Time flys by when you’re having fun, or attending a large amount of therapy. Twenty years ago on June 20, 1993 I stopped having a lot of the former and began the latter.
That’s because on that night at the America West Arena (now known as the US Airways Center) the Bulls’ John Paxson hit a 3-pointer to end the 1993 NBA Finals . It also ended the Suns’ best chance at winning a title, at least in my opinion. It’s a moment that I remember frame by frame to this day, although my brain has injected Don Henley’s “The End of the Innocence” blaring on the arena PA system. The song’s refrain kicks in just as Mark West looks up to see the dagger fall through the net. Other than that, it is a completely untainted memory even two decades later. That’s because, at just nine years old, it was my first experience with true heartbreak.
In one split second Paxson turned the Suns and their fans from Zack Morris into Screech Powers and introduced me to the harsh realities of being a sports fan. Up until that point I had been part of a magical carpet ride that myself and the rest of the burgeoning Valley had been taken on since June 17 of the previous year. It began with the arrival of Charles Barkley,,it continued with the best record in the NBA. If that wasn’t enough, it included an improbable come from behind first round victory that made head coach Paul Westphal look like a purple and orange prophet, a series clinching last second jumper over David Robinson, a seven game dogfight with Seattle (back when they had a team rather than trying to acquire one) and “the saving of the city of Chicago” from rioters by winning Game 5. That all came to a crashing halt with one poor defensive rotation and a 24-foot jumper from someone not named Michael Jordan.
Even 20-years later I can’t even walk by the Pacsun store in the mall without cringing and even feeling a little sick to my stomach. As I stood on the exact spot of the floor at US Airways Center where No. 5 in bright red hit that fateful shot, I could hear the echos of what had happened two decades earlier. I could see the seats filled with stunned fans and could even feel that sick tingling in the pit of my stomach like it was ready to re-enact the scene from Aliens.
While standing there in silence for a few moments staring at the exact spot where Paul Westphal tried to rally the troops and where Charles Barkley rested on the scorers table before the final play and looking up at the Suns ring of honor and the empty purple seats of the I began to realize that, like with most heartbreak, something good came from it all. It was that moment I joined a fraternity that was so expansive it stretched beyond the borders of the state and the country. It was that moment I became a true Suns fan. While that fanaticism is a bond that can be tried over and over again, it is one that could never be broken. Despite wins, losses and wide ranging changes, that NBA Finals run and that moment will tie me to the people, the city, the players, the colors and the team forever.
So I guess I’ll have to say something I never imagined I would. I’m going to say while thinking back on the day I so aptly dubbed “#DamnYouJohnPaxsonDay”, thank you to the man who caused me all that pain. Without you, me and many of my fellow fans might not love this franchise quite as much.