Pride Means Team Won’t Quit No Matter What

“Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, ’nostalgia’ literally means ’the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards … it takes us to a place where we ache to go again.”

Don Draper may have been talking about a slide projector as he made an advertising pitch to Kodak in the AMC drama Mad Men, but the description can be also be used for the way we view sports, and in particular the Phoenix Suns.

As a lifelong fan first and a writer second, I can understand the frustration that many can have during a transitional season like this one. The team and uniforms (current or the retro Hardwood Classics) remind us of what made us fall in love with the franchise in the first place. Coming to US Airways Center conjures up images of Suns teams past and memories shared with 18,000 of our closest friends. Hearing Al McCoy’s familiar tones emanating from the car radio takes us back 40 years in time and back again.

It all pulls at the heartstrings, reminding us of past successes and failures that the fans have been a part of. It’s more powerful than simple memories. It’s like a friend or family member who has been there during the good and bad times in our lives. It’s a constant. It’s a passion. It’s about pride.

That’s why I find it frustrating when fans (or media) make the suggestion that a team, any team, should lose on purpose to improve its draft position. If being a sports fan is about having passion and pride, shouldn’t we expect that from the athletes we root for every time they step on the court? Sure, they might not win every time out, or not even a majority of the time, but should we ever expect anything less?

Losing on purpose isn’t good for the game, for business or for the fans, even if they want to think it is. Every night, in every arena around the league, there are kids attending their first game ever and some people attending the last game they’ll ever get a chance to see for numerous socio-economic reasons. Should they get any less of an effort or performance for their hard earned money based solely on record? The answer is simply, no.

Don’t take my word for it. Take it from the guys whose livelihoods are directly dependent on the team’s performance.

“Tomorrow is not promised to any of us,” Coach Lindsey Hunter said when presented with the notion of tanking. “We have to give everything we have. Every day we come out here between these lines we’re going to work and get better. We’re going to strive for perfection. That’s the only way I know how to do it.”

Hunter also poses an interesting question to anyone making the assertion.

“That’s like telling someone to perform poorly at their job,” he passionately proclaimed. “Would they go perform poorly at their job? No! I don’t think they would. It’s the same thing for us. We want to compete. We want to win as many games as possible. We want to get better.”

It’s a solid point. Would any average person perform poorly on purpose with no guarantee of future success because of it? Not if they wanted to stay gainfully employed or had any real pride in their work.

One player who takes his job seriously is swingman Jared Dudley who echoes the sentiment of his coach.

“For us it’s a job. If you try to do bad you can be out of the NBA,” he said with a conviction. “For us, it’s trying to finish up personally on a good note and as team on a good note. Usually when you’re reaching your goals that means you’re winning. When you’re losing that means something is wrong. Guys have pride and want to finish well. Whatever draft pick or lottery pick you have you usually don’t worry about until June comes.”

As a fan can you really be upset with players wanting to give their all every night regardless of the odds or records? Isn’t a memory of a great game attended or a buzzer beater what we watch sports for in the first place? Isn’t the drama on the court more important than the drama of ping pong balls?

Dudley isn’t alone either, his outspoken teammate, Marcin Gortat, shares his feelings about playing hard and always trying to win.

“Screw that, no,” he said with a fire in his voice about losing on purpose. “Even though that’s for the team, we are not going to lose. It’s all about winning. We want to win basketball games. It’s not fun to put in work every day and try to get better, go to the game and lose on purpose. I can tell you, hell no.”

Isn’t that the passion you want from your favorite players on and off the court?

Their dedication to improving has shown in more than just their quotes. It’s also appeared on the court as well since the All-Star break. Point guard Goran Dragic is putting up career numbers having posted double-digit assist totals in five of the team’s seven games and is averaging over two steals a game. Center Jermaine O’Neal is starting to look like his old self since the break averaging 12.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks and playing key minutes. Swingman Wes Johnson has gone on a tear playing his best basketball of his NBA career and hitting big shots. All of this has equated to a 4-4 record that included a three-game win streak including wins over the playoff bound Spurs in San Antonio and against the Hawks at home.

As fans, and the organization as well, we ache to go to a place again where Phoenix is at the top of the west and we’re nostalgic about things that have passed. But that nostalgia is just the pain from past wounds. Losing on purpose doesn’t fix that. Only hard work and dedication will.

Luckily for us fans, history and nature has proven, the Suns always rise and it happens after things are their darkest.

