Sports run in cycles. For most franchises, tasting victory consistently is a hard fought process, that takes years of great drafting, deft trades, and savvy personnel at the top. It takes luck, skill, vision, facilities, and an owner committed to some kind of winning.
You don’t just luck into a championship. Titles don’t fall from the sky. They are not a right. They are not promised. They are exclusive moments earned by the few lucky ones who squeeze through the tightly guarded gates.
That’s sports in a nutshell. For every Los Angeles Lakers, New York Yankees, and Detroit Red Wings, there’s a bunch of other teams constantly trying to get over the hump, or to the hump, or close enough to see the light gleaming off the hump.
On Tuesday, the Phoenix Suns ran into that hump. Coming into the night as the 9 seed in a Western Conference only willing to admit 8, the Suns had to beat Utah in Salt Lake City to keep alive their playoff hopes. They lost.
But this was more than one team beating another. This was the sad, somewhat unremarkable end of an era.
The Suns don’t play their final game of this forgettable 2011-12 season until Wednesday, when they run into the fountain of youth Spurs, who keep trucking along as they reinvent their team slowly through a wheel of familiar faces and new youthful talent. Phoenix knows the Spurs well. If it wasn’t for the Alamo, Phoenix might’ve had a few championship parades in the first decade of the 2000’s.
Back then, the Suns had speed, effortless passing, a big man that could dominate, three point shooters that could stretch the court almost poetically, a once in a generation pass-first point guard who made everyone better, and a team that raced down the court sometimes in seven seconds or less, reviving a new type of basketball that got everyone’s attention.
Phoenix nonchalantly led the league in points way back when (usually hovering around 110), free throw percentage, and three point percentage. They were the most interesting, dynamic, well balanced unit in the sport. They were something else.
And now, they’ve been reduced to rubbish. An owner who has run the team into the bowels of mediocrity, Phoenix is in the worst place a team could be. They’re nowhere. Phoenix’s favorite Sun is a free agent, despite his uncanny ability to still perform at career high levels, and after a nice, little run at the final playoff spot, its hard to think he comes back next year to do this dog and pony show all over again.
And why should he?
A once proud dominant franchise, which was the hottest ticket in the valley, was unable to sellout a single home game this season, and make all the excuses you want, that’s just a bit sad.
Sad because where they were, how they played, and what could have been.
Like life really. Coulda, shoulda, woulda.
What if they had kept Rajon Rondo and not traded him? What if they signed Joe Johnson to the big deal Atlanta was willing to give him? What if they hadn’t traded Quentin Richardson? Or half of their first round picks for empty cash to fill their banker of an owner’s wallet. What if they hadn’t brought in Terry Porter? Or Shaq?
What if things had ended differently?
In sports you don’t get do-overs on the past, but you can re-load for the future. What Suns fans are ruing is what they had: all those 50+ wins seasons, games where 7 guys would get in double figures, threes falling from the sky, Amar’e rocking the rim, and Planet Orange going ballistic.
The Suns used to be a treat to watch. It was like watching a track meet. Nash would pick and roll with Stoudemire who would either go to the hole for a ferocious dunk or one of the wingmen would get a wide open three, swing it around the perimeter, before burying a jumper from long distance. It looked so seamless at times. So video-game-esque.
There was nothing like it in sports.
Slowly the players changed, the bench was broken, a coach was fired, wing-men shipped out, draft picks dealt for nothing, and the one constant was one, Steve Nash. The beautiful Ferrari that was running like a well oiled machine, resembled something closer to the car that Cameron kicked in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It was perfect, it was beloved, and then it was beaten to the ground.
And that quote: “You killed the car,” said Ferris to a shell-shocked Cameron.
The Suns had the prettiest, shiniest, most fun car to drive. And now, it’s a mess. It needs all kinds of fixes both inside and out. It’s old and worn down in some areas, new and un-broken in others. It looks weird, runs funny, and no longer stands proud in the driveway. People no longer admire it. It’s no longer a show-piece. It’s just another dingy automobile that used to be great.
The Suns used to be great. They were in many ways, special. But they never scaled Everest (aka: the Spurs), and then father-time caught up to them. They had to make decisions and they put their jewel in the wrong hands. Over the years what once was practically perfect turned nearly unrecognizable.
All that hope, that promise. Gone. A memoir of yester-year and the times where just getting to the Western Conference Finals was one stop short of the goal. Now, it’s been two years of no playoffs, and 3 in 4. The Suns, championship-less, yet far more successful than the majority of sports franchises since their inception 44 years ago, will likely be facing a makeover. One that could take years to perform. Screw up, and a decade could be lost. No one knows for sure.
They have no rising stars, just a host of broken toys revved up once more and a lot of quality bench guys who aren’t good enough to anchor a winner. They’re not bad enough to be broke, but not good enough to have a chance. They’re locked in nothingness.
Assuming Nash leaves for one last chance at a ring, they will have no stars. Mind-blowing given how loaded PHX was not too long ago. Talk about a fleeting memory.
In a town with 4 pro teams, their stock went up, soared into the clouds, and then crashed in a blaze of sadness smack dab in the middle of what could have been and what the hell do we do now.
The Suns are the college student who just graduated and stayed in their college town, clinging to all those great times. Locked into the nostalgia. Wishing they could get another crack at a time now passed. If they go home, they have to start over.How many people truly enjoy starting anew?
Sometimes it’s just safer to stay where you are. Phoenix infact, tried that for a few years, holding onto their iconic do everything point guard, Nash and Grant Hill, but with another season of middling mediocrity, the Suns find themselves smack dab in a horrible identity process. They can try to patch up a flawed car with some nicer parts or they can move on, count the memories, stick them in their back-pocket, and prepare for an unknown and hopefully eventually bright future.
Like the job market, the Suns have been rendered as nothing more than another face. They’re there, but so are a bunch of other suitors. It’s a crowded field, and a competitive market and it’s a scary thought when you don’t know what you want or who you want to be.
But that’s where they are.
Sometimes you have to face the music and admit to the reality. Other times you can try to get by with what you have.
The Suns tried to keep what little left that they had going. The music stopped.
There’s no more chairs.
An era is over.
That’s life. That’s sports.
That’s the vicious churning of the cycle.
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