You’ll forgive me if this is a little bit all over the place. I’m writing on four hours’ sleep, after a red-eye to Vegas during which Larry the Cable Guy’s less handsome older brother absolutely crushed my goobers when he slammed the seat in front of me down into a completely horizontal position. Maybe it was in that delirium, as I rode in the cab to the hotel, that I had the thought that made me giggle:
Only the Phoenix Suns could have a tough guy named “Robin.”
Now, much has been made in recent weeks of the Suns’ surge in toughness, and rightly so. Criticized for much of the last few years for being indifferent on defense, and avoiding the backboards as though they were the epicenter for an H1N1 outbreak, since inserting second-year man Robin Lopez into the starting lineup, the Suns have been on a tear, during which they’ve regularly outrebounded foes and changed some slashers’ minds when they’ve come into the paint. We’ve seen a few opponents reverse course on breaching the lane and finding our big fella there, or change direction like a mouse running from a cat, or just plain throw the ball at his kneecaps in the hopes of, I don’t know, bruising him.
Yes, absolutely, Amar’e has been an absolute Beast since the All-Star break and all the trade rumors, and that’s been huge. Love seeing Amar’e playing to his full potential, doing what we all knew he COULD do in addition to scoring big numbers – cleaning the glass, playing solid D, and staying in the flow. He’s been great. Superb, even.
But, oh, Robin Lopez.
He’s helping change the league-wide image of the Suns, from one-dimensional finesse team to well-rounded, beat-you-on-both-ends squad. You can’t just suit up against the Suns and not think about your offense, assuming you’re going to get sixty layups anymore. And on the Suns’ offensive end, RoLo’s proving to be surprisingly adept. I’ve always heard whispers that Robin was more the total package than his brother, Nets’ center Brook…He just never got the attention or the opportunity. Now he’s starting to show flashes. And we like what we’re seeing.
But best of all, he’s bringing the Suns toughness. He’s not just some tall kid with an unusual haircut who likes comics and is named after Batman’s sidekick (all of which would be enough to make me think he’s bee’s knees). He’s muscle, attitude and effort.
Since the days of Woodstock (the concert, not the bird), the Suns have been thought of as “pretty.” The grace of Connie Hawkins brought them the label first, and John MacLeod’s precision-passing offenses of the late 1970s and 1980s perpetuated it. The speed of KJ and Jason Kidd’s smoothness kept the description alive, and then came Mike D’Antoni’s Fire Brigade offense. No, you don’t hear “bruising” mentioned too often when it comes to the Purple Gang.
Throughout their history, the Suns’ toughest players have had non-tough-guy names. Maurice. Charles. Dennis. Paul.
Those would be Maurice Lucas, who once landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated as the poster boy for NBA “enforcers;” Charles Barkley,whom I will always remember from the video clip taken during his Philly days, during which he shot free throws with one eye hideously swollen shut; Dennis Awtrey, who once flung an opposing center into the stands like a candy vendor tosses M&Ms down your aisle (and who had a hairdo like Robin’s come to think of it); and Paul Silas, who may have been named for an apostle, but whose elbows caused many an opponent to take the Lord’s name in vain.
Now, when the Suns have TRIED going looking for toughness, chasing down the dudes with the genuinely tough names, it hasn’t worked out, more often than not. Truck Robinson was a great name, but the player proved to be a clunker in purple. The X-Man, Xavier McDaniel, apparently gave up chewing nails when he got to Phoenix. Rick. Now there’s a name that’s solid. Tough. But the toughest thing about Rick Robey was his medical bills.
So, in the greater scheme of things, Robin Lopez fits right in as a Suns tough guy. And he’s only going to get better, he’s only going to get more chances, and he’s only going to get tougher. And he’s going to make the Suns tougher along with him, because hustle, attitude and even muscle can be infectious. This Robin may be a little big for a Boy Wonder, but it’s the kind of big Suns fans are happy to live with.
Oh, two more things — Robin’s nursing a sore back AND he’s got a birthday coming up. Be sure to wish him back to full health in time for the playoffs…because the Suns will really need him…and get him something nice for his brirthday. I hear he likes comic books.