PHOENIX — Not again.
That sums up the reaction of Phoenix Suns fans after learning Wednesday that star point guard Chris Paul is out indefinitely after entering the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
Some believe the organization is cursed because of the bad luck that has come its way. Others have learned not to feel too good about success because heartbreak is just around the corner. This year it came halfway through the 2021 playoffs. The Suns were coming off a high after sweeping the Denver Nuggets and punching their ticket to the Western Conference Finals.
“It’s like anything else,” coach Monty Williams said. “There is a goal in front of us and we are focused on that and we are hoping and praying that we will be whole again before we play game one.”
This isn’t the first time fate has dealt the Suns a bad hand.
Go back more than half a century to see the start of what Suns fans have grown accustomed to: What could go wrong will go wrong for the franchise.
In 1969, the Suns were coming off a 16-66 record and were tied with the Milwaukee Bucks for the worst record in the NBA. A coin flip would determine the No. 1 draft pick and what team would land Lew Alcindor, now known to many as Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
He guided the UCLA Bruins to three national championships along with an 88-2 record during his three years at UCLA. Owner Jerry Colangelo ultimately went with what fans suggested in a newspaper poll and chose heads. The coin landed tails and the rest is history. Abdul Jabbar ended up winning a championship in Milwaukee, going 342-153 during his six years with the Bucks while the Suns went 236-256 in those six years.
“I’ve been blessed for much of my life,” said Colangelo, who eventually sold the Suns to Robert Sarver in 2004. “At the time, that was one moment that was hard to shake.”
Fast forward to the 1976 NBA Finals. With the series split 2-2, the Suns and Boston Celtics were tied at 95 with five seconds left when Paul Silas grabbed a rebound and called a timeout. The problem? The Celtics were out of timeouts and a technical foul should have been called, giving the Suns a free throw attempt and the ball. No foul was called and they lost the game and series.
The 1992-93 Suns came close to giving the organization its first title. They had a 62-60 record and were led by MVP Charles Barkley. Down 3-2 in the NBA Finals, the Suns were up 98-96 with 14.4 seconds left in the game. It looked as if the Suns were going to win and tie the series at 3. Wrong. John Paxson hit a 3-pointer to put the Bulls up 99-98 with 3.9 seconds left, which proved to be the game and series winning shot.
Shortly after the series loss, Michael Jordan retired, opening the door for the Phoenix Suns to win their first NBA championship. They kept their NBA Finals roster intact and added All-Star forward Danny Manning, who many believed to be the missing piece for the organization.
The Suns were clicking on all cylinders, going 36-10 and had the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. Unfortunately for Phoenix fans, Manning tore his ACL in February of 2 and was out for the remainder of the season. A hobbled Suns team lost in seven to the Houston Rockets in the semifinals as the Rockets went on to win the NBA title that season. This was just the beginning of a string of unfortunate injuries for the Suns.
History seemed to repeat itself almost a decade later. The Suns entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed after winning 62 games. During the second round, young star Joe Johnson fractured his jaw and was out the remainder of the series. The Suns were able to advance to the Western Conference Finals but were no match for the San Antonio Spurs as they lost in five games to the eventual champions.
The following year, Suns All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire missed 79 games with a knee injury. Despite the big man’s absence, the Suns still won 54 games and made it back to the Western Conference Finals but lost in six games to the Dallas Mavericks. Fans wonder how that series would have played out with a healthy Stoudemire.
“I remember people saying the franchise was cursed when I got hurt,” Stoudemire said. “I don’t like to look at what could’ve happened.”
The 2007 postseason looked like the Suns’ best chance to win a championship during the Steve Nash era. They secured the No. 1 seed after going 61-21 and were entering the playoffs with a healthy team.
In the closing seconds of Game 4 in the conference semifinals, Spurs forward Robert Horry hip-checked Nash and sent him flying into the scorer’s table, causing benches to clear. Stoudemire and Boris Diaw left the bench to help Nash and were suspended the next game for breaking an NBA rule that prohibits players from leaving the bench during an altercation. Tim Duncan of the Spurs also left the bench but wasn’t suspended. The Suns went on to lose that series in six.
Suns fans feel their team cannot catch a break. Will this year be different? The Suns were one of the frontrunners to come out of the West until the Paul news broke
Are the Suns a cursed franchise? Or will they be able to rewrite history and finally overcome their latest obstacle?