Not Just Personnel But Personal Side to Each Trade

The NBA trade deadline is an exciting time for fans. During the days leading up to it they gather around their computers, tablets, phones and televisions to see the latest and greatest rumors. While the buzz and intrigue about the game is great for the teams, media outlets and those with a rooting interest, there is another side to it all. A more personal side.

While everyone loves watching athletes perform at the highest level on the court, it can cloud our perception. We lose sight of the fact that, in the end, these warriors we metaphorically and emotionally live and die with are simply just regular men with regular feelings who just happen to be extraordinary physical specimens.

That becomes abundantly clear during the trade process to those on the inside.

“It’s the worst part of the job,” Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby said. “I’ve been on both sides of it now. When I was on the agent side you’re just commiserating with your clients around the trade deadline who may be moved. I used to say to people in my law firm ‘imagine if you got up in the morning and somebody said you’ve been traded to a law firm in San Francisco and you have 48 hours to get there.’ It doesn’t happen in any other business. It happens in our business and it’s a part of it and everybody understands it going in. That doesn’t mean it’s easier for your wife, family kids or yourself.”

Jared Dudley, who came to the Suns via trade in 2008, knows all too well the difficulties of the process.

“At that time I didn’t have any kids so it was easier to move,” the swingman said. “I got the call and you have to be there within 48 hours. You pack two or three suitcases and you’re living out of a hotel.”

It’s not just the moving that is difficult, it’s leaving personal relationships behind and trying to form new ones while also trying to do your job at the highest level in a new city.

“You form a relationship with these guy that are here,” Babby said. “We see them every day. We travel with them. You develop those relationships. Whether it’s waiving somebody or trading somebody you can’t not consider the personal aspects of it. At the end of the day though, we have a job that requires us to do what we can and fulfil our obligations to our franchise to do our best to get better.”

Someone who is in the midst of the process, Marcus Morris who just arrived in Phoenix, knows those emotions first hand.

“Being around certain people for a long time and having a good connection with them and having to move is kind of weird,” Morris said sorting through the whirlwind 48 hours he’s just been through. “But moving to be with Keef is like going where family is. Anyone that is close to him will be the same with me because we’re identical personalities.”

It’s not just the player arriving in a new city that has to make an adjustment. His new teammates have to adjust to someone else joining their tight knit group.

“It’s kind of like a brotherhood,” Dudley said of the NBA. “Even though you’re not on the same team, it’s a respect for one another. It’s always difficult at first but then a new guy comes in and you have a new buddy, a new friend and new personalities.”

The key to a smooth transition though is how the organization welcomes a new player and helps make them feel at home as soon as possible. It is something Babby and his staff take a great pride in doing well.

“Everything we do here is about making sure we have an environment that is player friendly and accommodating to our players to give them the best chance to succeed,” he said. “We do everything we can to welcome them and their families. With Marcus it’s easy because he has a built in advantage and been an honorary member of the family all along.”

Basketball is a business and player movement is inevitable. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a very real and personal effect both for those leaving an organization and those coming in that comes along with fans excitement. There’s not just a personnel side but personal side to each trade.

Retro Diary: Morris Trade and Suns At Warriors

The following is a running diary of what it’s like to be on the road with the Phoenix Suns and an inside look at how the team interacts on the road.

4:10 p.m.: Just got on the first team bus to Oracle Arena. In pure Steve Albert fashion, jokes his tie is hairy. Steve is the resident stand up comedian on the team bus. Says he has a great joke to tell EJ 30 seconds before going on air to make him lose composure. He wouldn’t tell me what the joke or the subject matter would be.

4:19 p.m.: While stuck in traffic pictures of snow in Scottsdale start coming through on Twitter. The photo gets assistant coach Ralph Sampson to laugh before asking “it’s not going to be like that tomorrow is it?” I assure him it’s suppose to be nice again in Phoenix. Disaster averted. [Read more...]

Barkley the Greatest Character Ever

The best characters in movies, books and in all storytelling are the ones who are unique, flawed, funny and overall entertaining because you’re never quite sure exactly what they’ll do at any given moment. That perfect combination of entertainment and suspense is what keeps us all coming back for more from characters like Don Draper, Michael Corleone, James Bond and The Joker.

The most memorable characters live on the edge of appropriate and inappropriate. They succeed in their given fields, while battling things in their personal life or within themselves. They represent the things we want to be and the things we don’t want to admit we are. [Read more...]

