I have been a fan of the Phoenix Suns basketball team since the team's inaugural 1967-68 season. I had my radio tuned to every game and when the Suns made it to the NBA finals against the perennial powerhouse Boston Celtics in 1976 it was a wonderfully exhilarating if ultimately heartbreaking time to be a Suns fan. We had to wait until 1993 before the chance to win it all came around again and once again, even with amazing performances by Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson and the rest of the Suns team, we came up short, this time against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
But as disappointing as those two Seasons The Could Have Been were, what has really been the bane of any Suns fan's existence has been how the team has been dogged by its reputation as soft. A finesse team. One that can run all day and score like mad, but when things get tough they wither. Bad calls or, more often, the lack of calls, messes with their concentration, makes them whine, takes them out of their game, literally hands the reins over to the opposing team. The teams who have been able to exploit this weakness have had the Suns at their mercy for years. And no team has gotten into and scrambled the heads of both the players and the fans more consistently than the San Antonio Spurs. They know how to push enough to get the Suns out of sync but not enough to get in trouble with the officials. They are always borderline and often over the line rough, but they do it in a way that makes it seem like they are just playing hard, not dirty. And the reason they do it is because they know it works.
Well, maybe not so much anymore. With Alvin Gentry as head coach the Suns have acquired a new persona, one that is tough, focused and together. They still score like mad and run like the wind, but under Gentry's leadership they have added that heretofore missing dimension. And they are doing it with players that just a short time ago were doing not much more than warming the bench, either in Phoenix or some other city. Louis Amundson, Jared Dudley, Goran Dragic, Channing Frye and Robin Lopez are integral parts of a team that is looking very much like a contender, something most experts would have said was not in the cards for the Suns any time soon.
How did Gentry do it? I think he made the Suns players believe in themselves and what they were capable of doing, not buy into what everyone said about them, what their "heritage" as Suns confined them to. He has shown them, or rather he has guided them to the place where they can show themselves, that they have control. It doesn't belong to the refs or to the San Antonio Spurs, it belongs to each of them, and good things can happen when they recognize and act on that fact.
Last night the Suns hosted the Spurs. It is true that the Spurs no longer have defensive specialist Bruce "Whack Your Arms" Bowen, and it is also true that All Star point guard Tony Parker has lost a step or two to plantar fasciitis. But as long as Greg Popovich is the Spurs head coach you can count on them to execute in the same old way, the way that used to rattle the Suns players and frustrate their fans. Well it looked like it was going to happen again last night. All of a sudden a fourteen point lead had shrunk to five and it looked like the slow-it-down, get tough Spurs were getting control of a game that the Suns had been dominating. But that only lasted a couple of minutes. The missed calls were, for the most part, shrugged off, the focus got turned up a notch, and the Suns took back control. They would not let the other team dictate how the game was played, especially not the game inside their heads. And the result was a convincing 112-101 win.
A couple of years ago we put a press-on lettering saying in our front entryway. It spells out what I think is a real key to making a successful life for yourself. I've been trying, with spotty success, to incorporate it into my own life, so I know how tough those few simple words can be to follow. But when I can see them being put into use, see the results, see it is not only possible but that the consequences are worth striving for, it gives me more determination than ever to do what it says above the mirror/hat rack by our front door.
Change Your Thoughts
Change Your World
Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.
And thanks to Walt Kelly, creator of Pogo.