When I woke up this morning I had a reminder waiting for me in the closet of what June 20th is. It’s not a birthday, a special day or anything to celebrate. No, staring me in the face was a reminder of one of the most painful moments in my young life. My wife, a native Chicagoan, had hung her Bulls 1993 NBA Finals shirt up with a note that read “I love you babe ;).” Real nice, I know.
That’s right, Wednesday marks the 25th anniversary of John Paxon’s three pointer in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals that ended the magical run of the Phoenix Suns. I’m not sure what bothers me more, the memory of that shot or the fact that it is now old enough to rent a car and means I’m officially old. What I do know is that moment was a defining one for a 10 year-old.
Like many kids growing up in the Valley at the time the 1992-93 Suns were the first sports team I had fallen in love with. Sure, I had watched the Cardinals stumble their way through their first few seasons in the Valley, had attended Roadrunners’ games and even had had the Firebirds’ mascot steal my popcorn at a minor league baseball game but those were all minor trysts compared to the love affair that blossomed with Charles Barkley, Dan Majerle, Kevin Johnson and the entire Purple Gang from Phoenix.
Barkley wasn’t the first star to come to town but he brought a charisma that had never been seen in Phoenix. As a kid it was the kind of thing that captured your imagination and never let it go. Seeing him play was amazing but then you added in the fact that he was in NIKE commercials, hosting Saturday Night Live and basically reached rockstar status the second he got off the plane at Sky Harbor Airport. Majerle had a swagger that was fun to watch and was a long-range threat in an era when it wasn’t en vogue. KJ brought that workman’s attitude and a passing ability that was the precursor to the great Steve Nash. When you combine the tenacity of Danny Ainge, the high-flying ability of Richard Dumas and Cedric Ceballos, the veteran leadership of Tom Chambers, the eating ability of Oliver Miller and the 100+ points a game it was no wonder I was all in with this team.
My 10-year-old psyche and emotional well being was tied almost directly to the wins and losses the Suns. So when Paxson got the pass from Horace Grant and Ainge decided not to guard him, my heart sunk. When he connected on the three I was basically inconsolable. By the time Johnson’s last second attempt to win the game was blocked I was in complete and utter hysterics. Like Johnny had learned from his Cobra Kai sensei in “The Karate Kid,” I found out in one swift kick to the family jewels that the world would show no mercy.
As the years have gone on and the pain has slightly, SLIGHTLY, faded I realized that the loss hurts but the memories of that team and the fun I had riding the rollercoaster of emotion with them that season were what defined my fandom for life. The players, the coaches, the owner, the uniforms and soon even the arena changed but I’ll always bleed purple and orange because of that team.
It’s sad that the Paxson shot also marks the last time the Suns were in the NBA Finals. There are 24-year-olds in the Valley who have never seen our hometown team play for a championship. It’s even sadder that there are kids the same age as I was watching those finals that have only seen the Suns have a winning season twice in their lifetime and make the playoffs only once.
Put frankly, we as fans deserve better. We deserve a winning team, regular playoff appearances and a championship. Suffering through Paxson’s shot was tough but it came with the belief that “we’ll be back” that made it tolerable. Losing with no hope in sight was crushing to the point of almost apathy from the fan base.
There is hope on the horizon. Maybe it’s a sign that the Suns have the No. 1 pick for the first time the day after the 25th anniversary of Paxson’s shot. Could Deandre Ayton change the luck of a fan base and the trajectory of a franchise? It’s about time because 25 years ago the franchise was on the brink of immortality and for the last 8 years they haven’t even been able to see average on the horizon from the mediocrity they’ve been mired in. The team and city need a star and deserve a winner. It’s been long enough.