Hunter Prophetic, Dragic Helpful in Suns Win

No one will ever confuse Lindsey Hunter for Carnac the Magnifisent but he did seem to have a bit of a clarvoiant moment in Portland during shoot around Tuesday.

When asked if he’d be making any changes to his starting lineup, Hunter, in a joking manner said, he wasn’t worried so much about the start of the game.

“Finishing games is the bigger concern for us,” the interim head coach said with a smile. [Read more...]

Jermaine O’Neal and Kendall Marshall Go Way Back

Sometimes life comes full circle.

As kids we all worship certain people. Whether it be professional athletes, actors, writers, business leaders or reality television stars — a category newly added to the list for reasons beyond me — there are just individuals that we look up to and want to be around.

On a rare occasion you get to meet those people that hold a large influence over you and spend a few minutes in their presence. On an even rarer occasion, you get to actually work with them when you grow up.

At least that was the case for Suns rookie point guard Kendall Marshall. [Read more...]

Numbers Don’t Lie, KJ Got Snubbed

“The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.” ~ Lao Tzu

Thus is the plight of former Suns point guard Kevin Johnson.

Despite having one of the best careers a point guard has ever had in the NBA, the fact that he burned brighter but for a shorter period of time has, in my opinion, hurt the former all-star in his pursuit of enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

I’m usually not a fan of numbers — mostly because the largest one in my life is the one that appears when I step on a scale — but the best way to paint the picture of the man who made the No. 7 Suns jersey iconic is to look at the numbers compared to the contemporaries of his era. [Read more...]

Tucker is a Throwback in Numerous Ways

When the Suns put on their retro black Hardwood Classic jerseys for the first time on January 30, you might have noticed something else that was a throwback to the 90’s, as well. P.J. Tucker’s shoes. Oh, and the way he plays the game, too.

Tucker was wearing vintage CB94’s by Nike. Charles Barkley made those very shoes famous while playing at US Airways Center (then America West Arena) and wearing the Suns black uniforms with the sunburst logo emblazoned across the front. [Read more...]

The Greatest of All Time Returns

The “greatest of all time” returns to the US Airways Center Wednesday when the Suns take on the Lakers. At least that is my opinion. It’s only appropriate that the emotional reunion is being aired on national television. It may be controversial and people may vehemently disagree with such a bold statement, but the best ever will be back on the court in Phoenix after debuting in the same building during the 1990s. [Read more...]

Hollywood Star: Jared Dudley

If you’ve been to the movies over the last few weeks or watched television you may have seen someone that looked slightly familiar flash on the screen for a brief second during the previews. The trailer was for what looks like a raunchy romp called Movie 43, and it stars big names such as Emma Stone, Terrence Howard, Dennis Quaid, Greg Kinnear, Common, Seth MacFarlane, Kate Winslet, Jared Dudley, Hugh Jackman and more.

That’s right, that face you thought you recognized, but weren’t sure, was Suns forward Jared Dudley. The Suns swingman, who co-stars — alright appears is probably a more accurate description — in the film with Howard and others. Don’t worry though, the role wasn’t much of a stretch, he just had to play a basketball player.

“It was basketball-related and Terrence Howard was in it so I just gave up an afternoon,” he said. “I was there three or four hours, did the same scene about a hundred times and got out of there.”

While Dudley spent roughly three hours filming his scene, he’ll appear in the film for around three minutes. While he knew his part would be small in the movie, he didn’t realize just how big the names in the rest of the movie would be or how big of an effort it takes to get it all done.

“I didn’t know it was going to be this big,” Dudley said with amazement. “ I didn’t know all these actors were going to be in it.

“It’s kind of cool seeing that. Actors gained my respect so much. I had one line and I’m going to be in the movie for two minutes, but those actors that put months upon months in I have a different respect for.”

Will they have respect for his performance though? Dudley seems to think so. When you ask him on a scale of one to five stars to rate his performance, he gives a pretty honest, yet gracious, assessment.

“Three and a half [stars],” he said with a chuckle. “I definitely carried the other athletes, Corey Brewer and Larry Sanders. I’m going to go see it. It’s kind of cool to go see a movie I’m in for a split section.”

It’s no surprise that, as a big movie fan, Dudley may have caught the acting bug. Does that mean we can expect him to star in any other films anytime soon?

“I’m trying to work something out with Space Jam 2,” he said sarcastically. “Hopefully I’m going to be in it. We’ll see.”

Indeed we’ll see. He may not be Michael Jordan on the court, but maybe he can outdo him on the big screen. We’ll find out Friday when Movie 43 debuts in theaters.