.com Newsroom” (special thanks to Gambo, Burnsy and Sports 620 KTAR for all of the love!), my full attention turns towards some exciting new projects we have on the horizon.

 

I don’t want to reveal too much too soon, but I will tell you that we have been working closely with the NBA’s Creative Services department for the last four months on a complete redesign of Suns.com, which is scheduled to for an early October unveiling.

 

As part of the relaunch, we will also be introducing an expansive social network for Suns fans, which will allow you to create your own fan profiles, write your own blogs, and upload your own photos, artwork and video! The new fan network will also contain Suns message boards, which I know you have been asking for, and we will be organizing a team of die-hard fans to help us moderate the boards. Stay tuned to details.

 

Let’s see, what else? We’ll be providing in-depth coverage of the Mercury’s playoff run over at PhoenixMercury.com. We’ll soon be putting up an official page on MySpace. We’ll be featuring more historical content on Suns.com, as the Suns celebrate their 40th anniversary this season. We’ll be launching a new 2007-08 Suns Dancers section. We’re planning on offering more behind-the-scenes video and live webcasts. We’ve talked with several Suns celebrities about joining our blog squad. More, more, more.

 

But again, I don’t want to give away too many of our secrets just yet. Instead, I’ll just ask you to circle October 1 on your calendar, as all the online fun tips off with our annual live Media Day Webcast, followed by exclusive camp coverage from Tucson.

 

Only 53 days of summer left and I can’t wait!

Game 4: Blogging from San Antonio

It’s 4:25 am Phoenix time (6:25 am back in San Antonio) and I’m back home, about ready to crash. Special thanks to all of you who read my in-game blog last night. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. For those of you just now reading it, forgive my over exuberance. I couldn’t help myself!

If I didn’t approve your reply at the bottom, it was either because, 1) You were asking about potential suspensions, of which I’m not at liberty or informed enough to discuss, 2) You were a Spurs fan, who took out your dissapointment over the loss on me with a diatribe of profanity; or 3) I probably just missed it, as my eyes are a little blurry at the moment.

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FINAL SCORE: SUNS 104, SPURS 98!!!

The Suns win the “biggest game of the year” and if they go on to wrap up this series, this could go down as the biggest win in franchise history!!! Yes, I’m exclamation point happy. Sue me.

I’ve got to sign-off for now. Got to send out a text alert and update the playoff index page real quick before heading downstairs to the locker room.

Keep your comments and feedback coming. I’ll post your replies as soon as I can get back to my computer. And from a dead-silent AT&T Center, I�sign off with one more… “HUGE!!!”

4th Qtr, 00:18.2
— WOWWWWW!!!! ARE YOU KIDDING ME???!!!! I think the Spurs just proved STAT correct with that one. Don’t be surprised if Robert Horry misses the next game after body checking Nash into the courtside press table. UNBELIEVABLE!!!

And boy am I impressed with Raja that he didn’t completely lose it. He got a technical for getting up in Horry’s grill, but he maintained his composure. I’m really surprised no one threw any punches there. That could have really been ugly. I say it again, UNBELIEVABLE!!!

This game isn’t over yet, but Spurs fans are heading for the exits! I LOVE IT!!!

4th Qtr, 00:32.5 — ANOTHER BUCKET BY STAT, right over the outstretched arm of Duncan. Suns lead by three! Suns TV Producer Marc Goldberg and I are going crazy up here, pounding the press table. I don’t think anyone minds. Most of the reporters who were up here with us left minutes ago to head down to the “victorious” Spurs locker room. The crowd’s “Go Spurs Go!” chant is pretty weak. They don’t sound too confident.�I think we’re going to pull this one out!!! Can’t give up any threes here.

4th Qtr, 00:53 — SUNS LEAD!!! SUNS LEAD!!! SUNS LEAD!!! That last sentence typed with “Good ‘Ol J.R.’s” voice in mind. I’m sick of saying “huge,” so I’ll say enormous bucket by Amare. Suns first lead since mid-way through second quarter.

4th Qtr, 1:48 — Duncan scores. Nash scores. And the fans in front of me are standing! I can’t see the court… Huge pass from Raja to Marion under the basket for two! It’s a ONE POINT GAME!!!

4th Qtr, 3:58 — STAT’s back in the game. Suns trail by seven… Amare drives inside and scores! 22 pts for the big man. If he can just�keep from getting his sixth foul. Raja drives inside for the bucket and San Antonio’s lead is back down to three. Wow, is this intense!

I’m having flashbacks to Game 1 of the 2003 playoffs when a rookie STAT drained the three-pointer to send the game into OT, and then Stephon Marbury went full court for another three at the horn to win the thriller. Although I’m not sure my heart can take an ending like that tonight. I think I’d much prefer a nice 2-point win in regulation.

4th Qtr, 4:22 — Hard foul by LB on Parker. Suns are in the penalty. TP hits both, Spurs lead by five once again.

4th Qtr, 4:38 — “Throwing any object onto the court will be subject to ejection.” That’s Spurs fans for you! Sorry, I coudln’t resist.

