2023 Naismith Hall of Fame class has unique connections to Suns

Aug 12, 2023, 8:30 AM

Spurs' Tony Parker drives past Suns' Stephon Marbury...

Tony Parker #9 of the San Antonio Spurs drives past Stephon Marbury #3 of the Phoenix Suns in Game three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at America West Arena on April 25, 2003 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

(Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

Here’s a way to make you feel old. A bunch of NBA players, many of whom had a massive impact on the Phoenix Suns’ success in the late 1990s through the early 2010s, are heading to the 2023 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday.

Let’s spotlight a few of ’em with regards to the Suns.

Dwyane Wade

The Miami Heat legend’s draft class alone has quite a few connections to the Suns if we’re doing a name-that-guy memory exercise.

Phoenix drafted Serbian Zarko Cabarkapa 17th in what ultimately went south. The Suns also traded with the Spurs to grab Leandro Barbosa 28th, and he spent three stints with the team and grew into a fan favorite.

A handful of guys in that amazing draft class that began with LeBron James, Darko Milicic, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Wade played for Phoenix at one point: Mickael Pietrus (11th overall pick), Marcus Banks (13th), Maciej Lampe (30th)

Two guys in that class, Steve Blake and Willie Green, would coach for the Suns.

But the biggest connection was James Jones, the 49th overall draft pick by the Indiana Pacers who eventually played with Phoenix from 2005-07 before entering his post-playing career in the Suns’ front office in 2017.

Jones spent 2008-14 with Wade in Miami, winning titles in 2012, 2013 and 2016 while getting a glimpse of what it took to build and maintain a title contender over a long period of time.

Now the head of basketball operations in Phoenix, he shaped the Suns to the 2021 NBA Finals and with a bit of financial and philosophical empowerment from Phoenix owner Mat Ishbia appears to be keeping his current team in title contention.

Pau Gasol

Gasol had two playoff run-ins with Phoenix in his extensive NBA career. A near connection with Phoenix also brings back “what could’ve been” memories.

It took him three seasons toiling with a trying-to-be-relevant Memphis Grizzlies team to finally reach the postseason. He hit the Western Conference’s best, the San Antonio Spurs, in 2004 before meeting the first iteration of the Seven Seconds or Less Suns in 2005. Both were sweeps to send the Grizzlies home.

A more mature Gasol hit Phoenix again in 2010.

While Phoenix will remember what Ron Artest’s putback that won the Lakers Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, it was Kobe Bryant and Gasol who helped get Los Angeles a 2-0 lead.

Bryant’s 40-piece in Game 1 helped, but Gasol scored 29 and 21 points and led the team with a +41 plus-minus through two games.

Less remembered was that Gasol made his final two All-Star games with the Chicago Bulls in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

Before that, in his final season with the Lakers, the Suns reportedly made a push to trade for him as they got off to a surprising start and won 48 games only to miss the playoffs in 2013-14.

Oh, what could’ve been.

Tony Parker & Gregg Popovich

Suns fans might not realize just how much their team had in building Parker’s career. A French teenager when he joined San Antonio, the point guard was thrown into the fire to start as a rookie.

Marbury averaged 26 points per game over 14 meetings in their first two seasons against one another.

Parker averaged 10.8 points per game in his Marbury matchups through San Antonio’s six-game series versus Phoenix in 2003, a competitive 1-8 matchup that included Marbury’s best moment as a Sun.

Popovich even wanted Parker to take a little bit from Marbury’s game, specifically the floater that allowed the bigger Marbury to attack the paint, according to a story on Mike Wise.

“We wanted him to be a combination of John Stockton and Stephon Marbury, all rolled into one. That’s what I want. I don’t want much. And he told me the other day, when I said that to him, ‘No, no, Pop. I’m Tony Parker.’ That’s the greatest answer he could have given.”

“Yeah, I said that,” Parker said. “He started laughing. I said that because I want to be myself.”

Parker did it a little differently, getting a quick-trigger floater off from basically the floor opposed to Marbury’s style of finding a hole like a running back and then at the top of his jump floating the ball over the top of bigs on the move. Still, it taught Parker the importance of developing an in-between shot.

Popovich himself has an even greater link to Phoenix in the NBA web. Aside from a good joke on Shaquille O’Neal, he was a terror for the Suns.

He went 5-2 in playoff series against Phoenix from 1998-2010.

Dirk Nowitzki

The big man who changed the definitions of a big man split series against the Suns in the playoffs, losing in 2005 and winning in 2006.

He will be presented by two former Suns point guards who also led him during his most successful years: Bestie and two-time MVP Steve Nash, as well as Jason Kidd, who help Nowitzki to his NBA title in 2011.

Also: He and then-Sun Jamal Crawford went out at the end of the 2018-19 season guns blazing, showing their skill level despite their ages: 40 and 39 years old, respectively.

Crawford put up 51 and Nowitzki hit 30 in his second-to-last career game.

2023 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame class

North American Committee

Gene Bess
Presented by Chris Bosh (‘21),
John Calipari (‘15), Roy Williams (‘07)

Pau Gasol
Presented by Toni Kukoč (‘21),
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (’95)

David Hixon
Presented by Jim Calhoun (‘05),
John Calipari (‘15)

Gene Keady
Presented by Jerry Colangelo (‘04),
Tom Izzo (‘16)

Dirk Nowitzki
Presented by Jason Kidd (‘18),
Steve Nash (‘18)

Tony Parker
Presented by Manu Ginobili (‘22),
Tim Duncan (‘20)

Gregg Popovich
Presented by David Robinson (‘09),
Manu Ginobili (‘22), Tim Duncan (‘20),
Tony Parker (‘23)

Dwyane Wade
Presented by Allen Iverson (‘16)

Women’s Committee

Becky Hammon
Presented by Sheryl Swoopes (‘16),
Teresa Weatherspoon (‘19)

Gary Blair
Presented by Teresa Weatherspoon (‘19),
Van Chancellor (‘07)

Contributor Committee

Jim Valvano
Presented by John Calipari (‘15)

Women’s Veterans Committee

1976 US Women’s Olympic Team
Presented by Ann Meyers (’93),
Nancy Lieberman (‘96)

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2023 Naismith Hall of Fame class has unique connections to Suns