With the Phoenix Suns mired in a three game skid that has dropped them under .500 (11-12), the is facing a crucial week in which three of their four games are on the road against the current 1st, 2nd and 5th seeds in the West. They then get an early Christmas "gift" when the red hot Miami Heat come to town on the 23rd.
As the team prepares to embark on this critical early season stretch, the direction of their 43rd season could very well hang in the balance.
While this most recent chapter plays out in peril, there is comfort to be found in the previous forty two installments of Suns' lore. They have produced countless memorable moments and images over the years.
Some of them came during the most important times in franchise history; others occurred during times that would be considered nondescript in the grand scheme of things.
Nonetheless, these images have left an indelible and vivid mark upon the collective memory of the Suns' fanbase.
Let us now take a visual stroll down memory lane.
After making the playoffs in only their second season (seemingly an Arizona expansion franchise tradition), the Suns went five years without making another postseason trip.
That all changed in 1976-1977 when the team made a late season run, going 24-13 over the final 37 games and sneaking into the playoffs. After beating Seattle in the first round, they dispatched the defending champion Golden State Warriors to advance to their first ever NBA Finals.
The Suns dropped the first two games to the mighty Boston Celtics before rallying to even the series as the teams headed to Boston for Game 5.
The game was in double overtime when Boston's John Havlicek appeared to make the game winner as the horn sounded. The crowd rushed the court to celebrate the apparent 111-110 victory, only to find out that a single second remained.
After order was restored, Phoenix' Paul Westphal called a timeout that the Suns did not actually have, giving Boston a technical foul free throw to push the lead to 112-110.
The Suns needed a miracle. Or better yet, Gar Heard.
Taking the inbound pass at the top of the key, Heard made an amazing turnaround jumper that sent the game into triple overtime, where the Suns would eventually lose 128-126. They then dropped Game 6 two days later.
Nevertheless, the "Shot Heard 'Round the World" has rightfully become one of the most famous moments in NBA playoff history.
In 1987, the Suns made a trade with Cleveland that sent Larry Nance, Mike Sanders and a 1988 first round pick for a package that was headlined by future All-Star Kevin Johnson.
Along with KJ came the Cavaliers' first round selection in the upcoming draft.
The pick ended up being the 14th overall selection. With it, they selected a little known 6'6" guard/forward from Central Michigan University - Dan Majerle.
The fans assembled at the team's draft party immediately booed the selection. Head coach Cotton Fitzsimmons then issued a forceful proclamation.
"We are very happy to select Dan Majerle. I can not help how you feel. All I can tell you is this: you people will be sorry that you ever booed this young man."
They were, Coach. They were.
Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes are full of it.
If they had only watched the Suns take on the New York Knicks on Januray 27, 1989, they would've had known better.
Running a two on one fast break, the Suns' Kevin Johnson dribbled on the right and dished to the streaking Tom Chambers.
Wasting little time, the 6'10" forward took off from just inside the free throw line, threw his knee into Knick guard Mark Jackson's face and slammed home the second greatest dunk in team history (more on that later).
It's an image that is burned into every Suns fans memories and must be seen to be fully appreciated. So here you go. You're welcome.
The state of Arizona had never seen anything like this before.
On June 17th, 1992, the Suns made the biggest trade in franchise history, sending four players to the Philadelphia 76ers for then six-time All-Star forward Charles Barkley.
The move immediately made a good Suns team great.
Barkley took the state, and the league, by storm. He averaged 25.6 points, 12.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists in leading the Suns to an NBA best 62-20 record.
He upped those numbers to 26.6 points and 13.6 points in the playoffs in leading the franchise to it's first NBA Finals appearance in 16 years.
As a reward for his dynamic campaign, he received his only NBA MVP award, becoming the first Sun ever so honored.
With Charles Barkley at the wheel, the Suns' magical mystery tour that was the 1992-1993 season ended with their second ever stop in the NBA Finals.
Sadly, it occured right in the middle of the Michael Jordan era.
Nonetheless, the Suns had pushed the Bulls to a Game 6 at home, trailing 3 games to 2. With 14.4 seconds left, the Suns held a narrow 98-96 lead with the Bulls inbounding the ball.
Jordan takes the ball up court...
Passes to Scottie Pippen, who drives...
Dishes off to Horace Grant in the post...