4th Qtr, 5:35 — Two-point game! Kurt knocks down a pair of free throws… ARGGHHH… would someone please cover Michael Finley?! Spurs back up five.

4th Qtr, 6:47 — @#$%*&%@$… two quick fouls on Amare! He’s got five now.�Not at all what we needed. And the Spurs follow that up with a big three-pointer by Michael Finley.

And now Duncan’s got five fouls! And Raja’ hits a jumper. I can’t type fast enough!

4th Qtr, 7:34 — I don’t know about you, but I’m so nervous. I can’t stop fidgeting in my seat. Although that could also be the 16 oz’s of Full Throttle… HUGE shot by Steve! Spurs lead�down to�three! It’s anyone’s game!

4th Qtr, 7:56 — I don’t know how many times I can say “huge,” but that was a huge three by Marion… and now another big shot by Trix, a running floater to cut the Spurs lead to 5!

4th Qtr, 8:55 — The Suns are getting some good breaks, they just need to take advantage of them. Duncan just got his fourth foul, an offensive foul this time. Now — right now — the Suns need to make their push.

Quick reply to Natasha of Canada’s reply (see bottom). Your dad turned off the game for CSI Miami? And he’s from Canada? Where’s the love for Nash?! Tell your dad that’s just cruel and unusual punishment. He can always watch CSI Miami, New York or Vegas on Spike TV. If you get that channel in Canada that is.

4th Qtr, 10:08 — Huge sequence there. Nash steals from Duncan, pushes down court, Amare slams home a missed shot by LB. 8-point game.

4th Qtr, 10:56 — Okay, letting Duncan dunk it, and then sending him to the line on the next trip down was not exactly what I had in mind. Spurs 83, Suns 72.

3rd Qtr Break — Here we go fans. In last night’s blog, I said this was the biggest game of the season for the Suns. That makes this quarter the biggest quarter of the year for our team. They currently trail 72-80, but there’s 12 minutes of basketball to be played. I still feel like they can pull this out. But they’ve got to give it everything they’ve got right here, right now. I’m looking for Steve and Amare, in particular, to step up and show the world why they are All-NBA First Teamers!

3rd Qtr, 1:40 — Another big bucket and an “and 1″ for Amare! Suns need to keep going to him down low.

3rd Qtr, 2:44 – Nice dunk for Amare! Want to see more of that… but don’t want to see Parker drive the lane uncontested… or Brent Barry draining threes!!! Ugh.

Speaking of ugh, Juan from Fort Worth, I’m not even going to post your reply.

Sorry I’ve slipped a bit this quarter, fans. I’m trying to blog and crop photos for our�game coverage gallery�at the same time. Not easy to do. But I will step up in the fourth quarter, just like I expect our Suns to. Don’t give up. You and I know both know this Suns team can reel off a dozen quick points just like that!

3rd Qtr, 7:05 — And Duncan takes a seat! Time for Stoudemire to take control down low. Although the Suns have to stop giving Parker and Co. open looks! Timeout Phoenix. Spurs take a 10-point lead. Let’s go fans! Let ‘em hear you from back home!!! Scream at that TV! Just don’t scream at your computer screen while reading my blog, please.

3rd Qtr, 7:27 — Well, I don’t like the way this quarter began, but I love the fact that Duncan just got his third foul, as Steve Nash drove inside.

3rd Qtr, 9:41 — Back from the Cowboys room. Yes, they have a Cowboys room and a Cowgirls room. Isn’t that cute? A whole lot of testosterone flowing in the restroom, by the way. Lots of inebriated Spurs fans hooting and hollering about how great their team is. Disgusting.

Saw a great site walking back to my press seat, though… a guy and his�gal (Texas talk, of course), wearing Dirk Nowitzki jerseys and wearing paper bags over their heads.

Still Halftime — Pablo from England (see replies at bottom)! Wow, how cool is that, that I’ve got live readers in England! This isn’t THE Pablo that I met at our Training Camp in Italy is it? What time is it there in England anyway? I’d look it up online, but I’ve got to go use the restroom, buy a “Full Throttle” and give my wife a�quick ring�before the game begins. I’ll be back!

Halftime – Suns trail by five, but I still feel pretty good. We escaped the first half with a limited number of fouls, which means Amare can play the majority of the second half. We’ve played with intensity and passion. Nash is hitting his shots. The second half will be ours!

By the way… if you don’t want to listen to Charles Barkley at halftime, open that other browser window to Spurs.com again and watch the halftime show. Some freaky looking, bald gymnast guys lifting each other in the air… On second thought, watch Charles. At least you’ll get a good laugh or two.

2nd Qtr, 00:50.9 – First half almost over.�Parker just hit a big shot for San Antonio to give them a five-point lead, and Nash turned it over on the other end.

2nd Qtr, 3:55 — Did you see that? A huge charge taken by Nash! Duncan barrelled�down the middle�like a runaway locamotive and MV3 just stood there and took the full brunt for the good of the team. He is so tough!

