‘This is a Suns town’: As team embarks on Game 2, it remains atop Phoenix sports hierarchy

The excitement of the Phoenix Suns returning to the playoffs has reignited fan passion in the community. The team has had the longest tenure in Arizona among the major professional sports teams. (Photo courtesy of PhoenixSunsArena.com)

The palpable excitement surrounding Game 2 of tonight’s Western Conference playoff series confirms what this community has long believed.

This is a Phoenix Suns town.

Despite the Arizona Diamondbacks winning a World Series in 2001 and the Arizona Cardinals advancing to the Super Bowl in 2009, it is the Suns who have the deepest connection with sports fans in the state. A crowd of approximately 12,000 is expected for tonight’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns Arena.

“My dad’s mood was based on if the Suns won or lost,” said longtime fan Brian Gleason, 43, of Phoenix. “We would drive around in our car listening to games until they were over. To feel this excitement again is awesome.”

The Phoenix Suns were the first professional sports team in the state of Arizona, originating in 1968, and were the only professional team until the Roadrunners came into town as part of the World Hockey Association in 1974. Once they left in 1977, the Suns were once again the only pro sports team until the Cardinals moved from St.Louis to Phoenix in 1988.

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An allegiance and loyalty to the Suns is unique because of their 53-year history, with many fans having lived the ups and downs of the organization.

“This is a basketball town. This is a Suns town. No disrespect to anybody else, but we were here first,” former Suns player Charles Barkley said in a hype video the team released Wednesday. “It’s time to get to work and rally the Valley.”

The organization is used to winning, having the seventh-best winning percentage in NBA history. They advanced to the finals twice in 1976 and 1993, losing both times. NBA Hall of Famer Barkley helped develop Phoenix into a basketball town by being right in the middle of a franchise best 13 consecutive years of making the playoffs. Not advancing to the postseason in the last 10 has been odd for fans, with the Suns finishing last in the Western Conference four times, compiling a (.384 win percentage) over the last decade.

The Suns opened their postseason against the defending champion Lakers, winning 99-90.

The atmosphere was highly charged Sunday with the Suns allowing over 10,000 fans into the arena for the first time all season and was a contributing factor in the Suns’ home court advantage, something the pandemic took away during the past year. Capacity will be increased to 16,000 for the next home game, the team announced today.

“It felt great from pregame on. You can feel that energy and I think that’s what we needed,” said guard Devin Booker, who finished with a game-high 34 points, which was the most a Suns player has scored in a playoff debut.

The electricity of the fans gave some of the younger players an idea how much the Suns mean to the city.

“That’s the most intense game I’ve ever played in my life,” said Deandre Ayton, who recorded a double-double with 21 points on 10-of-11 shooting with a game-high 16 rebounds. “I was just quiet the whole time trying to play hard. I was just really embracing everything that was going on. That was a concert, that was a concert.”

The support and energy from fans was something that moved even the most experienced personnel.

“When I came out and saw that many people and heard the noise, I was like holy smokes this is pretty cool,” said second-year coach Monty Williams, who earned his first playoff win with the Suns. “I had to get myself under control emotionally because I haven’t been in that environment in a long time.”

Joey Serrano joh-ee sai-rahn-noh
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Joey Serrano expects to graduate in August 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Serrano has interned at East Village Times.