EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns’ open practice draws terrific turnout north of 10,000 fans

Oct 1, 2022, 3:00 PM

(Twitter photo/@LWashingtonTV)...

(Twitter photo/@LWashingtonTV)

(Twitter photo/@LWashingtonTV)

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns’ open practice at Footprint Center on Saturday drew north of 10,000 fans, an indicator of the team’s high-level continuity also being a thing with its fanbase.

By the time the practice got underway early in the afternoon, the fans still getting in would be lucky to find any seats available in the lower bowl. A few had to settle for the upper deck.

“I remember the first year we may not have had that many fans in the stand for a game and now we have high expectations with a great fanbase riding with us and that’s pretty cool,” head coach Monty Williams said Saturday.

The sense of stability that Williams and general manager James Jones have established is something you can notice with the fanbase now. When players were just walking out onto the practice court without introductions or anything, there were loud cheers for the majority of them, ranging from Devin Booker and Chris Paul to Cam Payne and Dario Saric. Even Bismack Biyombo, who was a midseason addition last year, drew a strong reaction upon his arrival.

Williams said this summer he really started to notice it once he got out of the city. He spent some time up in Flagstaff and got recognized everywhere he went.

“I’m blown away at the Suns fans who are around the world, in particular around the country who walk up to me and want to talk about the team,” Williams said. “Here at home, we certainly have a huge connection with our fans and that was evident this summer. Even after a tough loss, just having foundational fans who have been here from the beginning walk up to me and thank me and thank the players for what we’re trying to do — that says a lot.”

It has emphasized to Williams even more how much of a basketball city Phoenix can be.

“I talk about Phoenix everywhere I go,” he said. “I don’t understand why we haven’t been spoken of as a flagship organization, fanbase and city just based on the quality of life here but now the basketball team is something that we feel like adds to that and we saw that today.”

Fan favorite and backup point guard Cam Payne said it’s cool for fans to see who he actually is.

Payne is a very energetic guy and loves to dance. He will do so often, whether it’s pregame, on the bench or after practice. It should be viewed as nothing but a positive. Early in his career when he was with the Oklahoma City Thunder, some of Payne’s pregame dance routines with former teammate Russell Westbrook went viral.

Payne said that led to some misconceptions about him, including that he doesn’t work hard and isn’t taking basketball seriously.

As Suns fans have come to know about Payne since he joined the team in the bubble back in 2020, he’s an extremely hard worker that is quite serious about his craft. You’ll remember the various times he filled in for Chris Paul as a starter the last two years and how much of a stickler Payne would be for just two or three turnovers when talking postgame, knowing the high standard Paul holds up in that specific category.

“I feel like basketball should be fun, even though this my job, so I carry that same energy on the court,” Payne said.

These Suns fans know that.

“The fans — that’s like the fam,” Payne said.

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