I never did get to that new Einstein biography, see Superbad or any other summer Hollywood offerings, or add a word to the novel I haven’t touched in three years. And I never watched more than a passing glance as Suns’ players began returning to the Valley and working out at US Airways Center.
Koek and Taurasi take a picture with the WNBA Championship Trophy. (NBAE Photos)
In fact between covering the Mercury on their road to the WNBA Championship for PhoenixMercury.com and then taking my vacation, I have not felt this disconnected with the Suns since the Skiles era.
Since I cannot write with personal experience about the Brian Skinner addition, the quality of play of the voluntary workouts or Aaron Nelson’s reports from the trip to China, I’ll share some random thoughts on how I spent my offseason.
- I understand how fans might feel about the Mercury raising a championship banner before the Suns. My feelings about the Bears changed forever when they had the audacity to win the Super Bowl a season after the Cubs’ crushing loss in the 1984 MLB playoffs.
- One of the highlights of my time with the Mercury was getting to know Head Coach Paul Westhead. Our connection started early while on the bus from the Seattle airport to the hotel before Game 1 of the opening round series when he overheard me mention I was from Chicago (I guess I do that a lot).As Westhead got off the bus he approached me and said, “So, you’re from Chicago. I used to coach there, you know.”
My parents got cable at our house in Niles, Ill. the year Westhead coached a pretty bad Bulls team in the early ‘80s. Despite their record, I still got hooked on the game, and Reggie Theus was the first NBA player I regularly watched and followed. I have been an NBA fan ever since. “Yes, Coach, I remember you from Chicago,” I told him.
(I had the pleasure of meeting Theus and telling him how much I enjoyed watching him as a player when the new Kings’ head coach was in Phoenix to watch a pre-draft workout.
While waiting for most of the players to find out what happened to their bags after landing in San Antonio for the Conference Finals (the top seed in the West, the Mercury never played a Game 1 at home), I sat on the bus and listened to stories from Westhead about his days with the Bulls (both of our luggage arrived with the plane), as well as other tales from his basketball adventures.
The training facility in Chicago was the back of a gym at an orphanage and the weight room consisted of two light barbells. When I told him I started interning for a local TV news sports department shortly after the Bulls drafted Michael Jordan he said, “If I was still there when Michael got there, I might still be there.”
My favorite of his stories, however, concerned the Lakers’ signing of Kurt Rambis a year after Westhead coached Los Angeles to the NBA Championship. Rambis, a former Suns forward and current Lakers assistant coach, initially turned down an offer to attend the Lakers training camp for a $10,000 offer to play overseas.
“You know we just won the title, right?” Westhead asked Rambis.
When the Lakers came back with a $10,000 offer to attend their camp, Rambis said, “Sure.”
As players began arriving, Westhead overheard a couple of Lakers’ staff members mocking the long-haired and bearded Rambis. “He doesn’t look like Lakers material,” he heard one of them say.
Angered by this, Westhead grabbed a blank roster sheet from a member of the media and wrote in Rambis’ name in the 12th spot before even having seen him play.
“So Kurt Rambis got his start in the NBA out of spite?” I asked Coach.
“Well, yes, I guess you could say that” he replied. “But it didn’t take long for him to show he belonged.”
It appears that Westhead will be returning to the NBA, which is understandable, but a shame. I really got to know, like and respect both him and his wife of 44 years, Cassie. I was just a hanger-on with a video camera and I already miss them. I can only imagine how the players who adored them feel.
- For my vacation, in addition to some bike riding, some lighter reading and an embarrassing amount of NBA Live playing (I’m in the NBA Finals), I took my girlfriend of nine years, Teresa, to Las Vegas.She had never been to “Sin City” and it was a thrill to see someone take in the sights for the first time. I didn’t gamble as much as I usually do, but judging by the cards I was getting the couple of times I did play some poker, that is a good thing (honestly, that’s almost always a good thing).
Having been to Vegas several times myself, everywhere I go I have flashbacks of previous visits. The strongest sense of memory came when walking through the lobby and casino at the MGM Grand, where we stayed during All-Star Weekend last February.
As I have suppressed most of the memories of our time spent at that hotel that weekend, I’ll not risk any further exposing of them by sharing what I do remember.
I also understand fans not liking women’s basketball enough in general to be excited about the Mercury’s feat. While I have enjoyed my time working on their web site over the years, and have come to know and like many of their players and staff, I have never been too big a fan of the actual game itself. I always felt it was slower and sloppier than the men’s version, and simply did not hold the same interest for me game in, game out.
This playoff run was different, though. Yes, I had a unique perspective of traveling with the team and watching the games from a bird’s-eye view, which certainly enhanced the experience for me. But even beyond that, the quality of play was strong and the team was exciting to watch as they gained momentum early in the post-season and approached the title.
I’m not out to convince anyone to become a women’s basketball fan, or even necessarily a Mercury fan (although they are part of the Suns’ family). My point in bringing it up at all is that this Mercury team was a treat to watch and a blast to cover.
The title-clinching game was intense and the celebration that followed was crazy. I looked at the whole experience not only for the accomplishment it was, but also as a dress rehearsal for what I believe is to come for the Suns. And based on what I witnessed this summer, it will be well worth the wait.
It’s back to work on Thursday and the season is just around the corner, so I guess I better catch up on things.
Has anyone heard anything about a rumor about the Suns signing Grant Hill?