While we hold out hope that the path charted by newly hired general manager Ryan McDonough will produce a winner sooner rather than later, there wasn't much to celebrate about the Phoenix Suns this season, we're sorry to say. In lottery-bound times like these, with the present a bummer and the future uncertain, it's understandable for fans (and the media who serve them) to harken back to more successful days gone by — like, for example, 1993, which was both the heyday of the Charles Barkley/Kevin Johnson/Paul Westphal crew and a nice, round 20 years ago, which makes for easy commemoratin'.
With the members of that team reminiscing about how they came together and what they accomplished, it's only natural to check in with the man who signed the checks — Jerry Colangelo, who'd been with the Suns since its inception in 1967, put together a group that purchased the franchise in 1987 and, after years of fits and starts, built a winner in the desert.
In a chat with Paola Boivin of azcentral.com, Colangelo recalled the Suns' path to the 1993 NBA finals against the Chicago Bulls, the franchise with which the Chicago Heights product had gotten his start in the NBA as a scout and marketing director and the juggernaut that had won back-to-back titles in the previous two seasons. In the midst of all that recollection, the former Suns owner (he sold to Robert Sarver in 2004) and current director of USA Basketball shared a surprising story from the Chicago Stadium stands:
Michael Jordan’s 55 points led to a Bulls victory in Game 4 and left the Suns on the brink of vacation. An incident during the game left Colangelo with a double-dose of ill feelings.
He was sitting with his son, Bryan, when he heard a commotion behind him where his wife, Joanie, and mother were.
“What’s going on?” Colangelo asked.
“The guy behind us told your mom to shut up and sit down,” Joanie said.
Colangelo was livid and told the man to apologize. He wouldn’t. Colangelo sent his wife and mother away from the seats.
“You don’t want to do this, Mr. Colangelo,” a security guard told him.
As the game ended, the fan gave Colangelo the finger. Colangelo leaped over a row of seats and grabbed him. He got a punch in before security pulled him away.
“It’s a Chicago story,” Colangelo said, smiling.
They yell at your mom, you punch them in the face — that's the Chicago way. Just like Sean Connery said.
No doubt inspired by their owner's pugilistic prowess, the Suns bounced back with a 108-98 Game 5 win to make it two wins in three tries in Chicago, stave off elimination and send the series back to Phoenix. (OK, the 74 combined points from Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson and Richard Dumas might have played a bigger factor than Colangelo's dust-up.) Unfortunately for Suns fans, their squad's bid for a comeback from double-digit third-quarter deficit came up just short thanks to John Paxson and Horace Grant, sending Chicago to its third straight NBA title and the Suns home empty-handed after the best season in franchise history.
While the season's ending was disappointing, hundreds of thousands of Suns supporters still turned out for a post-playoffs parade to celebrate the Western Conference champions' achievement; clearly, they appreciate the fighting spirit shown by a team that took its lead from ownership.
According to Boivin, the ill-mannered heckler wasn't the person who'd purchased those season tickets, and later, "the man who owned the seats occupied by the culprit called Colangelo to apologize." Of course he did. He didn't want to get five across the eye from a close personal friend of Joe Garagiola Jr. Who would?
Hat-tip to azcentral.com's Paul Coro.