The Phoenix Suns' history is dotted with a number of what-ifs. What if John Paxson didn't hit that 3-pointer in the 1993 NBA Finals? What if Joe Johnson were healthy during the 2005 NBA playoffs? What if the coin flip went the other way and the Suns were able to draft Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?
And, of course: What if Amar'e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw weren't suspended following Robert Horry's infamous hip check of Steve Nash in Game 4 of the 2007 Western Conference Semifinals?
Every Suns fan knows the story: The Suns were about to even up their best-of-seven series with the Spurs at two games apiece -- but in the final seconds of that game in San Antonio, Horry hip-checked the Suns' star point guard into the scorer's table, causing Stoudemire and Diaw to instinctively jump off the Phoenix bench in defense of their teammate.
Per NBA rules, players on the bench who enter the court of play are subject to suspension -- and much to the chagrin of Suns fans, the NBA followed the letter of the law and suspended Stoudemire and Diaw for Game 5 of the series in Phoenix.
On Monday, Raja Bell, a former Suns guard who was on the court at the time, added another interesting tidbit of information to exactly what happened on that play.
He began by recapping what happened immediately after the foul.
"So, like, I'm a good teammate. I run over there and I'm like, 'Yo, Rob, what's up? What are we doing?'" Bell said duringhis"Off the Bench with Kanell and Bell" podcast. "Boris Diaw, Amar'e Stoudemire and a few other of our teammates step on to the court -- and I mean like fractionally cross the line into the court of play. They're not involved in the scuffle.
"We can’t hold on in Phoenix the next night to win. It was a valiant effort, but we wind up losing that series and ultimately a chance — what might have been our best chance — to win an NBA championship over that stupid-ass rule."
For a full decade, Suns fans have been furious with Horry for his hard foul on Nash, as well as the NBA for showing no flexibility in their rules.
But on Monday, Bell added a new wrinkle to the story.
"Here's the kicker: Four years later, I’m hanging out with Steve at a bar in Santa Monica somewhere, or somewhere in L.A., and we’re talking about that. And he says that he gave that hip check a little bit of flair — that he really didn’t get checked to that degree," Bell said.
In other words: If Nash hadn't sold the foul the way he did, Stoudemire and Diaw might not have made their way onto the court, the Suns might have defeated the Spurs in that series, and they very possibly could have gone on to win what would have been their first NBA championship.
"This is the first time I’ve ever said it to anybody, because me running over there kind of incited it," Bell said. "I thought (Nash) got like laid out. He admitted to putting a little sauce on that hip check."
Regardless of the circumstances of the foul, Bell said the NBA's coming-on-the-court rule is absurd, and the NBA should have made an exception for what happened in San Antonio that day.
"It’s the dumbest rule. It’s ridiculous," he said. "There has to be a level of intent. You’ve got to go back to that monitor and see intent."
Is Raja responsible for the Suns never winning a championship? Steve Nash later admitted he flopped on this play, which caused a reaction from Raja and the Phoenix bench. https://t.co/PbYpp72um7 pic.twitter.com/qg5gYq40Lt
— KanellAndBell (@kanellandbell) November 27, 2017