Boy falls for girl.
Boy loses girl.
Boy gets girl back.
The Phoenix Suns are counting on a happy ending of their own this season.
Under the guidance of Coach Mike D’Antoni, the Suns brought the NBA a passionate, exciting style of basketball and fans couldn’t help but fall in love. The fast pace, the unselfish spirit, and a sense of genuine joy were the hallmarks of a team that proudly brought fun back in style.
Perhaps everyone got spoiled on the excitement. Maybe it was the all-too-early exit from last year’s playoffs. Whatever the reason, there was a feeling that fun was getting harder to find. The Suns entered the season with a serious goal – championship or bust.
The team got off to a hot start, but it wasn’t long before the team’s potential was questioned. Despite claiming the best record in an intensely competitive Western Conference, there was a sense that something wasn’t quite right. Whether it was chemistry or matchups, Steve Kerr candidly told reporters, “Ultimately – going into the playoffs – would we have felt comfortable with what we had? Maybe not.”
That doesn’t mean the team had fallen into a depression requiring group therapy and Prozac. They still ran, they still dazzled fans, and don’t forget they still had the best record in the West. Boris Diaw puts it this way, “We’ve always had fun. It’s never been sad to play for the Phoenix Suns.” However despite their early achievements, there was a perception that it was meaningless until the Playoffs began.
Being great simply wasn’t good enough anymore.
Like any good love story, the Suns would find a way to rekindle their passion. They got some help in the form of a seven-foot, 320 pound behemoth named Shaquille O’Neal. The trade that brought Shaq to Phoenix was initially criticized by the media, but no one was more thrilled than Steve Nash. The Suns leader welcomed The Diesel’s arrival saying, “It is exciting to have someone come in and shake things up, but to have someone like Shaq come in and shake things up is totally different thing and I think a lot of people would love to have that charisma and energy in their locker room.”
And shake things up, he has. While fans eagerly wait to see what he will do on the court, the four-time champ has already made an impact on his team’s chemistry.
D.J. Strawberry has a first-person perspective on how Shaq is already helping the team reclaim their mojo. “More than a basketball player, he’s a great guy. He brings so much energy and excitement that he makes everyone play harder. Once we get him on the court it will be amazing,” the Suns rookie said, “He’s helping me already just the few days he’s been here.”
Shaq has made it clear he’s here to help this team in any way he can. “I guarantee you I’m going to make Raja Bell better, Amaré Stoudemire better, all these guys better,” he told the world when he arrived, “I look forward to coming out here and having a good time and just being an addition to a team that’s already good.”
Besides what he can do on the court, Shaq is inspiring this team – and this town – to not just hope, but believe. “The first thing it takes in winning a championship is the belief,” O’Neal said. “If you can believe you can do it, you can get it done. If there’s ever a doubt that any of you can’t do it you will never win. And I really, really believe that we have a shot.” When The Big Aristotle speaks, people begin to believe.
Phoenix is falling in love with Suns basketball again. You can see it in huddles, in fights for loose balls, and on the bench as Shaq leads the cheers after every amazing play. You can see it, and Shaq hasn’t played a single minute yet. Can you imagine what it will be like after the All-Star break when the team begins to gel around one of the most dominant post players in history? The Suns can. When asked about his plans for the All-Star break Coach D’Antoni quipped, “I’ve got four days I can just smile and think about Shaq.”
The goal hasn’t changed. The Suns are still serious about winning the title this year. It’s no secret that Shaq is here for another ring. A Championship is the only possible happy ending to this story, but this team is looking forward to getting there. Veteran Grant Hill said it best, “It should be fun, real fun.”