I remember the day like it was yesterday.
June 2, 2005. The 620 Sportsline was live, on-location from some high-end pizza place in North Scottsdale. It was the night after the Spurs eliminated the Phoenix Suns from the NBA’s Western Conference Finals and I couldn’t have been in a better mood. Whatever disappointment I had over the series loss was washed away by a big slice of pizza, a cold glass of micro-brew and a healthy dose of the future.
The team that won 29 games the year prior finished with 62 wins. They had Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson, Quentin Richardson. They had Steve Nash and Mike D’antoni. Most importantly, they had Amare Stoudamire.
In the five games against the Spurs he scored 41, 37, 34, 31 and 42 points. He was the future. He was the reason why they were going to win a championship. He was to be the next dominant big man in the league. A championship during his tenure with the Suns had the feeling of inevitability.
What was there to be upset about?
Sometime in the next day or two that tenure is likely to end and you don’t need me to tell you there isn’t a banner hanging from the rafters. The trade winds – barely a breeze a week ago – are gusting now. The Suns have achieved their goal; multiple teams with competitive offers and a day or so left to competing to get their paws on Amare. A Cleveland deal, a Miami deal. Who knows where it all ends up.
Bottom line: By the time you read this he might be gone. And if he isn’t, he is close to gone. Now, the only inevitability is in his seemingly certain departure. And even if he stays it seems a foregone conclusion that he’s a goner at the end of the season as well.
To me, a life-long Suns fan, no player is a more perfect symbol for the failure to achieve that championship than Amare. Since that night following the Spurs loss in ’05, I think just about every player performed as well as they possibly could have. Nash, Marion, Richardson, Bell; most of the key players from this run reached their ceiling of potential and were the best basketball players they could be.
(A couple of exceptions: Joe Johnson, who left or was allowed to leave before reaching his full potential here, and Boris Diaw, who did reach his potential when Amare was hurt but failed to the rest of the time)
But if there is one player from this era who is the perfect symbol for untapped greatness, unreached potential and unrealized goals, it’s Amare. Didn’t you always feel he could do a little bit more? Try a little bit harder on the boards? Defend a little bit better? Didn’t he always leave you wanting just a little bit more? Say what you want about Nash the defender or Marion’s obsession with his place in the pecking order, those two guys always gave you everything they had on the floor. I can’t say the same thing about Amare with a straight face. And I’m sorry; I can forgive him for coming off the bench against the Spurs but I can’t forget it.
The Suns opportunity to win a title passed a couple of years ago. The oft-discussed “window” closed the day Shawn Marion went public with his unhappiness. A potential Amare trade doesn’t change that at all.
But it does close the book on an era that should have been a whole lot better than it was. Say it about the team. Say it about the man.