The polls have opened on this latest Election Day here across America, but instead of voting on whether there should be a 0.2% sales tax increase or which mudslinging candidate to elect State Treasurer, let’s put to the ballot something truly important: Who is the greatest player in Phoenix Suns history?
First, as in all democratic processes, the rules must be set. This being an election held on the hardwood, we’ll do this tournament style. The top eight players/candidates will be selected via qualitative and quantitative research and will then be randomly seeded in a bracket tournament format. You, the readers, will then vote on who will advance.
It's simple and straightforward, just like the Bill of Rights. However, this being an American version of democracy, there will be a catch. In the interest of not dragging this out over seven weeks (I’m looking at you Florida, circa 2000), I have already selected the first round winners.
The process of picking the top eight players was no easy task. All aspects were considered: on court ability, the era in which they played, intangibles and off-court actions. Some truly great players missed the cut. In fact, the last four out are all members of the team’s Ring of Honor. They are:
Dick Van Arsdale: “The Flying Dutchman” was the Suns’ first pick in the 1968 expansion draft and scored the very first points in team history. During the team’s first three seasons, Van Arsdale averaged over 21 points per game and made the All-Star team each year. He ranks third in scoring in team history (12,060).
Dan Majerle: The fans of Phoenix famously booed his selection during the 1988 draft, but they soon fell in love with “Thunder Dan." Perhaps the hardest working and most popular player in team history, Majerle was a key part of the great Suns teams of the early 90s. He up until recently (thanks to Steve Nash) held the franchise record for three pointers made and was selected to three All-Star teams during his eight seasons in town.
Paul Westphal: The sharp shooting guard was the leading scorer of the Suns’ 1975-1976 team that went to the NBA Finals and he four All-Star teams during his six seasons with Phoenix. He averaged 20.5 points and 5.2 assists as a Sun and later took them to the 1993 NBA Finals as a coach.
Connie Hawkins: Perhaps the hardest omission from the ballot. “The Hawk” was an All-Star in each of his four full seasons as a Sun when he averaged 20.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists.
Now, the results of the quarterfinal match ups and the resumes of the defeated.
Kevin Johnson vs. Alvan Adams
Winner: Kevin Johnson
Adams may just be the most versatile player in Suns history. He spent his entire 13 seasons as a Sun and as a result his name sits atop many stat categories: games (988), minutes (27,203), rebounds (6,937) and steals (1,289) and he is third in assists (4,102).
Not too shabby for an undersized 6’9” center. The 1975-1976 Rookie of the Year was an integral part of the team’s run to the Finals and he made one All-Star team. He had career averages of 14.1 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists and is enshrined in the Ring of Honor
Amar’e Stoudemire vs. Tom Chambers
Winner: Amar’e Stoudemire
In a battle of top power forwards, TC comes up a few electorates short. After coming over from Seattle in 1988, Chambers led a remarkable 27-game turnaround for the Suns and became a dominant low post force. He made the first of three straight All-Star games for the team that season and the following year he set the team's single season scoring record with 27.2 per game. He also holds the team’s single game scoring record with a 60 point effort against the Sonics in 1990. During his five seasons in purple and orange, he averaged 20.5 points and 5.1 rebounds a game and had the second greatest dunk in team history.
Walter Davis vs. Shawn Marion
Winner: Walter Davis
His drama-filled exit aside, Marion was one of the Suns’ most exciting and athletic players ever. Starting with his second season in 2000-2001, Marion was the one constant on a Suns team that was seemingly always in flux. Few players could fill up a stat sheet like Marion. In his 8.5 seasons, he notched 18.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.8 steals and was a four time All-Star. He was also a solid defender, able to guard all five positions on the floor.
His Adams-esque versatility is on prominent display in the team’s record book. Marion currently occupies the second spots on the team’s rebounding (6,616), steals (1,245) and minutes (24,947) lists, is third in blocks (894) and is fourth in scoring (12,134). Not bad for a 6’7” small forward.
He does lose points for being a diva in his later years that ended with his trade to Miami.
Charles Barkley vs. Steve Nash
Winner: Steve Nash
Oh boy, the two NBA MVPs in team history just had to meet in round one. If not for his brief tenure, Sir Charles may have advanced, but instead will have to settle for a place in the top eight and a spot in the Ring of Honor. Few athletes have taken over a town like Barkley did when he arrived in 1992. He led the team to the NBA Finals, won the MVP and proclaimed to the world that he is in fact not a role model. He was an All-Star starter during each of his four seasons in Phoenix and had a stellar line of 23.4 points, 11.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists as a Sun. It took the combined might of Nash’s two MVPs to keep the Round Mound of Rebound out.
OK, enough filibustering, on to the main event for today: The first semi-final match up for you to cast your votes is:
Kevin Johnson vs. Amar’e Stoudemire
Why KJ should get your vote: Coming over in a trade with the Cavaliers midway through the 1987-1988 season, KJ immediately established himself as the cornerstone of the franchise. Beginning in 1988-1989 when he won the Most Improved Player award, Johnson began a three season stretch of averaging over 20 points and 10 assists a game. He was a three time All-Star with the Suns and a member of Dream Team II in 1994.
Blessed with blinding speed and vision, KJ was also a tremendous leader (skills that would serve him well after his NBA career) who packed more toughness into his 6’1” frame that most anyone else on the floor. That unique combination of skill and savvy made him one of the most popular players in team history. To cement his legacy, KJ came out of a one season retirement in 2000 after his heir at the point, Jason Kidd, broke his ankle and he helped guide the Suns to the second round of the playoffs.
He’s the team’s all time leader in assists (6,518), free throws made (3,851) and free throws attempted (4,579) and his No. 7 was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor.
Always community service minded, KJ was elected mayor of his native Sacramento in 2008 and is currently in office. For good measure, he also had the greatest dunk in Suns’ history, jamming it over the great Hakeem Olajuwon during the 1994 playoffs.
Why STAT should get your vote: After being the ninth overall pick in the 2002 draft, Stoudemire wasted no time in unleashing his freakish athleticism onto the NBA landscape. Coming directly from high school, Stoudemire set a high school rookie record (since broken by LeBron James) by scoring 38 points against Minnesota and won the Rookie of the Year award.
He was on the very brink of superstardom after the beginning of the Steve Nash era in 2004-2005 with monster averages of 26.0 and 8.9 points, but played only three games the following season after a knee injury required the ever dangerous microfracture surgery. Warrior that he was, he battled back and regained his 20 point per game form and improved his jump shot to make him doubly dangerous. As a low post offensive force, Stoudemire may be unmatched in Suns history. His 21.4 ppg average is fourth best in team history and around the rim there were few players with his explosiveness.
As with most anyone during this recent era, he was a defensive liability and fans and coaches alike wished his powerful 6’10” frame would contribute more in the way of rebounds, although he does rank third in team history with 4,613. He made five All-Star teams during his eight seasons in Phoenix before signing with the New York Knicks this past off-season.
So there you have it. Cast your votes now to see whether the speedy KJ or the powerful Stoudemire will advance to the finals.
Don’t see your favorite player on the list or disagree with the quarterfinal results? Post in the comments section and campaign for your candidate. After all, debate is the cornerstone of the American political process.
Rock the vote, Suns fans.
[Now that you've voted on this poll, go out and vote for "real". Find the nearest polling location here.]
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