Three appearances in the Western Conference Finals and two of the three 60-win seasons in franchise history.
Four different general managers. Five different head coaches.
And despite a fourth straight non-playoff season, the Phoenix Suns own the fifth-best record in the NBA since the start of the 2004-05 season, which also marked the start of Robert Sarver’s tenure as managing partner.
The press conference to announce he was heading an ownership group to buy the team for $401 million dollars was April 16, 2004.
Recently, Sarver discussed his 10-year run with the Suns with Arizona Sports 98.7 FM’s Craig Grialou.
Does it feel like it’s been 10 years?
“It doesn’t feel like a long time and it doesn’t feel like 10 years, but when I look at a picture of myself 10 years ago and now, I can tell it’s been a hard 10 years. It’s been a full 10 years. I’ve had a chance to see quite a bit over these 10 years.”
What have been the high points?
“To me, it’s about wins and losses so the high points to me have been the three years we competed in the Western Conference Finals and had a team worthy of having a chance to win a championship. Those are definitely the high points, those three years.”
Any lessons learned?
“A whole bunch of them. I think with any business you learn as you go. At the end of the day it still boils down to really trying to have the right people in the right place and making the right decisions. This is a business where hindsight is kind of 20/20 but as you go in this industry decisions become closer to 50-50 than they do for decisions you make in other businesses. So you’ve got plenty of examples of decisions that did not work out for the team and plenty of examples of decisions that did.”
Is there a decision that you wish you could have back? Perhaps one that gnaws at you?
“I think probably the biggest one I’d like to take back was not doing that rookie extension for Joe Johnson. Again, hindsight I would’ve loved to have that one over again because he’s turned into a great player. Definitely would’ve helped us. At the time obviously we hadn’t even played a game, we never had a regular season game and coming off a 29-win season it was a little hard to commit that much in the future after just signing Steve (Nash) and Quentin Richardson. So I’m not sure I’d have done it different. If I had to do it over again in hindsight I definitely would’ve done it differently, but at the time it was kind of a tough decision to make. But that was probably the biggest one in terms of one decision that had the most impact in the organization.”
How are you different from that person 10 years ago?
“I think I have a much better feel for the business today — for all aspects of the business, just having 10 years more experience. I think that experience just makes you better at what you do. I would say I feel more comfortable in really all aspects of the business.”
You had some big shoes to fill, taking over for Jerry Colangelo. Are you finally getting the credit you deserve?
“At the end of the day when you own a business it becomes your responsibility regardless of how the decisions are made or who makes them or whatever because at the end of the day you’re responsible; you’re responsible for putting the people in place and whatever decisions they make and/or you make, you’re responsible for. In terms of coming in after Jerry, yeah, it’s always in many ways hard to fill the shoes of somebody who has been so successful for so long and so beloved by the community. But on the other hand, having the opportunity to step in to an organization that was built and had such a successful history was also a benefit. It’s better to buy a good business than not a good business.
What’s the best part about being a part of an ownership group in professional sports?
“The best part is, to me, is watching the games and being able to root for a team that you know you’ve got so much to do with; and also, getting the chance to be in business with so many great people, all the way from the young players to the coaches to owners. It’s a great industry and I’m kind of a people person so having the chance to interact with such outstanding people every day is really pretty fun and rewarding.”
Is there a downside outside of living and dying with every single game?
“That’s probably the biggest downside is that when you’re so emotionally committed — since professional sports has so many ups and downs on a regular basis that I think emotionally it can begin to take a little toil on you in terms of the winning and the losing. In the other businesses I’m in the ups and downs come maybe year-to-year or economic cycle to economic cycle. You don’t have a good day Monday and a bad day Tuesday. The ups and downs come often in this business to the degree that it kind of affects you whether it’s at home or what have you in terms of your mood. You become kind of all in with the team. It’s great, but it’s also pretty emotional.”
It’s been 10 years. Will we be talking in 20 years?
“Yeah, we will. Hopefully we’ll have a championship to talk about, but we definitely will, yeah.”