Passes back to John Paxson for three...
I'm sure somewhere at that moment, two lovers looked longingly into each other's eyes. A small child laughed while playing with a frisky puppy. And a father told his son that he was proud of him.
Meanwhile, back at America West Arena, an entire state cried out in deafening silence.
For those with strong stomachs or no soul, the video is here.
The 1992-1993 Suns captured the hearts and minds of Phoenicians like no team before or since.
After removing the dagger so viciously inserted by John Paxson, the healing process began.
Knowing that their fanbase was disappointed but nonetheless enthralled with their Suns, a parade was planned for June 26th. Police estimated that nearly 100,000 people would show up.
Boy, were they wrong.
On the hottest day of the year to that point, a staggering 300,000 people lined the streets of downtown Phoenix to greet their beloved Suns.
Charles Barkley's convertible was mobbed before it had managed to move two blocks. Players addressed the crowd from a balcony at the then America West Arena.
His stay in town lasted a mere three seasons and 190 games, but reserve point guard Elliot Perry's distinct sock preference left a lasting impression on Suns' fans.
The apex of his Suns career came during the 1994-1995 season, when Kevin Johnson's injuries allowed Perry to start 51 games and average 9.7 points and 4.8 assists.
His hustling style and knee high socks made him a popular addition and to this day many fans argue that the team is still looking for a backup point guard of Perry's caliber.
After Charles Barkley's feud with Jerry Colangelo came to a head, it became clear that the 1992-1993 MVP's stay in Phoenix was at an end.
On August 19, 1996, the Suns sent Sir Charles to Houston for a package of four players, including Robert Horry.
His Suns career would last all of 32 games. After an on-court argument with head coach Danny Ainge, the petulant Horry threw a towel in Ainge's face and stormed off. The image of Ainge's towel covered face became symbolic of the tumultuous atmosphere the team faced during the post-Barkley era.
He was immediately suspended and subsequently traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, becoming one of the most reviled heels in Suns' history.
His villainy, however, was still in it's infancy.
The 1996-1997 season was a difficult one for the Suns.
They had just traded Charles Barkley, started the season 0-13 and dealt with the aftermath of the Robert Horry tantrum.
However, this resilient bunch rallied to finish 40-42, good enough for a playoff berth and an opening round series against the heavily favored Seattle Supersonics.
The Suns had surprisingly taken a 2-1 series lead into Game 4, but trailed by three with a only a few seconds remaining.
Coming off a timeout, the inbound pass went clear across the court to a streaking Rex Chapman, who in one motion caught the ball, jumped, turned around and fired a desperation three as he sailed out of bounds.
The shot met nothing but net and forced overtime.
Sadly, the Suns lost the game and the series.
The post-Barkley years were ones of mediocrity for the Suns.
In the eight years between Barkley's trade and Steve Nash's resigning, the Suns were competitive but never a real title threat. It wasn't for a lack of trying, however.
On December 26, 1996, the team swung a major deal for Dallas Maverick point guard Jason Kidd, hoping he would be the heir apparent to Kevin Johnson.
Kidd took over the reigns full time during the 1997-1998 season and made the All-Star team that year. He improved upon his numbers the next season, yet the Suns bowed out in each of those seasons.
It was during the ensuing offseason that the team made an ambitious trade for the Orlando Magic's supremely talented but oft injured Anfernee Hardaway.
Dubbing the guard tandem of Kidd and Hardaway "Backcourt 2000", the team sold the pair to the fans as the answer to their persistent title questions in the new millenium.
The pair missed 32 games in 1999-2000 as the team made it to the second round. However, the following year, Hardaway missed all but 4 games due to injury and the Suns met another first round demise.
The following offseason, Kidd was traded to New Jersey under the shame of domestic abuse charges, while Hardaway lasted two and a half more seasons and never reached his former All-Star form.
In the 2006 playoffs, the latest chapter in the decades-long Suns and Lakers rivalry was written in blood.
The contempt between Suns guard Raja Bell and Kobe Bryant had been growing all season long and it finally came to a head in Game 5 of their opening round series.
In the fourth quarter with the Suns up 14, Bryant had possession at the top of the key and drove hard to the hoop. Without a moment's hesitation, Bell clotheslined Bryant and threw him down to the floor as the Phoenix fans cheered.
