Bickley: What’s in a number? Valley about to find out

Aug 6, 2019, 6:03 PM | Updated: Aug 8, 2019, 1:33 pm
Kyler Murray (left). (Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports). Devin Booker (right). (AP Photo/Matt York)...
Kyler Murray (left). (Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports). Devin Booker (right). (AP Photo/Matt York)
(AP Photo/Matt York)

It takes a special player to wear No. 1. It requires audacity, ambition, a touch of narcissism.

It requires someone who doesn’t care or doesn’t notice the target they place on their backs.

Kyler Murray wears No. 1. So does Devin Booker. They are our twin pillars, representing our future and our evolution as a nascent sports town. It’s a long way from when Steve Nash and Kurt Warner wore No. 13, the latter defying the kingdom of athletes sworn to superstition.

Murray and Booker are the opposite, homegrown talent defying our low ceiling and our championship drought.

Booker has proven to be worthy. He has a 70-point game and a 59-point performance. He won a 3-point shooting contest at the NBA All-Star Game. He’s 22 years old and averaged nearly 27 points per game in his fourth season for a 19-win team.

He’s not a top 10 player yet. But most everyone believes Booker’s ascension is inevitable. The No. 1 seems to fit him better than it did Penny Hardaway when he joined the Suns in 1999. Or the two other players who also wore No. 1 for the Suns in 2015 (Goran Dragic, A.J. Price), before Booker took over.

Murray is another story. He is only the third Cardinals player to wear the No. 1, following a pair of kickers: Neil Rackers, notorious for kicking six field goals in Mexico City; and Cedric Oglesby, who took over after Billy Gramatica blew out his knee celebrating a routine kick.

Murray is also 5-10 1/8. He’s been among the smallest players on the field in every game he’s played. He’s not a physical specimen like former Heisman Trophy winner, NFL MVP and Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who also pretends to wear an ‘S’ on his chest.

For Murray to wear a number so unavoidable and undeniable is a testament to his fearless nature, and somehow means even more.

“It’s fun to watch, his approach to the game, his competitiveness,” Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “He wants to be great. He wants to make the perfect throw. As a coach, what else can you ask for?”

There have been some notable No. 1’s in the history of the Valley’s major professional sports teams. Amar’e Stoudemire wore No. 1, but only after switching from No. 32 post-knee surgery. Sean Burke wore No. 1 while serving as a star goaltender for the Coyotes, just one of eight NHL players to wear the number in Arizona.

There have also been some strange representatives, including Paris Duffus, who played one game for the Coyotes in 1997 in their inaugural season in the Valley. Or Yuta Tabuse, who wore the number for the Suns, becoming the first Japanese player in the NBA, lasting four games before succumbing to his diminutive size (5-foot-8).

Murray is fighting a similar battle. But he’s different. He’s worn No. 1 all the way back to his 43-game winning streak at Allen High School in Texas. The number is his fight song, part of his charm, and with any luck, part of our renaissance.

From Robert Sarver’s foam finger to the sole major professional championship trophy captured by the Diamondbacks 18 years ago, the Valley has an awkward relationship with the No. 1. Of the 28 men who have worn the number, none have won a championship in Arizona.

It’s about time for that to change.

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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