Sunday was a bit of a wallow for Suns fans, what with being eliminated from the playoffs, and on national television, to boot. I know the early-day defeat certainly darkened my day and all the big things I had planned. Watching reruns of Jersey Shore simply wasn’t as enjoyable. In my quest to find something to lift my spirits, however, I found something that gave me many hours of fun and introspection: SLAM Magazine’s list of the “500 greatest NBA players of all-time.”
Me being me, on seeing the list, I immediately picked it up and thumbed through, looking for any and all Suns that made the list. Meaning anyone who suited up for Phoenix at any time in his career. And there were quite a few, so I thought I’d share them, along with my commentary, where I have some, with you.
I’m not a big fan of SLAM, necessarily, finding they tend to favor style over substance, and I found that borne out in this list as well. But they also did a reasonably thoughtful job with their selections and their criteria is fairly comprehensive. Any list this large is bound to have some embarrassing omissions, of course, and this one has a fairly glaring one the editors have already admitted to: Hall of Famer and former Sun Gail Goodrich appears nowhere on the list and surely should, likely in the top 100, which means everyone thereafter should drop a notch, and the player at number 500 would fall off completely. Sorry to see you go, Pervis “Never Nervous” “Out of Service” Ellison.
I love lists. I’m the kind of guy who will walk up to you, a total stranger at the concession stand, and give you my All-Time Five Greatest Trainer’s Assistants in Suns history. So this assignment was tailor made for me. I’ll be interested to hear what other Suns fans think of SLAM’s placement of Purple Gangsters. So, without further ado, the highest ranking Sun is…
4. SHAQUILLE O’NEAL: Wait, Shaq played for the Suns? Oh yeah, that’s right. He actually had a pretty good full season for the team, too, his last really productive All-Star season. But he was the wrong man, on the wrong team, at the wrong time when he hit the Valley.
20. CHARLES BARKLEY: Seems low at first, especially given how much Suns fans revere him, but looking at the men ahead of him, there’s really no one to move. The guys immediately around him include Karl Malone, Isiah Thomas, Rick Barry and John Stockton, so that seems like the right kind of company.
28. JASON KIDD: He’s the fifth highest-ranking player to not win a championship, after Baylor, Malone, Barkley and Stockton. Not sure I’d put him ahead of George Mikan, the league’s first superstar, but…
50. STEVE NASH: Behind Billy Cunningham and Bob McAdoo? Is that any way to treat a two-time MVP and medical marvel for the ages?
53. DENNIS JOHNSON
56. CONNIE HAWKINS
66. GUS JOHNSON: Not many modern Suns fans will have heard of him, and he didn’t earn his spot on the list for his time in Phoenix at the end of his career, but he was a ferocious rebounding power forward in his days with the Bullets. The Suns could use a Gus Johnson now.
98. GRANT HILL
99. VINCE CARTER: I don’t know about this one. As fantastic an athlete as VC is (was), and despite scoring more than 20 ppg. in each of his first 12 seasons, there’ll always be a sense that he didn’t live up to his potential. But maybe I’m a little soured because he wasn’t the Vince of old when he got to the Suns. Not only are there other NBA players I’d rank ahead of him, there are other Suns on this list I’d rank ahead of him.
102. KEVIN JOHNSON: For instance.
104. WALTER DAVIS: Much love for the Greyhound, ranking him this high, above Carmelo, Dan Issel and Chris Paul.
120. TOM CHAMBERS
130. PENNY HARDAWAY: When your bio on the list starts, “Oh, what could have been,” you know you’ve been placed solely on potential. Penny seems to have landed this high for his first three seasons’ output, which isn’t enough to satisfy me.
132. CHARLIE SCOTT: Too high for the Tuna. Hey, has anyone seen Paul Westphal on this list yet?
135. MAURICE LUCAS
138. PAUL SILAS
141. PAUL WESTPHAL: Oh, there he is. Just behind Ron Artest. Wait, Ron Artest?!
144. AMAR’E STOUDEMIRE
152. SHAWN MARION: I hope he doesn’t feel underappreciated anymore, seeing as how he made the list ahead of Yao Ming and Hall of Famer Calvin Murphy.
165. LARRY NANCE: The “High-Yatollah of Slam-ola,” as we called him in the early 1980s.
184. JOE JOHNSON: Keep in mind, 183 players is a lot of guys.
195. SAM CASSELL: It’s true, he was a Sun for about 15 seconds.
197. STEPHON MARBURY
205. ALVAN ADAMS: Ahead of Carlos Boozer, Marcus Camby and Charles Oakley. Good for him.
212. DANNY MANNING: Another guy whose bio should start with, “Oh, what could have been.”
230. JASON RICHARDSON: Okay, there aren’t exactly a ton of Hall of Famers left by this point in the list.
240. TRUCK ROBINSON
242. A.C. GREEN
263. DAN MAJERLE: Hometown pride is probably talking here, but this seems too low by about forty spots.
265. JEFF HORNACEK
272. CLIFF ROBINSON
281. XAVIER MCDANIEL: I can remember calling Phoenix Suns staffer Steve Koek when the Suns traded Eddie Johnson to Seattle for the X-Man and saying, “We just won the NBA championship!” Oops.
283. EDDIE JOHNSON
287. MICHAEL FINLEY
291. TOM GUGLIOTTA
311. DICK VAN ARSDALE: The editors of SLAM clearly didn’t have much tape on Van. Any Suns fan would jump him way up the list.
317. WAYMAN TISDALE
320. DANNY AINGE
344. JIMMY JACKSON: Clearly not for anything he did while in a Suns uniform.
355. ROBERT HORRY: The only shot “Big Shot Bob” ever made for Phoenix was his toss of a towel into Coach Danny Ainge’s face. Suns fans don’t remember him favorably, for his brief tenure in Phoenix or for the many shots he made to drive stakes into the hearts of Suns fans. But he made a lot of those shots in his day, and that, combined with his seven (!) championship rings, makes it hard to fathom that he hits this list this low. I mean, behind Jameer Nelson?!
361. ARMEN GILLIAM: Apparently, he changed the spelling of his first name from “Armon.” Somehow, I missed that press release.
363. JALEN ROSE
366. RICKY SOBERS: Really? I wasn’t sure anyone remembered Ricky, let alone would think to place him on this list. Ahead of Derek Fisher, to boot! A very pleasant surprise.
367. MIKE BANTOM
369. JOHN SHUMATE
372. ANTONIO McDYESS: I like to think that if he’d stayed with the Suns after that one amazing season, he’d be a lot higher on this list.
401. QUENTIN RICHARDSON
405. CEDRIC CEBALLOS: His blindfold, ironically, finished at 403.
419. BRIAN GRANT
420. JAMES EDWARDS: Did you realize he won three championships in his career? Me either. His Fu Manchu mustache finished at 422.
423. HOT ROD WILLIAMS: Let’s just move on.
436. REX CHAPMAN: He’ll always have a higher spot on this list in the hearts of Suns fans.
454. HEDO TURKOGLU: It’s too soon for me to talk about this one.
466. JAY HUMPHRIES
468. DON BUSE: If they graded on stats from the ABA, where he pulled off the rare feat of leading the league in steals and assists one season, he’d rank a lot higher.
473. CLEM HASKINS
474. GAR HEARD: Interestingly, Gar was 474 feet away from the hoop when he hit the shot that sent Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals into yet another overtime.
And that’s it. I hope I haven’t missed any, but I probably did. Not a bad representation of Planet Orange among the all-timers, eh? But after so exhaustive a ranking, I’m still left with one question:
Five hundred NBA players and they couldn’t find a spot for Tim Kempton?!