He was and always will be my favorite Suns player of all-time. Thursday night when he returned to the U.S. Airways Center, a place he once called home for nine years, it was a blast from the past. It brought back so many good memories for me of the man they called the Matrix. Granted, the Suns have had a slew of good players come and go over the years, but Shawn Marion ranked above them all for me.
It’s hard to believe that three years have passed since the trade that sent Marion to Miami along with Marcus Banks for what was supposed to be the final piece — Shaquille O’Neal. It was hard to see Marion go at the time because I had so much respect for him as a person and as a player. But he had grown tired of hearing his name in trade rumors over the years and even admitted just before the deadline that it was time for him to go. There had been talks of him going to Boston, Los Angeles and even Utah. But in the end after some deep soul searching by then General Manager Steve Kerr and with the blessing of then head coach Mike D’Antoni, the trade to Miami went down.
Phoenix had no interest in giving Marion the 3-year, $60 million extension he wanted. And they desperately wanted to rid themselves of Marcus Banks’ ridiculous contract. Shaq was struggling in Miami, not playing much because of injuries, and some even thought he was tanking it. But the Suns thought a change of scenery would motivate him, which to a certain extent it did. But the trade didn’t bring a championship to Phoenix and Marion’s time in Miami was short lived, as he played parts of two seasons with the Heat before being traded to Toronto for half a season and eventually ending up with the Dallas Mavericks as a free agent in a sign and trade deal following the 2008-09 season.
In Phoenix Marion was a four time All-Star and easily the most versatile player the Suns had. He could guard anyone — point guard, small forwards, power forwards, shooting guards and sometimes even centers. He could guard Baron Davis one night and Dirk Nowitzki the next. He was a great defender, a great rebounder, shot blocker and he came up with a lot of steals with those quick hands and anticipation. He could shoot the three-pointer, run the fast break and score in transition. Sure he had that ugly shot and you never really knew how that jump shot went in, but it did.
In nine years with the Suns the Matrix averaged 18.4 points, 10 rebounds, 1.89 steals, 1.35 blocks. He shot 48.1% from the floor, 34.2% from 3-point range and 82.4% from the free-throw line. When he left he was among the Suns all-time leaders in almost every statistical category — second in minutes played, 3-pointers made, rebounds and steals, third in blocks and fourth in points.
He was a 6-foot-7, 228 pound, jumping machine. My radio partner Mark Asher called him the best re-jumper he had ever seen. Not that re-jumper is a real word, but the Matrix could get up and down and then back up again faster than anyone. Somehow it made sense.
There was always a knock on him that he disappeared in the playoffs which I never bought. Marion had to exert so much energy guarding the opposing team’s best player that he sacrificed some of his offense for his defense. At that time he was really the only Suns player who could play defense so there was a lot on his shoulders. Nonetheless he averaged 17.1 points and 10.9 rebounds in his 65 postseason games with Phoenix.
What he did on the court wasn’t the only reason I was his biggest fan. Marion got my respect by always being at his locker after every game, win or lose. He spoke to the media about the good and the bad. He never once turned down an interview request from me to come on our show. Marion wasn’t the best interview on the team and, at times he struggled with getting his point across, but he never let that hold him back. He wanted to be liked and respected in Phoenix and at the end he wasn’t getting the attention he craved. Some players need it and others don’t, the Matrix was a player that wanted it.
He never felt like ownership and management gave him the credit he deserved and felt more like the third wheel on the team, which in some ways he was behind Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire. But Marion did all the dirty work those players couldn’t do. Phoenix was paying him on a six-year maximum contract, which made him the highest paid Suns player. So in many ways that should have been a sign of respect to him. But he wanted that extension and at the age of 29 he wasn’t going to get it.
The Suns have missed on a lot of draft picks over the years, but they hit the jackpot in 1999 when they made Marion the 9th overall pick in the draft. His career is winding down but I’m glad to see him doing well in Dallas and still playing the game he loves. Some day I hope the Suns organization recognizes him for what he meant to the team.
There is no doubt that Nash and Stoudemire will end up in the ring of honor. It would be a shame if Marion isn’t there with them. He put nine years of his heart and soul into this organization and I for one will never forget what he meant to the team. He was one of a kind. He was my all-time favorite Sun.