I grew up in the 90’s as a Chicago Bulls fan. How could you watch basketball as a kid and not love Michael Jordan and everything he represented? MJ, Pippen, Rodman, Harper, Kerr, Kukoc, Longley, the fans, the dark arena before tipoff, the atmosphere. It was all undeniably the best of what the NBA had to offer. But once MJ left the Bulls for good in ’98, I lost interest. And I curse my disloyal seven-year-old self for it. I abandoned a now-successful franchise just because of a few dark years, looking for the next big thing to cheer for. But I was such a depressed little seven-year-old that I made it easy and decided to support the team closest to my state of New Mexico: the Phoenix Suns.
Ever since making that decision I’ve slightly regretted it. Not that I don’t support the Suns or that I will ever switch back to being a Bulls fan (Chicago is now my second-favorite). Don’t get me wrong, I love the Suns. Three of my favorite players of all time have played for Phoenix (Grant Hill, Jason Kidd, Penny Hardaway). I now live in Phoenix and have the pleasure of watching them play. And who could forget how awesome their jerseys in the 90s were? But unfortunately, being a Phoenix Suns fan for the past few years has been a difficult experience.
I’ve already written about the Suns’ plagued history over the past few years, but there’s more to it than blowing draft picks and letting quality players go for next to nothing. The recurring theme of Suns basketball even before Amare left was a team that was good enough to compete and make the playoffs, but not quite elite enough to win championships. So Suns fans are stuck supporting the ever-aging Steve Nash and Grant Hill. They are forced to watch their Suns start each season on a rough note that leaves little promise for the year. Then they regain hope as the team picks things up, either to make an improbable run to the playoffs (which means a first-round exit) or to come up just short, simultaneously disappointing fans and ruining the Suns’ chances at higher draft picks that could turn the franchise around for the future.
And once again, the Suns find themselves in a similar situation: After starting the year at 12-19, Phoenix found its groove and rallied. In fact, before two losses to the Heat and the Magic earlier this week, the Suns were the hottest team in the NBA, winning 11 of their previous 14 games. What followed was much of the same buzz that we Suns fans are used to: talks of how veterans Steve Nash and Grant Hill have found the fountain of youth; how Jared Dudley is developing into a great shooter; how Marcin Gortat is a great big man for Nash to work with; how the bench (Shannon Brown, Michael Redd) has finally stepped up and started contributing; even how Channing Frye doesn’t stink as much as he usually does. But unfortunately, all this means is that the Suns have once again cleverly seduced me and the rest of their fanbase into believing that maybe this team could make the playoffs. Maybe they could get lucky and upset somebody if they climb high enough and hit their rhythm at the right time.
I say “unfortunately” because it’s hard to believe in the Suns. When your two oldest players are two of your best/most consistent three, you’re bound to have problems. And while I accept that Suns basketball isn’t going to win a championship this season, damn it all if I’m not going to support my mediocre team to the end and cheer for those old guys to have enough in the tank for (possibly) one last improbable playoff run. I know that the Suns are winning themselves right out of better draft picks. I know that they’re still a few games out of the eight seed in the West. And I know that it would be better for the franchise if Phoenix tanked and start rebuilding for the future. But again, DAMN IT ALL if I don’t support my team and hope that Grant Hill and Steve Nash get the chance to win one more playoff series. I’ve never supported tanking and it does get hard to cheer for such an old and sometimes laughable squad, but there’s something about being fans of the Phoenix Suns, or any basketball team in general, that makes me want to believe again.