I asked him a week or two back if he felt he had a better season this year than last. Although always humble, he admitted that he did feel he had improved in several areas this season, and one of the first he pointed to was taking charges. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I know he’s taken quite a few of them in the postseason alone.

2nd Qtr, 6:02 — The Spurs computer specialist was up here before the game talking to their web folks about the datalines they’ve set up for the live webcast, and told him he’d set it up again if there was going to be a Game 6. I told him he should go ahead and just leave it up since they’re will definitely be a Game 6.

2nd Qtr, 6:48 — Boy Tim Duncan is good. I’ve really been impressed with Thomas’ D on the Spurs’ big man. He does not even budge when Duncan is banging into him, but Tim is so good with that turnaround bank shot. I really don’t know how you stop that, other than double-him, and if you do that it’s only going to leave one of San Antonio’s sharp shooters (Finley, Ginobili, Bowen) wide open.

2nd Qtr, 8:43 — In reference to Mike’s question below, the technical was called on the Suns for a defensive�3-second violation. Don’t worry. No one’s lost their cool or anything as of yet!

Just had the first-quarter box scores delivered to us (we’re a long ways away from the press room). Quick hits: Nash was 3-of-3 for the first quarter, Thomas had four rebounds and three Suns registered a block.

2nd Qtr, 10:52 — Big shot by LB. He hasn’t been quite the spark that he was in the Lakers series, which surprises me a bit. I expected this to be another big series for him. Although I guess it still could be. After all, this is only the middle of what’s going to be a full seven-game Conference Semis.

In reply to Andrew’s comment on Robert… I’m not sure I’d call what he does “Jawing,” but he definitely gets into the games.�He’s as big a fan as any of us, I think!

1st Qtr Break — Interesting promotion they just ran during the quarter break. A couple of kids had to try and score baskets while being defended by a giant smiling grocery bag. I started to make fun of my Spurs.com friends and then admitted that my kids would probably have loved�it!

And the second quarter is underway.

1st Qtr, 0:39 – That was scary. Trix just chased a ball into the cameras and fans along the baseline and was pretty darn slow to get back up. But he’s fine! There are always a few times a year that Shawn goes down hard, putting a scare into teammates, coaches and fans, only to bounce back up 30 or 40 seconds later and get right back into the game. He has the healing powers of Wolverine!

First quarter over and Suns lead, 24-22. Not a bad start. Although the Spurs look pretty good themselves, so far.

1st Qtr, 2:22 — Foul on Marion. I was a little concerned it was on Thomas there for a second. First quarter almost over and we’ve only got one foul each on Kurt, Amare and Marion so far. Good start. So is the 64.3% shooting for the Suns!

1st Qtr, 3:24 — Speaking of fans, there was a pretty big group of them awaiting our players outside the team hotel this afternoon. Both Kurt Thomas and STAT stopped to sign a number of autographs, which I asked Amare about.

“I always try to sign for kids,” he told me. “I don’t always sign for the adults, though. You can tell some of them are just there to get your autograph to sell.”

There were definitely a few of those. There were a number of “fans” who seemed bored by the Suns, even though they had large stacks of color pictures and balls to get signed. A couple of them even had on Spurs T-shirts. They didn’t get any auotgraphs.

1st Qtr, 4:15 — Oh boy! Raja is jawing with some fan sitting in the first row. I couldn’t tell what happened from way up here, but it looked like Raja kind of lost his balance and fell towards the fans sitting in the corner. Not sure if the fan grabbed him or just said something derrogatory, but I could definitely tell Raja didn’t appreciate it.

1st Qtr, 5:46 — Big steal by Amare, and another jumper for Nash. Suns 18, Spurs 10. Boy the Suns looke active so far here tonight. They’ve got to keep up this energy level for a full 48!

Quick reply to Andrew — yes, that Andrew — good to hear (read) from you, man! You inspired us with your game-night blogs in Sac-town this year. Thought I’d give it a shot myself tonight. Not easy to do while watching the game, though.

1st Qtr, 6:50 — Amare’s got his first foul. He really needs to keep that in check tonight. But he just answered with a nice little jumper.

1st Qtr, 8:35 — Steve Nash drains a three! Suns jump out to a very early lead, 9-3. Nice to see Steve hit his first two shots after starting out so cold last game. Spurs timeout.

Real quick, in reply to Justin and Lyle’s comments (see below), I’m not actually surprised that Bowen didn’t get suspended. Again, similar to the incident with Amare in Game 2, his “accidental” contact with Nash’s… uh… crotchal region?… could actually have been an accident. It’s impossible to know for sure whether or not he meant to drop Steve like a sack of potatoes. The league can’t really suspend players unless it’s obviously blatant.

Coach D’Antoni said he thought it was a good decision by the league to give Bowen a “Flagrant 1″ foul and send the message that they’re watching him closely.

1st Qtr, 10:01 –�I’m switching to the game clock for my time stamps. I’m thinking that will be easier than trying to figure out the time in Phoenix for each note, and hopefully easier for you to follow along, as well. Suns look pretty good so far, playing aggressive, rebounding, and there goes Amare into the lane, drawing a foul on the Spurs’ big guy, Olberto.

