Phoenix Suns: Always a Bridesmaid...

Jess RootCorrespondent IJune 18, 2010

PHOENIX - MAY 29:  Steve Nash #13 of the Phoenix Suns encourages his team against the Los Angeles Lakers in the third quarter of Game Six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at US Airways Center on May 29, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

"The Suns have been eliminated from the playoffs by the eventual champion more times than the Clippers franchise has made the playoffs: 8 to 7.” – tweeted by Greg Esposito (@The_Real_Espo)

I got that tweet a few minutes after I finished watching the US get hosed by bad calls (especially the disallowed go-ahead goal) in their World Cup match against Slovenia. In a way, it lightened my spirits a bit, as I was bitter about the result of the soccer game.

Having been a Suns fan as long as I knew that the NBA existed (now, thanks to my non-sports loving parents—not anti-sports, just not fans—this wasn’t until I was about 12 or 13 years old), I knew that this has happened a lot. I just never thought about the actual number, or about the fact that it is more often than the poor Clippers have made the playoffs.

Over the years, I have found some sort of solace in losing to the eventual champions. It was very consoling when the Suns lost those series to the Rockets in the '90s in devastating fashion to know that Houston won it all.

This is what it is like to be a Suns fan. It is something like being Charlie on Good Luck Chuck . Once you bang, ahem, beat the Suns, you are on your way to the prize.

Honestly, it could be worse. If I were a Clippers fan, I would suffer from front office and coaching ineptitude and some strange voodoo-like curse on young stars that leads to injury.

Cleveland? They not only suffer from living in Cleveland, but also from just plain bad teams for a long time, until LeBron came to town.

Portland? Tragic injuries to talented big men (Bill Walton, Sam Bowie, and now, Greg Oden) and the unwise drafting of injury-prone big men (Bowie and Oden) instead of star scorers (Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant).

Seattle? Their team skipped town.

I have tossed around the idea, like many fans, that the Suns are cursed or that commissioner David Stern has it out for the team. Neither really makes sense.

Other so-called curses (the Cubs and Red Sox) have origins. For Boston, it was selling away Babe Ruth. For Chicago, it was a goat. The Suns have nothing. No goat, no tragic trade, nothing. It has just been pure misfortune, going all the way back to losing the coin toss to be able to draft Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

So, why do we, here, in the Valley of the Sun(s), have to deal with such disappointment? Is it because our fan base isn’t as passionate as it should be? Can’t be that. The Heat have a championship.

Is it because Jerry Colangelo no longer runs the team? Nope, no championships while he was running it.

Is it because David Stern hates Phoenix? This one teases me a bit, but I have to dismiss it. Who really hates Phoenix? It’s the place everyone goes to live when they are tired of their original city. It has year-round sun. It’s one of the largest US markets. It just doesn’t make sense.

Does God just not want the Suns to win? I know, it’s blasphemous to even mention. You have to dismiss this one, too. If God really cared about who won in the NBA, would He ever have allowed players who are gambling addicts, unfaithful to their wives, and (allegedly) force themselves sexually on women (yes, I do refer to MJ and Kobe) win 11 championships in the last 20 years?

So what is it exactly that keeps the Suns from the promised land of basketball lore?

I think it comes down to two things—star power and hate factor. Let me elaborate.

Star power

The NBA is a game of stars, whether you like it or not. It is rare that a team wins a championship without one. The one exception you can look at are the 2004 Detroit Pistons, who had a few great players at the time (Ben Wallace in his prime, Rasheed Wallace, Chauncy Billups, and Rip Hamilton), but no real stars. On the other hand, that was a year where the Lakers, with Shaq and Kobe, just fell apart in the series.

The Suns have always tended to have strong teams, but devoid of league stars. Steve Nash is a star, but in the last 25 years, the only star point guards to win it all were Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas, and both of these teams had the other quality (hate factor).

Amar'e Stoudemire is a great player, but no one in the league really feels he is a star. When you are a star, no one really talks about potential. People still talk about Amar'e’s potential, as he has not yet developed great (and some even say good) defensive or rebounding skills.

Unfortunately for the Suns, the biggest star in their team history was Charles Barkley, who played in Phoenix during Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon’s best years. If the Suns are to ever be champions, they need a star. Amar'e could be that, but then again, he may not even be here in a month from now.

Hate factor

Every champion in my memory (remember that my NBA memory only goes back 20 years) either was hated or had players that were unilaterally hated outside of their city. The Suns don’t have that.

Kobe? He is admired, but those who do not love him, hate him for his alleged sexual assault or for how he has treated his teammates or for his general demeanor.

MJ? Well, as many people adored him, there were as many who hated how good he was or how he acted like God (because, in NBA terms, he was).

Shaq? He is the lovable Shaq, but he was, at the time, despised for his free-throw shooting or for his lack of interest until playoff time. Also, there was the general disdain for his ability.

The Spurs teams? They have/had Bruce Bowen (and his little dirty plays like knees to the crotch and sliding under players in the air), Manu Ginobili (Señor Flopper), and Robert Horry (hated for big shots and cheap shots).

The Houston teams? Sam Cassell and Mario Elie. Don’t forget "Mad Dog" Vernon Maxwell (the early, poor man’s version of Ron Artest, just without the fighting with fans).

The Showtime Lakers? They had Kareem.

The current Lakers? Derek Fisher and Sasha Vujacic. Fisher hits big shots and is on the borderline of being dirty. Vujacic has a list of nicknames here in Phoenix that should not be listed here, but you probably have heard them. Oh yeah, how could I forget Ron Artest? Enough said.

The Bad Boys Pistons? Well, they were the Bad Boys. Plus, they had the league’s most hated player, Bill Laimbeer. EVERYONE hated him. Not only that, but Isiah Thomas, their star and one of the best point guards ever, was blackballed and left off of the original Dream Team Olympic team in 1992 because he was despised.

The Suns don’t have any hated players. I can’t think of a time they did. We Suns fans hate the Spurs and the Lakers, but I don’t think that there is a single fan base that hates the Suns.

The Suns have always managed to assemble a group of skilled, likable players. Nash is adored by all, Grant Hill is the nicest guy in the NBA, Jared Dudley is popular, and Leandro Barbosa is probably second to Hill in being nice. Goran Dragic looks like a teenager. Even Amar'e, who would appear to the most likely to be hated, just isn’t taken seriously enough.

If you look at the current Suns roster, I think the best candidate for hated player would be Robin Lopez. He has a little crazy in him. He has skill, is a little edgy, and isn’t afraid to mix it up or to play a little dirty. He has the potential. Let’s hope he can do it.

The way I see it is that, unless the Suns at some point can deliver in star power and hate factor, we fans will have to continue to suffer with entertaining, likable teams that almost make it. It’s not the worst thing in the world (heck, if the worst-case scenario happens this off season, we will be cheering an entertaining, likable, but unsuccessful team). After all, we could be Seattle and have a team literally skip town.

In any case, Phoenix fans, no more talking about David Stern, Tim Donaghy, or curses. It’s just the lack of star power and hate factor. As depressing as it may sound, unless something changes or, unless something freaky happens in the NBA, it will likely stay that the Suns are the NBA’s bridesmaids, never being the bride.

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