Brad wears a Michael Finley jersey in better times – when Finley didn’t play for the Evil Empire.
There I am, maybe 15 years of age hanging out in Sun City in a Michael Finley Suns jersey. Surprisingly, the key statement there isn’t the fact I was in Sun City (boy, those were some crazy times), but rather the now-throwback jersey I was wearing of a guy who currently calls himself a Spur. It got me thinking about just how deep the roots to the Suns-Spurs Western Conference are and just how long I have loathed the NBA’s Evil Empire.
The first time these two ballclubs ever squared off in the postseason was back in the 1991-92 season – a time when grunge dominated the music industry, Terminator 2 dominated the box office and a certain forward by the name of Grant Hill was helping his Duke Blue Devils to two straight NCAA Championships. Phoenix swept San Antonio in three games, led by young up-and-coming superstars Cedric Ceballos, Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle.
The following year the two teams met again, with the workload being carried this time by new Sun Charles Barkley. In the series clinching victory, the Round Mound of Rebound and 1993 MVP would contribute 28 points and 21 rebounds. The Spurs, meanwhile, were led by their future MVP David Robinson, who in 1996 would have his revenge, dispatching the Suns in four quick opening round games.
Finley was a rookie with the Suns that season, while I was in the early stages of being an NBA fan. The Suns were the most entertaining team in the league that 1995-96 season, boasting a great combination of veterans (Barkley, Johnson) and rising, young stars (Finley, Wesley Person).
The Spurs also had a Person on their squad at that time, a sharpshooter by the name of Chuck, who wasn’t the only crafty veteran on the team’s roster. The Spurs that season were led by Robinson but had a plethora of talent surrounding him like Sean Elliot, Avery Johnson, Vinny Del Negro and Doc Rivers.
Different as night and day, the two teams have been acquainted a lot over the years. Since that first postseason meeting in 1992, the Suns and Spurs have met in eight of the 14 seasons in which both teams qualified. For many NBA fans, it appeared the book regarding the rivalry closed with the departures of Barkley and Robinson to retirement and the smooth, front office transitions of guys like Johnson, Rivers and Del Negro. A new chapter was opened in 2002, however, when the Suns drafted a certain high school phenom by the name of Amaré Stoudemire.
STAT enjoyed a memorable rookie campaign during the 2002-03 season, earning himself Rookie of the Year honors en route to helping Phoenix return to the postseason. After a one-year hiatus from the playoffs (a rarity for the Suns organization), Phoenix was back as an eighth seed, and who better to be waiting for them than the San Antonio Spurs?
I was working my old job at the call center the night when Game 1 of that best-of-seven series tipped off. A number of co-workers and I were huddled around a friend’s computer keeping track of the action via a little play-by-play update he had set up on the bottom of the screen.
We read with excitement as Stoudemire’s banked 3-pointer from the top of the key forced overtime, having to contain ourselves as much as possible to avoid alerting the supervisors. By the time Stephon Marbury nailed the game-winner in overtime, our shifts had all ended but there we were, celebrating in the middle of the call center.
When the series returned for Game 3, I was there, watching Stoudemire receive his Rookie of the Year honors and unfortunately watching his 17-point performance come on the losing end of a 99-86 ballgame. That opening round would see the two teams play six games with the Spurs ultimately advancing all the way to yet another championship.
The Suns and Spurs would not meet again until the 2005 Western Conference Finals, with both teams having undergone some major changes by this time. Phoenix had brought back star point guard Steve Nash (his first of two-consecutive MVP seasons in the Valley), while San Antonio had replaced key role players like Stephen Jackson and Steve Kerr with Robert Horry and Brent Barry. What had not changed, however, was the intensity each team displayed when taking the court.
While the final results may have been the same, I’m far less fond of my memories concerning the 2005 series than I am the one in 2003. I was visiting New York at the time and to make a long story short, staying up until two o’clock in the morning to watch your team come up on the short end of a 4-1 series is not a good time.
But for all the good times and the not so good times which have taken place over the past decade between the two teams, the Suns-Spurs rivalry was truly cemented last year in the 2007 Western Conference Semifinals. I have never heard an arena as loud as the US Airways Center was for that dramatic Game 5, and like many other Suns fans, I will always wonder what could have been. Although now that I think about it, there is one solution to finally putting that series behind me. The cure could come in an opening round victory against the Spurs en route to the organization’s first-ever NBA Championship.
On May 22, 2007 I posted a blog about how in my eyes, the results of last year’s series almost guaranteed a Suns title in 2008. I mentioned how everybody had to do the impossible to finally get over the hump, from Peyton Manning’s improbably second-half comeback against the Patriots in 2007 to the Boston Red Sox bouncing back from not only Aaron Boone’s Game 7 homerun in 2004, but a 3-0 series deficit to the Yankees in 2005.
While the latter of the two still turns my stomach to this day, there’s no denying that getting over the hump takes every ounce of determination imaginable and for those who seem to want it most, it always seems to require doing the impossible against those who have always denied you. For the Suns, the path this season could require going through the Spurs, Mavericks and Lakers. That path doesn’t concern me in the slightest. I mean, do you think the Suns have ever been more determined than they are now? As a fan who has watched this rivalry almost from the beginning, I can definitely tell you where I stand.