6:56 PM — I’ve got some replies! I was hoping some fans would be logged on during the game to interact with me. In reponse to “Suns r winnin,” I wouldn’t be concerned that the Suns aren’t taking this game seriously. Every player approaches the games differently. If anything, I felt good that the guys seemed loose and confident, not scared. As for Raja, I love his intensity. I’m expecting a big game out of him tonight. Speaking of the game, we’re underway!!!

6:52 PM – The introductions are underway. Interesting to me that they play WWE superstar The Undertaker’s theme music for the Suns’ intros. I guess they know the Grim Reaper is coming for the Spurs tonight.

6:48 PM –�Took a trip through the maze-like hallways of AT&T Center over to Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich’s pre-game media session. He said that he expected to see a different Suns team tonight, much like the Phoenix�team that came out on fire in Game 2, noting that it’s natural for the team that loses to come out stronger than the team that wins in tightly contested series like this one. He also said that he felt like if these two teams played 15 games, one would win�eight of them, the other seven.

6:45 PM –�Not going to say who — and I wasn’t purposely looking — but I noticed that one of the Suns�wore orange briefs to the game tonight.

6:37 PM –�Everyone seemed to be in a pretty good tonight. Well, everyone except Raja Bell, who appeared to be in a zone as he sipped his pre-game coffee. A very intense zone at that.

Shawn Marion had a big smile and wide eyes as he watched the Shrek 3 trailer on the locker room TV. The Matrix, as you probably know, is a big fan of cartoons. Although, I can’t wait to�take the kids and see it�myself.

Speaking of movies, James�Jones went to see 28 Weeks Later today. Gave it a thumbs down. He also said he didn’t like Spider-Man 3, and I have to admit I was a little disappointed myself. I LOVED Spidey 2, but the third installment had too many holes and too many unrealistic parts. Unrealistic for a superhero movie, that is.

While Jr was at the movies, Sean Marks, Eric Piatkowski, Pat Burke and Tim Kempton went golfing, I hear. I don’t know who hit what, but from the sounds of things, Kempton’s team won.

6:32 PM –�And here come our Suns, to a chorus of boos , of course.

Not that I want you to leave Suns.com, but you might want to open a second internet window and visit Spurs.com. My counterparts have set up a live web cam to capture the pre-game warm-ups, intros, etc. They’re actually seated right behind me, so I thought about lifting up a Suns’ game program that I had in my laptop bag and putting it in front of their camera lense.

I wouldn’t do that, though, as the Spurs’ web guys are good peoples. They’ve got a pretty sharp looking playoff site, too. And besides, I’m going to steal their idea and see if we can’t hook up a live web cam next game. Watch for it.

6:28 PM (Phoenix time) –�The Spurs have just taken the court to some lively rap music. I’m not sure, but it might just be a little number off of Tony Parker’s rap album. Excuse me, Tony Fizzle’s rap album. Yes, it’s true.

Nash a Living Legend

Traveling with the Suns, I see a lot of funny things and overhear a lot of interesting conversations that die-hard Phoenix fans would love to read about. Usually, I don’t feel it’s appropriate for me to share those anecdotes, but I feel compelled to relay this particular one.

Now, as you can probably imagine, there were a lot of colorful comments and intriguing opinions expressed on the late-night flight back to Phoenix after the Suns’ dramatic Game 4 win in San Antonio last night. But the exchange that I couldn’t help but listen to intently was one that had nothing to do with the Robert Horry incident.

Sitting directly behind Al McCoy and I were Suns guards and good friends Steve Nash and Leandro Barbosa. Nash, who is currently reading a book on Pistol Pete Maravich, was telling LB all about the late-great Jazz guard, who he said he wishes he could have met. It wasn’t long before Suns Chairman Jerry Colangelo and assistant coach Dan D’Antoni were in on the conversation, as well.

D’Antoni, who said he actually played against him on the playgrounds of South Carolina, called him the original Magic Johnson. Colangelo told a story about the time he scored 50 against the Suns, after several of his temmates had gotten into a car accident earlier in the day and his team was short-handed. And Nash told Barbosa how Maravich once scored 82 points in a game at Rucker Park. How he averaged more than 40 points over his four years of college. How he was a wizard with the ball, and could do all of the “And 1″ moves in actual NBA games.

The history lesson on Pistol Pete went on for a good 20 minutes, at least, with Nash doing most of the teaching. It was very evident, and even a bit surprising to me, just how much respect and reverance the Suns’ playmaker has for Maravich.

All the while, I kept thinking that someday, 20, 30 years from now, there will be some NBA player telling a younger player about the greatness that was Steve Nash. How the diminutive unknown from Canada elevated his game to elite status and won back-to-back MVP awards.

How he once handed out 23 assists in a playoff game in Los Angeles, in front of Magic. How he once scored 48 against his former team in Dallas in the Conference Semis (’95) and followed that game up with a triple-double (34 points, 13 boards, 12 assists) against the Mavs.

