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Dan Bickley

Bickley: 3rd time is a charm for Phoenix in NBA Finals; Suns in 5

Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns celebrates a three point basket and drawing the foul with teammates Torrey Craig #12, Deandre Ayton #22, Devin Booker #1 and Jae Crowder #99 during the second half in Game Six of the Western Conference Finals against the LA Clippers at Staples Center on June 30, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The Valley is full of Chicago transplants. Most of us grew up making fun of Milwaukee. Under no circumstances will we ever fear the deer.

Entering the NBA Finals, there is a similar feeling all across Arizona. The Suns are too deep, too good and too connected to be denied by a small-market team from Wisconsin. The Western Conference was our gauntlet and this feels more like a coronation. Especially against a Bucks team that might feature a marginalized Giannis Antetokounmpo.

No disrespect. But the Diamondbacks drew the fabled Yankees in their only World Series appearance, which came shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The Cardinals lost to the Steelers in their only Super Bowl appearance, encountering another storied franchise at the summit. And in two previous NBA Finals, the Suns squared off against the mighty Boston Celtics (1976) and the indomitable Michael Jordan (1993).

The same heat does not come off the Bucks, even with Giannis. Not like our four other major professional title bouts.

There is also a feeling of karmic payback attached to the 2021 postseason, a make-good for all the times the Suns were victims of circumstance: Joe Johnson’s broken orbital bone, Steve Nash’s bloodied nose, Suspensions to Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw; and all the other immovable obstacles that stood in our path, from Jordan to the dynastic Spurs to former NBA Commissioner David Stern.

The Suns have had at least 11 legitimate chances to win an NBA title in their 53-year existence, including five years with Nash and three with Charles Barkley. They’ve never cashed the ticket.

This year feels different. It feels like the 2004 Red Sox, who beat the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, recovering from a 0-3 deficit with an epic backdoor sweep. Bostonians feed on that triumph far more than their subsequent World Series romp over the Cardinals, which was anticlimactic by comparison.

Maybe an active Giannis sharpens the blade. There was a growing feeling on Monday that the Bucks star was pushing for a Game 1 return. I’m guessing it comes later in the series, when the Bucks are on the brink of desperation.

The Suns simply have too much working in their favor. Their best player, Chris Paul, has already plowed through a disabling stinger, COVID-19 and damage to his shooting hand. This is his first chance at the championship ring that has eluded him for the first 16 years in a Hall of Fame career. He’s taking nothing for granted. Sorry, he’s not losing now.

Meanwhile, Devin Booker showed up to Monday’s press conference in a throwback shirt commemorating the 1993 Suns. Booker is an old soul, mature, stoic and deeply respectful of history. He understands this team’s narrative arc and where he will stand once he delivers the missing championship.

The Bucks?

They represent our collective misfortune at its very worst, and it started from the very beginning.

Phoenix and Milwaukee entered the NBA as expansion partners. In their first season, the Suns won 16 games, the Bucks won 27. But NBA rules once dictated that the worst teams in each division toss a coin for the first overall pick.

A three-way phone call commenced. Suns President Richard Bloch called “heads,” on behalf of the majority of Suns fans who voted in a local newspaper poll. In retrospect, that was a brilliant move from the young franchise, farming out a ginormous decision and removing themselves from all culpability.

In New York, NBA Commissioner J. Walter Kennedy flipped a 1964 John F. Kennedy half-dollar into the air. He caught the coin with the same hand. It was heads. Then he turned the coin over on the back of his left hand, and announced that “the coin has come up tails.”

Legend has it, Bloch muttered something and hung up the phone. Colangelo jumped in his car and drove around for hours, trying to shake off the misery.

Instead, the bad luck lasted for over five decades.

It all ends now.

Suns in five.

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