The Suns would soon add insult to injury as they won the series in seven games.
The Suns and Spurs had already been through several wars over the years, with the Spurs usually emerging victorious.
So there was no need for added fuel to this white hot fire during their Western Conference Semifinals matchup in 2007, yet by the end of the series there would be enough drama and tragedy to make Sophocles proud.
Game 1 was a typical tight affair late in the fourth quarter. The Spurs' Tony Parker successfully stole a Steve Nash pass but the two immediately slammed into each other and blood flew.
“I thought I was the one who was bleeding,” Parker said. If only, Tony.
The collision gashed Nash's nose, which caused him to be benched for most of the remainder of the game, due to NBA rules regarding blood.
The Nash-less Suns faded down the stretch and the Spurs took a 1-0 series lead.
After Steve Nash had his nose busted open in Game 1, the teams battled fiercely and the Spurs entered Game 4 with a 2-1 series edge.
They appeared on the brink of taking a commanding 3-1 lead as they led 97-92 with 2:32 left.
It was then that Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire led a furious comeback that gave the Suns a lead in the closing seconds. However, the Spurs, who never met a cheap shot they didn't like, were not going to take a loss quietly.
With 18 seconds left, Spurs forward Robert Horry cemented his place as the biggest villain in Suns history.
Nash took possession and dribbled along the sidelines when Horry threw a hard, and exceedingly cheap, hockey style check that propelled Nash into the scorer's table.
The Suns bench erupted in warranted anger, with Stoudemire and Boris Diaw each taking a few steps onto the court. Despite doing nothing provocative, the NBA to suspend Stoudemire and Diaw for the crucial Game 5, which the shorthanded Suns lost. The decision by the NBA was highly controversial, prompting ESPN's Chris Sheridan to label it "utterly, profoundly, alarmingly, unreasonably ridiculous."
The Suns correctly pointed out that the NBA had failed to take similar action earlier in the series against Tim Duncan, but to no avail.
Three seasons into their rebirth with Steve Nash at the helm, the Suns had yet to reach the NBA Finals. They were able to score at will...and so were their opponents.
Falling victim to the same big-man envy that had derailed previous teams (see: Williams, John "Hot Rod"), the team again made a costly trade for that mythical answer to their interior defense and rebounding woes.
On February 6, 2008, the team sent four time All-Star forward Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks to the Miami Heat for Shaquille O'Neal.
He soon arrived in Phoenix and watched as the team took on the Hornets. During a timeout, the house spotlight shone upon O'Neal as he got up from his seat and pointed to his empty ring finger, making a promise to bring home that elusive first title for the team.
Instead, his presence was a wrong turn that took the team a year and a half from which to recover.
While having O'Neal in the lineup didn't necessarily kill the Seven Seconds or Less Suns, it certainly put them into a comatose state.
Kevin Johnson is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, player in Phoenix Suns history.
His leadership, blinding speed, toughness and performance in clutch situations over his 12 seasons in Phoenix made him an overwhelming fan favorite and an easy selection for enshrinement into the team's Ring of Honor. He was undoubtedly one of the very best point guards in the entire league during the 1990s.
Yet ask any Suns' fan what their most lasting memory of "KJ" is, and a very high percentage will say "his dunk over Hakeem".
In May of 1994, the Suns were taking on the Houston Rockets in Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals, leading the series 2-1.
The 6'1" KJ took possession in the left corner and drove lefthanded down the baseline. Standing in his way was Hakeem Olajuwon, the Rockets' 7'0" soon-to-be Hall of Fame center.
Undaunted, KJ rose up and slammed home a vicious one handed jam over Olajuwon's face.
For my money, the image of KJ throwing down on one of the best big men in history is the greatest single image in team history.
As a fanbase, we certainly have shared experiences - just ask a Suns' fan about the Spurs or a Red Sox fan about Bill Buckner. The highs and lows of the team are not just ingrained into individual fans but into communities as a whole and are passed down through generations.
Yet, at a core level, a fan's relationship with a team - as with anything that they love - is something that is intensely personal.
While the preceding images no doubt brought back memories and emotions for those devoted followers of Planet Orange, there are certainly many more, either coming the biggest moments or in the most meaningless of games, that have left their mark on you.
Please feel free to share any images from Suns' history that are especially important to you in the comments section.
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