How he had his nose busted open, took a knee to the grapefruits, and was sent flying into the scorer’s table in one particularly memorable playoff series against the Spurs in 202007, and never stopped fighting (in a basketball sense, of course.)

But most of all, I’m thinking that the next generation of NBA players and Phoenix fans will be telling stories about how the one-of-a-kind Nash guided and lifted the Suns to their first-ever NBA Championship.

The Biggest Game of the Year

Walking back to our hotel after the annual playoff media dinner this evening, I was saying how I wished that Suns broadcasters Tom Leander or Gary Bender were along for the trip so they could file a blog for Suns.com.

 

Steven J. Koek, Suns.com TV producer extraordinaire, then asked why I don’t write one.

 

Good question.

 

A can of Rockstar Juiced and a bag of peanut butter M&Ms later, and I’m at my keyboard ready to share my thoughts and stories from San Antonio.

 

Let’s start with the aforementioned dinner. For each of the last three years, Suns owner Robert Sarver has treated the traveling Phoenix media to a nice meal, as a thank you for the press coverage during the season. Coach D’Antoni has joined in the last couple years, but was noticeably absent tonight. Everyone understood, of course, that he’s got more important things on his mind than Tex-Mex.

 

The general consensus among the newspaper, radio and TV reporters I talked to was that tomorrow’s Game 4 is the most important game of the season, and – if the Suns are so fortunate to go on to win their first NBA Championship next month – could end up being one of the most pivotal games in franchise history.

 

Think about it. If the Suns lose a second straight here, they’ll find themselves in a deep and dark hole, trailing the Spurs 1-3. And while they’ve climbed out of similar holes before, most recently last season when they came back to defeat the Lakers in seven games, this Spurs team is not that Lakers team.

 

Amaré Stoudemire went so far as to call it a “must win” after his foul trouble led to the Suns’ Game 3 loss here on Saturday, and I can’t say I disagree.

 

Should the Suns bounce back, though, and take Game 4 – and no one I talked to doubted that they can do just that – then they have reclaimed the invaluable home court advantage with two of next three games to be played at US Airways Center.

 

Before the Conference Semifinals started, I told friends and co-workers that I thought the Suns would defeat the Spurs in seven games. In fact, as far back as April 5th – after the Suns lost in San Antonio in their last regular season meeting – I said that the Suns would win in seven IF they were able to hang on to the No. 2 seed to ensure the seventh game between the Western Conference rivals would be played in Phoenix.

 

I had my concerns over whether or not the Suns could win a Game 7 here, and I have those same concerns over a Game 6 next Friday. Especially if it’s a possible elimination game, where the experience and confidence of past NBA Championships could play a huge role for the home team.

 

But I’m sticking with my pre-series prediction. The Suns will win tomorrow night, again on Wednesday back in Phoenix and advance to the Conference Finals for the third straight year by winning a Game 7 next Sunday.

 

What do you guys think? Scroll down below to submit your replies, and watch for my new in-game blog from my upper level press seat at AT&T Center tomorrow night.

 

ODDS & ENDS & TEXAS GIFTS

 

 

  • I’m not going to suggest that the waiter at our restaurant on the Riverwalk was a “dirty” Spurs fan, but it was surprising when the table that Sarver and several reporters were sitting at suddenly broke, sending drinks and salads soaring.  

     

  • Channel 12’s sports reporter Bruce Cooper won the award for the most colorful dinner attire, arriving in a bright peach sportcoat straight out of Craig Saeger’s closet. Word was that Ricky Martin is staying in a nearby hotel – a couple of his dancers even passed through our party – but no one knew until Coop showed up that the Temptations were in town, too.  

     

  • We don’t have the video to show you (we slept through today’s practice after working on the web site until 5 a.m. this morning), but we hear that Leandro Barbosa was making some impressive passes to Eric Piatkowski. With his feet! Standing on the sidelines at halfcourt, LB was drop-kicking the Spalding up and over to the far corner behind the three-point line, where Pike would catch, shoot and drain shot after shot.
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  • Speaking of practice today, I hear that Raja Bell was still pretty short with reporters. If you watched our post-game coverage on Suns.com, you probably noticed that the Suns’ guard was not at all pleased after the Game 3 loss. Not that I blame him, of course. I get the feeling that the Suns were disappointed that they didn’t match the Spurs’ aggressiveness and were not amused by the Spurs’ enjoyment over the win.
  • I don’t know if you saw it, or if the Suns saw it for that matter, but if I was Coach D I think I would show them the video of Tim Duncan’s post-game comments, in which he laughed hard when asked if this was a physical series. “Did you see the last series?” he replied,�trying to hold back more laughter. “Those guys were a lot more physical than these guys.”

