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Dan Bickley

Scar tissue of Diaw, Stoudemire suspensions torn off after Love ruling

Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash, right, of Canada, goes after San Antonio Spurs forward Robert Horry (5) in the fourth quarter of their second round playoff basketball game in San Antonio, Monday, May 14, 2007. Horry was ejected for the flagrant foul against Nash. The Suns won 104-98. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Heartbreak is inevitable and invaluable. The pain provides perspective, fortifying and galvanizing a dedicated fan base.

But injustice lasts forever.

This excruciating reminder is courtesy of the NBA Finals, where a memorable Game 1 spawned a goat and a performance from a man attempting to become the G.O.A.T. It featured a boneheaded play for the ages. It reminded viewers of how NBA officials can drive the losing side to the brink of lunacy, something we’ve forgotten during our lengthy postseason drought.

And it made Suns fans despise David Stern all over again.

Near the end of overtime, Kevin Love left the Cavaliers’ bench to argue with an official, just before a skirmish erupted. He was not suspended for Game 2, a show of leniency that would’ve never occurred under the previous commissioner.

Just like that, the scar tissue was torn off and an old wound reopened, making Suns fans feel nearly as bad as basketball fans in Cleveland.

Welcome to our eternal nightmare.

Current NBA commissioner Adam Silver is a masterful leader, sympathetic to his players, always siding with the spirit of justice over the letter of law. He was meticulously groomed by Stern, learning the job before earning the job. And he obviously paid attention to his predecessor’s weakest flaws.

By suspending Boris Diaw and Amar’e Stoudemire for leaving the bench, Stern effectively punished the victims, a team that just witnessed Robert Horry’s egregious hip check on Steve Nash. He also changed the course of history.

Imagine what the Valley would be like in 2018 without Stern’s heavy-handed ruling. The Suns would’ve likely won their first NBA title. Our evolution as a transient, bandwagon market would’ve been accelerated. Robert Sarver would be celebrated, not scorned. Our collective pride and civic esteem would be dramatically different. You wouldn’t have to beg bartenders to change the channel in order to serve Arizona fans.

Stern had his reasons. After the Malice in the Palace, when brawling players spilled into the stands, Stern firmly believed he had to protect the product by safeguarding his paying customers. Yet look at today’s NBA:

Tension between players is more palpable than ever. They troll one another on social media. Their most influential broadcaster, Charles Barkley, is free to criticize the quality of play without repercussion. The current mix of conflict and anarchy has been great for business, making the NBA one of the most entertaining sports on the planet. But it does little to soothe the deep-rooted anger buried inside Valley basketball fans, an audience long tormented by misfortune and circumstance.

Other than that, Game 1 was great theater. The Great Debate took an unexpected turn, where LeBron James’ 51-point performance suggested he might win a throne while losing the NBA Finals. The idea sounds like sacrilege to an older generation weaned on Michael Jordan, those will never serve another king. But an older generation must concede the following:

Jordan never had to deal with an idiot like J.R. Smith.

Smith’s blunder at the end of Game 1 was historic in scope and consequence. He forgot the score, choosing to dribble out the clock instead of making a game-winning layup. The outrageous gaffe was worse than Chris Webber calling a timeout he didn’t possess for Michigan in a NCAA title game or Georgetown’s Fred Brown succumbing to panic and passing the ball to an opponent (they were just kids, not highly-paid professionals). It trumped Jackie Smith dropping an easy touchdown pass in the Super Bowl. It not only cost the Cavaliers a hard-earned victory, spoiling a spectacular effort from James.

It might’ve guaranteed James’ departure in the offseason, and after the brain-dead antics of Smith, who could blame him?

Maybe the Cavaliers can rebound, absolve their daffy teammate and heal emotionally before Sunday’s tip-off. A better guess is that the NBA Finals ended on Thursday, just when it appeared the Cavaliers were about to pull off a stunning upset.

One day, Cavaliers fans will hoist their glasses and laugh about Smith’s antics. He will fit snuggly into Cleveland lore, a sports town with a rich history of misery, familiar with the pain and power of heartbreak.

Suns fans are different. We were robbed 11 years ago, and the injustice still stings, offering no redeeming value. And while a brighter day is on its way, along with the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, some things can’t be forgotten. Or forgiven. Especially when it comes to Stern, a man who took his surname far too seriously.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com.  Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier