PHOENIX — Joanne Ralph remembers them all: the Phoenix Suns players of the past. Charles Barkley, Joe Kleine, and her personal favorite, Connie Hawkins. A Suns fan through and through, Joanne sat down with ABC15’s Kaley O’Kelley to discuss what being a Suns fan has meant to her over the years.
Joanne, who recently turned 81, moved from Michigan to Arizona in 1984 and adopted the Phoenix Suns as her favorite team.
“I've always been a basketball fan,” Joanne said. “And the Suns, just, you know, I just watched the Suns instead of Detroit and I just got hooked. Just got hooked on them.”
Joanne played basketball growing up, recalling just how different the rules were back when she played.
“You played only half-court back then,” Joanne said. “You know, you got to the line and you stopped and gave the ball to someone [else].”
Over her lifetime as a seasoned Suns fan, Joanne has watched the team ebb and flow, collecting memorabilia and stories about the Valley’s first professional sports franchise.
One of her favorite memories includes a time she and a friend performed in a halftime show competition to win airline tickets to anywhere the now-shuttered America West Airlines flew.
“We were out there doing the chicken dance along with probably 80 other people,” Joanne said. One of her challengers was a college student, and Ralph remembers beating him with more clarity than the others.
“I just wiped the floor with him,” Joanne said.
After performing a myriad of different challenges against her halftime-performing opponents, Joanne won the tickets.
For a solid stretch of seven years, Joanne says she attended roughly 41 Suns games per season as a season ticket holder. Unlike Suns fans today, Ralph can readily say she recalls when it was easy to find parking downtown on game day.
“It wasn't hard to find a parking spot unless the Lakers were in town,” Joanne said. “Then they raised to like $12. Normally, we could park for free.”
Like a plethora of other Suns fans, Joanne witnessed the hysteria that came with the Suns run to the NBA Finals in 1993.
“Back then people were writing on their roofs. Their car windows had ‘Go Suns.' The farmers were plowing and cutting the hay so it said ‘Go Suns.' And that was the big thing,” Joanne said.
As the Suns are seeing their first chance to win the Finals, and the second run at them since 1993, Joanne is confident the team can win against “whichever [team] they send our way.”
And she sees the magic in the latest version of the Suns’ Dream Team: Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and coach Monty Williams.
“They have to like each other and respect each other,” Joanne said as she described what makes a successful team. “And we have that this year.”
The NBA Finals are airing on ABC15. Game 1 begins at 6 p.m. on Tuesday.