     

     

     

  • We took a walk down to the Alamo this afternoon – Steven J. wanted to visit Pee Wee’s basement – and then had lunch at a little mall on the Riverwalk. Stopping into a new and used video game store, I was startled when a teenager came racing in to yell at one of his friends working behind the counter. “HURRY, SHAWN MARION IS OUTSIDE!” Sure enough, Trix was looking at some jewelry when not posing for photos for fans with camera phones.
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  • I don’t know what Shawn bought, but I thought I’d pick up a souvenir for our new “Suns.com Skybox” – look up towards the rafters above section 203, if you’re at Wednesday’s Game 5. I debated between a stuffed Jackelope and stuffed Armadillo, who was dressed in leather chaps and a gunbelt, but they were $130 each. I then considered a giant orange foam cowboy hat, a “Hillbilly Suitcase,” which was a pair of tighty whities with wooden handles, and a “Lone Star Windchime” made of dangling beer cans. Yee haw!  

     

  • KT and LB, the Smiling Hustlers

    Kurt Thomas was all smiles in the Suns’ locker room on Tuesday night, and I couldn’t help but smile for him myself.

     

    Kurt Thomas recorded 12 points and four rebounds in the Suns’ Game 2 win.
    (Jeramie McPeek/Suns�Photos)

     

    More often that not this season, the veteran center would dress quietly in front of his cherry-wood cubicle, while next-door neighbor and low-post apprentice Amaré Stoudmire would be surrounded by reporters and cameras after games. But “Dirty” was high on the list of media targets following the Suns’ 20-point win in Game 2 of the Conference Semis, and for good reason.

     

    After sitting out the Suns’ playoff run a year ago, and seeing just 18 minutes a game this regular season – his fewest per night in the last nine years – Thomas drew the long straw and the starting nod Tuesday, and took full advantage of the opportunity. In his 28 minutes and three seconds of court time, the 34-year-old scored 12 points, on 6-of-7 field goals, grabbed four boards and three steals.

     

    “It was awesome,” he told me when I asked how it felt. “It was just great to go out there and contribute, to help the team out and do whatever we can, especially in the playoffs. That’s what you play for.”

     

    The real reason Thomas got a chance to play, of course, was because of the defense Coach D’Antoni hoped he could provide. And, although he downplayed his defense Tim Duncan to just “decent,” Thomas definitely made the Spurs’ All-Star work hard, particularly in the fourth quarter when he missed three-of-four shots.

    “I just try not to let him catch the ball, that’s the biggest thing,” Kurt said. “They pound the ball into him and he’s just a tremendous player. He really knows how to use his body, and he has great footwork, and a tremendous touch shooting the ball, especially the way he shoots it off the glass.

     

    “But I definitely could do a better job. You have to realize, he still scored (29) points tonight. So I definitely have to break down the tape and make corrections from tonight. The key is to just make him work, so in the fourth quarter, hopefully, he’ll have tired legs and his shot will come up a little short.”

    Now, the question on several reporters minds was does Kurt get tired, running up and down in the Suns’ up-tempo offense? Thomas just laughed.

     

    “It’s fun when you get the opportunity to run up and down like that, so it definitely makes the game very exciting, instead of walking the ball up the floor,” he said. “I definitely enjoy it. It reminds me when I played in college, my senior year, and I led the nation in scoring and rebounding. We would just run up and down, just pushing the ball and pressing. That was college. We don’t really press that much here, but we’re trying to get as many offensive possessions as we can.”

    Barbosa Deserving of Hustle Award

    I had planned on writing a blog last game about Leandro Barbosa winning the 202007 Dan Majerle Hustle Award, one of my favorite annual honors. But after the disappointing loss – which saw a couple of late-game mistakes by LB – I decided to hold off.

    The Blur was back up to speed in Game 2, however, and showed why he was deserving of the recognition with his all-out effort, especially during the second quarter. If you watched the game, you’ll remember the moment when he raced past Spurs guard Tony Parker and his own teammate, Stoudemire, to rescue a loose ball that was headed out of bounds. Then less than a minute later, he was scrapping with the Spurs and diving for another ball, which he came up with and fed Steve Nash for a quick lay-up. They were just two plays, but fired up the sold-out crowd.

    “I think hustling is the key for the game,” he told me Sunday. “Whatever I have to do to win the game, I will do with all my heart.”

    It’s that attitude, of course, that earned Leandro the fifth annual award, which was voted on by five equally-weighted groups: Suns fans, employees, coaches, players and “Thunder Dan” himself.

    “LB’s been great this year,” said Majerle, who presented LB with a large silver trophy shaped like Dan’s retired No. 9. “He comes off the bench and gives them a spark, much like I did in my younger days of my career. So I’m happy for him. He plays extremely hard and has really worked on his game. I couldn’t be more pleased.”

    The NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year couldn’t have been more pleased himself. I was with Suns VP of Basketball Operations David Griffin when he told the 25-year-old guard that he had won the award prior to Game 1. LB’s eyes, which were glued to game film in the players’ lounge at the time, grew almost as big as his trademark smile.

    “Wow, thank you to all of them,” he said of the voters. “I’m very happy and I appreciate that. I always want to do good things for the Suns, so thank you. It was a surprise.

    “Dan Majerle was very, very good player. I used to watch him when I was little kid back in Brazil. It’s big time, big time!”

