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Dan Bickley

In year 17, Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver is rewriting his own legacy

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 08: Owner Robert Sarver of the Phoenix Suns attends the NBA game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Phoenix Suns Arena on February 08, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Robert Sarver has paid through the nose for his NBA education. He has learned that professional basketball is a men’s league. Futility is a timeline and a roster full of young players. Experience matters when it comes to positions of leadership, that cost and controllability are fool’s gold and a meddler’s blind spot.

He has learned that 11-year playoff droughts can do serious damage to an owner’s reputation.

Now comes the hard part.

Getting to the very top of the mountain. Paying the price to keep a good thing going.

That will require massive contracts for Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton. And if Chris Paul feels obliged to finish what he started in Phoenix, it likely means a three-year deal and another $90 million. For a 36-year old point guard with heavy miles.

It’s exactly the kind of value proposition that would’ve made a lesser Sarver nervous and agitated, like the gut-check decision he once faced with Amar’e Stoudemire.

To win a championship, you need more than a banker and more than a businessman. You need a real sportsman to write irrational checks without recoil, someone deeply committed to a victory parade.

But those are issues for later. This is a time of gratitude.

For Monty Williams, who decided to coach the Suns and not the Lakers. Williams is a true servant leader. He oozes with NBA Zen, the most since Phil Jackson lit incense, practiced yoga and went by the nickname, “Big Chief Triangle.”

There was also a time when Valley fans had reason to be skeptical of James Jones. For wasting minor assets. For not flooding gyms and scouting in traditional ways. For the trade debacle with Memphis. But Jones understood the bigger picture. Namely, what kind of workplace vibe works best with players, what they want, need and loathe in upper management. He convinced Williams, Paul and Jae Crowder to commit to a reclamation project. He convinced Sarver to pay each of them and, by all appearances, to play by new rules.

The latter can’t be understated. But Sarver also deserves credit.

Put your ear to the ground on Planet Orange, and there are still sounds of conflict. I’m hearing a good chunk of minority owners want to cash out, some of whom believe Sarver was going to steward the Suns for about a decade before flipping the franchise for profit, running it like a business every step of the way.

In year 17, Sarver is now running the Suns like a man who wants to claim a new legacy in Arizona, polishing up the family crest like Michael Bidwill did for his surname. He sounds like an owner who is relieved and unburdened from an 11-year playoff drought, a man who really wants to win.

At all costs?

We’re going to find out. Because that’s the going rate for a championship parade.

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