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Dan Bickley

Suns’ Devin Booker cemented as NBA superstar following game-winner

(Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)

Basketball stars are more than athletes. They’re icons. They’re adrenaline junkies. They’re Broadway performers. They crave high altitudes and big stages.

Shame on the Suns for not providing more for Devin Booker in the past.

Or maybe the NBA’s next superstar is arriving on schedule, right on time, and not a moment too soon.

Booker’s game-winning shot against the Clippers was the first time in four months that sports transcended real-life struggles in Arizona, providing hope and goosebumps and tears of joy. It gave Valley residents a rare moment of exaltation. It provided the basketball world with a powerful statement. It vaulted the Suns into actual playoff contention inside the Disney World Bubble.

It was confirmation of Booker’s pedigree, his destiny and proof of what Ryan McDonough told me long ago:

“No matter what else happens, at least I can say I drafted Devin Booker.”

Thank you, Ryan. You lost some battles. You were given unwanted goats. But you might’ve won the war, the only one that really mattered, providing an NBA team with a homegrown franchise player.

In the NBA, nothing else really matters.

We have all seen Booker scale smaller mountains in the past. The 70-point game in Boston. His performances in Mexico City during the league’s global initiative. The night he took a torch from Lakers star Kobe Bryant, in their final night sharing a basketball court. This was the biggest shot of his career, a shot with huge implications and zero fans in attendance.

Kobe would’ve loved the Mamba mentality of Booker’s game-winner on Tuesday. It came in the first truly meaningful game the Suns had played in six years — since fighting and losing their grip for a playoff spot under rookie head coach Jeff Hornacek.

Deandre Ayton helped early, then disappeared. He needs to be so much better. Or maybe he was put on this planet to drive me insane.

Mikal Bridges made a big play at the end of the game, but he let Kawhi Leonard lead the Clippers comeback too quickly and too easily, steamrolling Bridges on nearly every end-game possession.

But Ricky Rubio was rock solid. So was Dario Saric. Cam Johnson struggled but never shrunk inside the moment. And that was enough for Booker, as it would be for any future NBA MVP.

That’s why this moment was so important. It filled Arizona with pride but spoke to something much bigger, a moment of gravitas that seemed to fill the horizon. It was the Suns’ past and their future coming together in the present.

Booker’s shot was breathtaking from all angles: fundamentally perfect, fighting off double teams, pivoting to create space, using his left hand to disable a great defender, using his right hand to launch the biggest shot in his NBA career. You could almost hear the Valley scream in joy.

Oh, how we’ve missed the rush of meaningful basketball games.

Better yet, if Booker is anything like Michael Jordan, and there are some legitimate comparisons, then this game-winner will spawn dozens more in the near future. Because that’s how it works with iconic NBA players who run on a different kind of fuel.

This was the beginning of Devin Booker, superstar. In Orlando and beyond.

Reach Bickley at 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 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
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