    Emotional Day Ends with Win for New Father Bell

    Raja Bell could hardly contain himself. Although he was going on “three or four” hours of sleep, having spent the night at the hospital with his expectant wife Cindy, the Suns’ guard was bouncing off the walls prior to Game 5.

     

     

    Raja and Cindy Bell welcomed their first child, Dia, on Wednesday afternoon.
    (Jeramie McPeek/Suns Photos)
     

    Beaming with pride as he entered the Suns’ locker room at US Airways Center on Wednesday evening, Bell was met with a series of “congratulations” from teammates, coaches and media. The first-time father was happy to report that his wife was doing well after a prolonged labor and C-Section, and so was their 8-pound, 2-ounce baby boy, Dia, which is also Raja’s middle name.

     

    “Cin’s good,” Ra Ra (or is it Da Da now?) told me prior to the game. “She’s in the hospital, but she’s doing really good. And the baby is awesome, so I’m pretty excited.

     

    “It was kind of like an out-of-body experience, man. I was there, but it was happening so fast that I didn’t really get to take it all in. I tried my best, but it was an unbelievable experience. It was once in a lifetime. Hopefully I have more kids but that first time was unreal.”

     

    Having been there in Raja’s Nikes twice myself, I was just one of a number of reporters/fathers who were anxious to shake the new dad’s hand and hear about the new addition to his family.

     

    Although STAT led the way for the Suns’ in their series-clinching victory over the Lakers, dropping 27 points and 16 boards on L.A., the largest throng of local media was gathered around Bell’s cherry-wood cubicle after the game.

     

    “There was a whole lot of emotion today,” said No. 19, who wore his hospital ID wristband during the game. “I got to see my wife go through something that I don’t know that I had a full appreciation for before I saw it, and God bless her for that. It was amazing. So from that to seeing my son born and getting to hang out with him for a little while, and then coming here to close out the Lakers, and having my in-laws and mother in town, it’s been a great day.

     

    “I don’t think that I can fully put it into words, and I don’t think it’s fully sunk in for me yet. It’s crazy to think that now I’m responsible for a life. That’s really cool. We tried for a little while and weren’t successful, so I’m very blessed, very grateful and just ready to enjoy it.”

    Two days after being named to the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team, Bell showed off his offense in Game 5, scoring eight points and knocking down a pair of three-pointers in the opening minutes.

    The Suns were unsure whether or not they would even have their starting two-guard for the game, after he made just a brief cameo appearance during the team’s morning shoot-around, before heading to the airport to pick up family.

    Bell had a much better Game 5 tonight than he did a year ago. It was in Game 5 of the 2006 playoffs that the competitive guard clotheslined Lakers’ All-Star Kobe Bryant when their war of words and physical play boiled over.

    The feud between the two has cooled in recent months, and Bryant even offered his congratulations to Bell on Wednesday morning, and gave him a hug at center court after the game.

    “That’s always a special time,” Bryant told Sports 620 KTAR. “You know, my daughter’s birthday was yesterday, so we celebrated it yesterday, they flew out here and, you know, family is extremely important and my thoughts and prayers are with (Bell) and his family.”

    MY CONVERSATION WITH KOBE

     

    I was browsing a sidewalk newsstand in L.A. over the weekend when I noticed the latest issue of HOOP magazine with Kobe Bryant on the cover.

     

    As a lifelong Suns fan and the Suns’ VP of Interactive Services, my first reaction would normally have been to sigh and think, “Too bad they put Kobe on the cover. He’s going to be on summer vacation by next weekend.”

     

    Only I wrote this particular story. Actually it wasn’t a story, but an in-depth interview with the Lakers’ star that I conducted a month or so back on behalf of HOOP.

     

    You see, I’ve served as the “editor-at-large” for the NBA’s official publications for the last six or seven years now. Now with a very hectic (but fun) full-time job with the Suns, not to mention a beautiful and understanding wife, and two fun-loving kids at home, I don’t have the spare time to take on freelance gigs as often as I used to. But I do still manage to squeeze out a few late-night hours each month for an article or two.

     

    When my editor e-mailed me back in March to ask if I could interview Kobe for the magazine’s May cover story, though, I cringed. I’ve never been a big Bryant fan. I’ve always been impressed with him as a player, but added him to my list of “most hated opponents” when his Lakers beat my Suns in the 2000 playoffs and went on to win their first of three-straight NBA Championships.

     

    Even if they hadn’t beaten the Suns that year I would have disliked him, though. After all, Phoenix fans aren’t allowed to like Lakers players, right? And since I originally became a Suns fan watching them challenge the “Showtime” Lakers in the 1989 Western Conference Finals, those negative vibes towards L.A. are deeply rooted.

     

    Then, of course, there was the whole feud with Raja last season, which I loved. Growing up playing with Star Wars toys, reading Marvel comics and watching pro wrestling for years, I’ve always enjoyed the battles of good vs. evil. Bell, in my book, was the superhero last year and Bryant, the classic villain. It was Luke vs. Darth, if you will. Or Spider-Man vs. Venom, to make a more current analogy.

