I have visited several places of significant interest in my travels for the Suns and Mercury over the past couple of years.
Raja Bell celebrates a Suns win against the Lakers in game 6 of the 2005-2006 playoffs. (NBAE Photos)
I walked through The Alamo while in San Antonio for last season’s Suns-Spurs playoff series and two years ago, I took the tour at the school book depository from where JFK was shot in Dallas over 40 years ago.
I stood outside the gates of the White House, at the base of the Washington Monument and at the feet of the Lincoln Memorial while covering the WNBA All-Star Game in Washington, D.C., and went to the top of the Space Needle (twice) in Seattle during the WNBA playoffs.
But last night, while in Los Angeles to cover the Suns’ holiday trip to California, I visited perhaps the most unique and significant non-arena location in recent team history.
After the contingent of players, personnel and their families arrived at the hotel, I met up with one of the Suns’ security guards who works the home games and occasionally travels with the team, who I will call Tony. Okay, that really is his name, but I cannot remember his last name, so I played the “who I will call Tony” card.
We went in search of a meal, not the easiest task so late in the evening on Christmas Eve. Tony suggested we try McCormick and Schmick’s Seafood Restaurant, a place near the hotel that might be open. Then he revealed, quite matter-of-factly, that it also happened to be the bar where he was assigned to watch Raja Bell as he watched Game 6 of the 2006 playoff series against the Lakers after being suspended for “clothes-lining” Kobe Bryant in Game 5.
Tony recalled Raja being very quiet as the game began and nobody recognizing him through the first half. Then as the game got more intense and Raja became more vocal, someone finally did recognize him and the secret was out. Tony remembers the crowd being polite but loud as the game went back and forth, and said he is glad he will never know how the crowded bar would have reacted had the unthinkable happened and the Lakers had won.
While his recollections of the events of that night were pretty clear, his sense of direction was not and he immediately sensed we were not heading in the right direction. As we headed back to the lobby to ask for directions, I shared with him how the rest of that night panned out for both Raja and for me.
I wound up videotaping Raja’s reunion with his teammates at the airport after the Suns tied up the best-of-seven series and interviewing him on the plane about his experience at McCormick and Schmick’s. Then I captured the throng of about a dozen rabid Suns fans who waited at US Airways Center in Phoenix until 2 a.m. for the team’s return. “Raja’s back! Raja’s back,” they shouted as a smiling Bell walked to his car and then drove out of the arena.
I was just telling Tony the part about how I won a Rocky Mountain Emmy Award for that video as we were crossing the hotel driveway. We saw none other than Raja himself standing on the curb, who then chided me for still not having seen the statue before telling us how to get to the restaurant.
As it turned out, the restaurant had already officially closed, but a kindly host had the chef whip us up a couple of burgers to go. As we waited, we sat at the very bar where Tony and Raja watched Game 6 surrounded by Lakers fans.
Okay, so it might not be on par in significance with walking the grounds at the epicenter of the free world or that tall tower in Seattle, but for Suns fans and followers, it represents one of the finest locales in recent playoff history.
For me, it stands as a monument in memory of a night when I was able to match the team’s achievement and success by creating a video of archival significance and worthy of recognition by my peers.
And the burger was great, too.