As you grow up sometimes you see your childhood heroes in a new light, and sometimes that light isn’t flattering. Other times it’s just plain scary or, at the very least, completely surprising.
I experienced that firsthand the other day while watching television. During my one free hour not spent focusing on the Suns, one of the mindless shows I watch went to commercial before I could fast-forward with the DVR remote, and I was greeted with an image of a sports idol from my youth. It was a face familiar to any Suns fan that has been in the Valley for years, yet there was something completely different about him. That was because this individual was wearing a little black dress, had shaved legs and was wearing a wig.
That person was the one and only Charles Barkley – a man who many in Phoenix grew up in complete awe of, present company included. It wasn’t the first time we’ve seen the “Round Mound of Rebound” in drag – he’s done it twice as host of Saturday Night Live – but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t as unsettling as seeing Betty Draper in a fat suit or realizing that someone actually funded another American Pie movie.
The stunt came as part of an ad for Weight Watchers, who Barkley is a spokesperson for. It worked. The image was unexpected and surprising enough that it caught sports fans’ attention.
It got me to thinking that this year’s Phoenix Suns team is very similar. While they haven’t come out on the court in dresses – and we’re very appreciative of that – they haven’t been what many people nationally, and even some fans locally, expected.
Picked by many to finish as the bloggers of the Pacific Division, a.k.a. the basement dwellers, the team seemed to be on their way to proving those prognosticators right. The Suns struggled out of the gate thanks in part to trying to fit in new pieces. They also had to work off the rust of an extended offseason, with a preseason that was more abbreviated than the Cliff Notes for War and Peace. After a mid-February loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles, their fourth loss in a row, the Suns sat at 12-19, a full seven games under .500 – or at least that’s what my poor math tells me.
That’s when things changed.
After that Lakers game, something clicked for this team. Whether it was the fact the All-Star break gave the Suns a chance to catch their breath, something the coaching staff did or the emergence of Shannon Brown, Michael Redd and Sebastian Telfair off the bench, everything improved.
The team has gone 18-8 since and now find themselves in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. They went from looking like Barkley in drag to Kate Upton in a Sports Illustrated photo shoot – in a matter of six weeks.
No matter what happens over the last two weeks of the season, Alvin Gentry and his team have proven that you can’t judge a book by its cover – or a team by its two-game preseason. Sometimes things can surprise you, make you question what your own eyes are seeing.
Just ask Charles Barkley and his little black dress, or the 2011-12 Phoenix Suns.
Have the Suns surprised you this season?
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