     

    But after the arch rivals made amends, and even a few jokes, during the Suns-Lakers meeting on March 4, I decided I could put the past aside myself, and conduct an unbiased interview like any good sports reporter should.

     

    I have to admit, I even found Bryant to be quite friendly to talk to. He was thoughtful in his answers, although perhaps a bit PC at times, and patient enough to answer every question I asked. And I asked a lot.

     

    That’s not to say I went easy on him. I asked him if he ever misses Shaq, now that the Lakers are no longer the contenders they were a few years ago. I asked him how he felt when Diesel won a championship with the Heat last year. I asked him about his relationship with Phil Jackson. I asked him how it feels when people call him selfish, and if he cares what fans think about him. I even asked him about Raja. I couldn’t resist.

     

    I can’t divulge his answers here, of course. You’ve got to go out and pick up the issue, which I might add also includes a one-page story I wrote on Bell and another short piece on the baby tigers named after Raja and Steve Nash out at the Wildlife World Zoo.

     

    But after our 32-minute phone interview was over, I told Kobe how Raja had just appeared on our web show, Nothin’ But Net, and said that he didn’t think he and Cindy would ever go out to dinner with him and his wife, Vanessa, but that he wouldn’t mind playing a round of golf with Bryant sometime.

     

    Kobe just laughed. “Man, I suck at golf.”

     

    STAR GAZING

     

    We weren’t in Beverly Hills an hour before our first celebrity sighting last week. After checking into our rooms at the Beverly Wilshire (the hotel from Pretty Woman, I’m told) on Wednesday evening, a few of us decided to hit Rodeo Drive in search of some dinner.

     

    As we exited the glass hotel doors, we practically walked right into Sean Penn, standing there in a suit and smoking a cigarette. We locked eyes for a moment or two, and I wondered if he was waiting around to get the Suns’ autographs, or if he was a Hollywood spy on a mission from Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

     

    Suns.com reporter Josh Greene suggested we go back and ask him for a refund on the tickets we bought to see The Interpreter while in Memphis during the 2005 playoffs.

     

    ALL-STAR GAZING

     

    We ran into several of the Suns at Jamba Juice on Friday morning, which wasn’t all that exciting or out of the ordinary for us. But it was interesting to watch a businessman’s eyes light up when he recognized Steve Nash next to him in line.

     

    Lunging for a fruity flyer on the counter and hitting one of the Jamba juicers up for a pen, he quickly asked the league’s MVP for an autograph. Nash smiled and obliged, and just as quickly, the fan was on his cell phone calling up a friend… “You’re never going to believe who I just ran into…”

     

    BELIEVE IT OR NOT

     

    Whenever we travel with the team, we usually pay a visit to the local tourist attraction or two. In Memphis it was Graceland. In San Antonio, the Alamo. And both of the last couple years in Dallas we toured the Book Depository and grassy knoll.

     

    This year we decided to spend a few hours on Hollywood Blvd. We visited Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, had our pictures taken with street performers dressed as Yoda and Elmo (for my kids, of course), and stopped into a few too many tacky souvenir shops.

     

    The best part of the afternoon, though, was our tour of the Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum. I always wanted to go in as a kid, and although I probably would have liked it more then, I still enjoyed it more than I expected to as an adult.

     

    There were a few disturbing exhibits, like the baby skeleton with two skulls and the photography exhibit of people how had lived after being impaled (I’ll spare you the details). But I was particularly intrigued by the old black-and-white film of the world’s tallest man of modern times. Looking up at the 8-foot, 11-inch wax figure, I had to wonder how he would do in the NBA. Probably not too well in Coach D’s high-speed system.

    FAN BLOG: Suns vs. Lakers

    The 202007 NBA Playoffs tip-off in a little more than a week and Suns.com will be there for the entire ride.�In addition our usual exclusive content, we will also be turning to our blog squad of broadcasters, players and staff to share their insights and inside stories.

     

    Leandro Barbosa and the Suns host the Lakers at US Airways Center on Friday night (7:30 p.m., FSN AZ/ESPN).
    (Barry Gossage/NBAE Photos)

    But seeing as how Suns.com is a site for fans, we’re calling on you to join our team and contribute throughout the playoffs! Whether it be e-mailing us your best fan photo, submitting�your unique Suns artwork or sharing your own thoughts and theories, we want to get you involved.�

    With the Suns hosting the Lakers tonight, in what could very well be a sneak preview of the opening round, what better time than now to test our new Fan Blog idea, in preparation for the playoffs? All you have to do is use the reply form at the bottom of this page to express your opinions on tonight’s game, the first-round matchups, or the Suns’ chances in the playoffs.

    Please keep your entries to 250 words or less, as that’s the limit our blog system will currently allow. If you’re feeling particularly inspired, however, feel free to submit multiple replies. Oh, and be sure to scroll down through the posts to read the most recent entries at the bottom of the page. We will post your entries throughout the day and night, upon quick review for profantiy or offensive content.

    On your marks. Get set. Type!