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Lament on Phoenix Suns of Old

Mike D'Antoni has moved from the Phoenix Suns to the New York Knicks. When I heard this, I thought it was kind of exciting: he's getting big money, and New York is a big market where he can show his stuff.



I will sorely miss the D'Antoni-era Phoenix Suns. Nearly every night they were on Fox Sports Southwest, with the most exciting brand of basketball since the days of the Lakers' Showtime, the Larry Legend Celtics, and of course the years of Jordan, especially in his insane athleticism phase from 1991-1993.

The Suns were just special to watch; every quarter they had the capability of scoring 40, or even 50, points in a single quarter. And everybody loved it -- D'Antoni would have a broad smile on his face, and if he wasn't getting calls, he wouldn't be angry; he'd just look sarcastically at the ref.

Truly, the 2007 playoffs will remain one of my great sports heartbreaks -- right up there with Sid Bream sliding past Mike Lavalier in the 1991 Braves/Pirates NLCS. When Steve Nash got kicked in the balls by Bruce Bowen, and David Stern gave the series to the Spurs by suspending Amare Stoudamire for having taken one step over a line.

When I saw D'Antoni on Pardon the Interruption, he spoke with an honesty and intelligence seldom seen in pro sports. "We had the better team, and the league screwed us," I think he said about 2007. Talking about coming to New York, he was honest. And he should be able to make the playoffs with their roster -- as long as they can unload Stephon Marbury (D'Antoni already got rid of Marbury when he first got to Phoenix, anyway).

But tonight, I worry for my coach. The New York media spotlight has felled trees far larger than Mike D'Antoni. The freespiritedness and smiles of his days in Phoenix may last no more. He's got that contract, he's got W's to get, he'll have criticism worse than he had from Steve Kerr.

And whatever, Steve Kerr -- maybe the Suns didn't win a championship, but the city and the NBA loved the team, and the team surely turned a big profit. Even if they didn't take it all the way, there was an absolute sense of rightness to how D'Antoni led the Suns. The refs insisted on making "postseason" calls instead of "regular season" calls -- Nash got absolutely hammered. There's a reason he was MVP twice: he plays the game the way it was meant to be played.

And now, one year removed from the 2007 Spurs/Suns series, I remember listening to Game 6 on May 18, on the way from Tucson to Colorado Springs, to stay the night with my father in law. The sun slipped behind the Rocky Mountains; the Suns fought valiantly, but lost -- and I knew they would.

That team changed the NBA, and brought basketball back to the NBA. I lament and celebrate the Suns of D'Antoni, Nash, Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudamire, Leandro Barbosa, et al. May another team lift our hearts again, tho' we may wait decades.
 
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