PHOENIX, AZ — To some people, the NBA Playoffs may be just a couple more basketball games, but to longtime Phoenix Suns fans, the first-round match-up with the LA Lakers, and huge game one win, are cause for celebration.
"When this city has the Suns [winning], you can just tell a whole different vibe, a whole different excitement," said Nick Dopudja, a lifelong Suns fan.
Nick has been waiting more than a decade for Playoff basketball again in the Valley. After the isolating pandemic and the lengthy winning drought, this series means more to Suns fans than most around the league.
"The passion has always been there," said Dopudja. "A lot of longtime Suns fans are very optimistic. I think this team is built the right way. I think we can play with anybody."
In Game 1 on Sunday, the Suns sent a message to the defending champs with a resounding 99-90 win.
The home crowd erupting inside the "sold-out" Suns arena.
Game 2 of the Suns vs Lakers is Tuesday night, Game 3 is Thursday night and Game 4 will be Sunday at 12:30 p.m. on ABC15.
"I got choked up," said Tom Leander. "Because that was basically the first time I walked into the arena to watch the game, surrounded by fans, feeling the energy, the passion."
Leander is a broadcaster on the Suns' pregame, halftime and postgame shows. He says the team winning and making Playoff runs brings the city together.
"In the arena, there are different backgrounds, different ways of thinking, but all of a sudden you become one big family," said Leander, who has been with the team since 1993 and witnessed many great teams.
As Suns fans know, the franchise has not always been easy to cheer for on a Tuesday night.
"It's been disappointing. It's been a little tough to watch at times," said Dopudja. "But over the past few years, you could see the team building something special."
Nick is "very optimistic" that the team can compete for a championship, but also knows things can go south quickly.
"I still think for the longtime fans, there's always just that something in your gut saying, 'Something's gonna happen,'" he said. "Always that nervous energy."
"That’s a typical Suns fan, fearing something will go wrong," said Leander. "Because something has gone wrong almost every time they reach the Playoffs."
For now, though, fans are enjoying the early series lead over the Lakers, and hoping that - like Phoenix in June - the Suns get so hot no one wants to come to town.
"If we get out of this round, I think we're finals bound," said Dopudja.
As Bill Murray said at the end of Space Jam -- "don't lose that confidence."