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Dan Bickley

Next promising Suns era arrives in basketball city of Phoenix

(AP Photo/Matt York)

Football towns take pride in their toughness. They wear short sleeves in the winter. They hew and slog through life’s grand brutality.

Baseball towns are pastoral and communal. More reflective and cerebral. They need a reminder to get up and stretch.

Great NBA cities?

Well, that’s us.

Great NBA cities are vanity-driven and celebrity-obsessed. It matters who is sitting courtside. People-watching is the game within the game, and sizzling NBA franchises are often defined by their most famous fans.

The Lakers had Jack Nicholson. The Raptors have Drake. Somewhere down the road, if this all works out, Suns games will surely feature Kendall Jenner at courtside.

Point is, we are a basketball town first, and not just because the Suns are our first major professional franchise, where roots actually grow deep.

We are a basketball town first because the culture of the sport fits our soul and tickles our fancy. Players are their own individual brands. They are young, rich and famous. You know what they look like because NBA players don’t wear helmets, shields, caps or other forms of headwear in competition. And those butterflies we’re feeling?

After a lost decade, the Suns have finally made their move. Robert Sarver didn’t balk at paying over $85 million for two years of Chris Paul. James Jones filled the roster with winning, experienced, high-character players.

The Suns can overwhelm you with shooters. They can overwhelm you with defenders. They can do both at the same time. After so many whiffs and so much misfit, miscreant basketball, this team looks wonderfully coherent on paper. Here’s how you know our region is crackling with excitement:

Former star Kelly Oubre Jr. was highly critical of Sarver during a recent Bay area radio appearance. In response, a surprising number of Suns fans were quick to lash out at the departed player, despite his immense popularity.

We are fully aware that now is not the time to criticize our much-maligned owner.

This kind of electricity happened with the arrival of Charles Barkley in 1992-93. It happened with the return of Steve Nash in 2004, when so much energy surrounded the team that a young Kim Kardashian was known to be a frequent arena visitor.

It’s happening now, with a starting lineup that will likely feature Paul, Devin Booker, Jae Crowder, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges. With a team that might be a top 4 seed in the Western Conference, a team that is deeper than most in the NBA. And those butterflies we’re all feeling?

It feels like we’re on the verge of another love affair.

Moments like these confirm an essential truth in the Valley: We are eternally wed to the Suns. They’ve been around for 52 years. They are our first love. They played for championships in 1976 and 1993. They started the run-and-gun, three-point shooting revolution in the NBA. They were a small-market jewel for most of their existence, compiling the fourth-best winning percentage in the NBA over their first 40 years of existence.

That has been squandered under Sarver’s reign of error. But now he’s taking bold steps, going places he’s never gone before. And Jones is gaining major respect as the team-builder we so badly needed in these parts.

With all due respect to the NFL and the recent success of the Cardinals, Valley icon Jerry Colangelo once predicted the Suns would reclaim the Valley and their lost throne the moment they rediscovered a championship contender.

There is just something special about the NBA’s place in the Valley. It works on the superficial level, from the status and swag and pretty people that come out on game night in downtown Phoenix. It also works on a much deeper level.

Your grandparents remember Walter Davis and all the pioneering Suns. The next generation still debates who was more valuable, Charles Barkley or Steve Nash. And if you are a young basketball fan in the Valley who has grown up loving Devin Booker, this is your time. A time to raise your hopes, your dreams and your standards. This is your first big ride.

Maybe we’ll all get lucky this time.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.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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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 AZCentral.com 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 ArizonaSports.com.
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