With the Los Angeles Lakers in town to take on the Phoenix Suns, fans and media are talking about their favorite memories between the two teams. While it’s always interesting to hear their opinions, we decided to go straight to the source and talk to some of the people within the organization who have experienced the rivalry first hand.
Mark West, Phoenix Suns Center 1988-94, Vice President, Player Programs
“I would say I have two moments that come to mind concerning playing the Lakers. The first was in the 89-90 season, when the Suns defeated the Lakers in a playoff series for the first time in franchise history, and the second was coming from behind to win the series in the 92-93 playoffs.
As a player you want to play the best teams for the highest stakes, and for many years the Lakers have been seen as one of the best teams in the league, and at times a great team. The Suns have also been one of the best teams in the league over the years, and although beating the Lakers helps in the pursuit of being among the best teams, it is only one step in achieving the goal of becoming a great team and winning a championship.”
Tom Leander, Suns Broadcaster
“I have to go with ’93 first round against the Lakers. After staging a “mini-camp” in Prescott, the Suns lose the first 2 in the best of 5 at home. Paul Westphal issues the prophetic prediction “We will win Game 3, then Game 4, come back to Phoenix and win Game 5 and everyone will say what a great series it was.” And sure enough it happened. I remember Oliver Miller having a” Big O” role in the 5th game. That comeback led to Barkley’s game-winner to close out Hemisphere Arena in San Antonio in the next round, a dramatic 7 game series with the Sonics and the march to The Finals against the Bulls. That was the height of Suns-mania with Barkley named MVP and the parade in downtown. It all started with that epic comeback against the Lakers and Westy’s fearless prediction.
My second favorite is Game 6 of the ’06 playoffs. Raja [Bell] was suspended for clotheslining Kobe, and he had to watch the game from a local, L.A. pub. Tim Thomas stroked the clutch threes and I was able to witness the ensuing celebration in the locker room and then on the tarmac when Raja greeted the team. It was priceless! Just days earlier, Mike D’Antoni was bemoaning to our broadcasting crew the fact this Suns team was too soft and he would have to go out and find some “tough guys.” Mike had basically counted his team out. That was after the Suns were down 3-1 in the series. But then the toughness came out of players like Barbosa and Diaw. The series clinching blowout in Game 7(by 31pts)and the three consecutive wins were made all the sweeter as the Suns accomplished this without Amare who missed the season following microfracture surgery.”
Bob Adlhoch, Producer/Director Suns Television, lifelong Suns fan
“Having watched the Suns since the 1976 Finals (at Smitty’s with my dad watching the 3 OT game), I’ve seen a lot of Suns – Lakers games and playoff series. After having been knocked out of the playoffs by LA 4 times in the 80s, the Western Conference Semifinal win in 1990 was very memorable and satisfying. Mark West was a monster defensively and on the boards in that series. West had 15+ rebounds in 3 of the 5 games – including the series clinching win in Los Angeles.
But my favorite playoff series between the 2 rivals was in 2006. The final 3 games of that series could be summed up with one memorable event from each: Raja Bell’s closelining of Kobe Bryant in game 5 (that got him suspended for game 6), Tim Thomas’ huge 3-PT shot to send game 6 into OT (although the Lakers still had one possession but Shawn Marion shut down Kobe on it), and Kobe’s quitting on his team in the game 7 blowout loss to the Suns. There were so many other storylines from that series: the Kobe/Bell feud that had been brewing since the regular season (“I don’t know this kid” and “maybe he needs a hug”), the Suns success after having lost Amar’e for the season due to microfracture surgery, even Bill Walton calling games for ESPN that his son Luke was participating in was a story. Raja Bell running down the steps of the plane to meet our team bus at LAX after the game 6 win is an indelible memory. It was as if we’d already won game 7 knowing Raja would play and the game would be in front of a raucous crowd in Phoenix. The classic end of this series was the passing of Kobe Bryant and Raja Bell’s mom in the US Airways Center hallway after game 7 when she said to him “aw, Kobe, do you need a hug?” Classic.”