The news out of Portland last week wasn’t good. Greg Oden, the first overall pick in this year’s draft, would need microfracture surgery on his knee and he would miss his entire rookie season. The injury to the franchise player will almost certainly cost his franchise any chance of success.
Steve Nash checks on Joe Johnson after his nasty fall in the playoffs. (NBAE Photos)
Suns fans everywhere, hearing the news, first felt deep sympathy for Oden and the Blazers, because we’ve been there before (more specifically, Amare Stoudemire has been there before). Second, Suns fans wished Portland was still in our division, so we’d have some easy wins this year.
Hey, you’ve got to be practical.
Regardless, the news brought me back to Amare’s microfracture surgery, and the impact it had on the Suns. With a core of Nash, Marion, STAT and the newly-arrived and better-than-anyone-thought Boris Diaw, the Suns were poised two years ago for a serious run at a championship before the devastating news that Stoudemire would be shut down. Thanks to the superhuman efforts of the remaining members of that core, the Suns pushed Dallas to the limit in the playoffs before bowing out.
It’s no coincidence that the teams that stay the healthiest over the course of the season tend to do the best. Too much injury can be too much adversity for any team to overcome. It’s certainly happened to the Suns a few times, over the course of their history:
Here’s Looking at You, Joe: The year before Amare’s knee injury, the Suns were also rampaging through the playoffs before Joe Johnson went up for a dunk against Dallas and landed on his eye. Ever landed on your eye? There’s a reason humans aren’t supposed to land on their eyes, it turns out. His orbital bone fracture threw off the Suns’ timing, rotation and balance in subsequent games, and the Suns were sunk.
If You Find A Penny, Please Don’t Pick It Up: It was supposed to be the year of “Backcourt 2000,” with Penny Hardaway arriving to team with Jason Kidd to give the Suns an unstoppable pair of guards, delivering the ball up front to talent like Tom Gugliotta. In short order, however, Hardaway hurt his foot, Gugliotta suffered a life-threatening seizure and then blew out his knee, and Kidd broke his ankle late in the season. The Suns had to beg Kevin Johnson out of retirement to help them make an unlikely push into the second round of the playoffs, where the Lakers showed their sympathy by clobbering Phoenix in five games.
The Quiet Manning: Danny Manning joined a loaded Suns club – Charles Barkley, Dan Majerle, Kevin Johnson, Wayman Tisdale, Cedric Ceballos – in 1994, and seemed to be the missing bench piece the team needed to get them over the top. Naturally, he was assaulted by Joe Kleine’s foot (which denied being on the Laker payroll) during a morning practice and tore an ACL for what I believe was his record 38th time. The Suns made the playoffs, but had their hearts broken by Houston for a second consecutive year.
Down Goes Davis: The 1984-85 season slipped away when Walter Davis slipped on the floor of Los Angeles’ Forum, spraining three knee ligaments. Conspiracy theorist that I am, I’d claim Laker treachery, except that Magic Johnson nearly killed himself slipping on the same floor during the same game. Still, Magic was an awfully good actor, and the whole thing might have been a setup…
Talk to the Hand – er, Elbow: It was a meaningless freakin’ pre-season game, for Pete’s sake, but when it was over, so was the Suns’ season, because Walt Davis fractured his elbow leaping for a rebound. Hooray for preseason!
Low, Low Miles: When Truck Robinson arrived in Phoenix in late 1978, he was hailed as the scoring, rebounding, scowling power forward the “soft” Suns had needed for so long. Unfortunately, Robinson spent a lot of time in the shop, none more crucial than during the 1980 playoffs, when he sprained his knee. Paul Westphal’s flu didn’t help, either, and the Suns faded in the second round of the playoffs against the Lakers, who swore they didn’t send their spies to sneeze on Westy.
Boo Hoo, Shu: In 1974, the Suns lost their own first round draft pick, and a big part of their immediate future, when John Shumate was forced to sit out the season with blood clots in his lung. In sympathy, the rest of the team sat out as well, pretty much.
The Dangers of Climbing Mount Smith: In one of the grislier accidents I’ve seen, Suns guard Charlie Scott tried to sky over Lakers (curse you, Lakers!) center Elmore Smith during a 1974 game, only to fall what looked like seventy feet to the floor, fracturing his arm and writhing in agony. I remember watching film of the injury during a screening of Suns “highlights” at summer basketball camp. You’ve never seen so many kids turn away from a horror movie.
Fox Hunted: The Suns, in only their second year of existence and their first trip to the playoffs, had a three games to one lead over the Lakers of Chamberlain, West and Baylor. Unquestionably, Connie Hawkins, Paul Silas, Gail Goodrich and Dick Van Arsdale led the way for the Suns, but of underappreciated importance was center Jim Fox, whose outside shooting kept Wilt out of the paint, and whose speed kept the Dipper running around. When Fox sprained his ankle, Wilt camped in the lane, and the Lakers came back from their deficit to beat the Suns. Gee, notice how many times the Lakers figure into these stories…?
So, Portland, we feel your pain. Of course, every franchise has had its injury sob stories over their histories. Injuries are part of the game, they never come at good times, and they always leave you wondering, “What if?” In those times, I suggest you do what Suns fans have learned to do to cope with any and all kinds of misfortune:
Blame the Lakers.