This marks my 20th anniversary.
I’m not talking about a wedding anniversary – I’m not convinced someone could spend 20 years with me without losing their mind anyways. I am, however, talking about an anniversary with my first love, and don’t worry, I told my wife she’d always be No. 2 on this list.
It’s not a woman I fell in love with years ago or even a person. You see, 20 years ago today, an eight-year-old Espo became a Phoenix Suns fan.
That’s because on this day in 1992, Cotton Fitzsimmons introduced the newest Sun to the Valley. It was a player who may not have helped build the America West Arena (now the US Airways Center) but one who would define how many of us look at it and feel about it to this day.
That player was, of course, Charles Barkley.
On that day Cotton told the media why the team decided to trade three-fifths of its starting lineup (Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry and Andrew Lang) after a 53-win season ended with a second round loss to the Portland Trail Blazers just weeks before.
“We had to make a change in personnel to get to the next level,” said Fitzsimmons, then the Suns’ director of player personnel, at a news conference to announce the deal. “I can’t think of another player, other than a few centers, who might be able to take us to another level better than Charles can.”
Truer words had never been spoken in the America West Arena; partly because it was one of the first press conferences in the building and also because Cotton was right on all accounts).
As a kid, I knew about the Suns. Names like Hornacek, Tom Chambers and Kevin Johnson were like meat to a recently-converted vegetarian – familiar but not at the forefront of the mind. I had even attended a few games at the “Mad House on McDowell” with my dad over the early years of my adolescence.
But it wasn’t until that brash and unapologetic superstar was introduced to the Valley that I really took notice of the “Purple Gang” From Phoenix.
As a young kid, it takes something truly special to grab your attention and make you a lifelong fan. Up until that point only two things had been capable of making me take notice in that way: Batman and my dad’s continuous playing of Bruce Springsteen albums.
Barkley, and the Suns, became the third.
It was probably becauseBarkley was the perfect combination of both Batman and “The Boss”. He was a man who completed physical feats that made him seem like a superhero, and he had a personality and the following of a rock star. He was the kind of guy who would grab your imagination and never let it go.
Don’t take my word for it. Take Fitzsimmons’.
“Charles thought he was bigger than life – and sometimes he was.”
When he stepped foot at Sky Harbor Airport from Philadelphia it marked the arrival of Phoenix as a sports destination. It marked the first time the Suns were a true title contender. It meant the state finally had its first true superstar, and it marked the first time many people who may or may not have been real sports fans took notice of the NBA franchise that called the desert home.
Sure, Barkley never took the city to the Promised Land, but he did spark a love affair that has lasted 20 years so far. So Happy Anniversary to the Phoenix Suns. Here’s to two decades and many more to come.
Who was the first player to help make you fall in love with the Suns?