PHOENIX – The Phoenix Suns, long hidden in the shadow of the more glamorous, star-studded Lakers, are having their Hollywood moment.
The Suns are led by Devin Booker, a dynamic guard who combines creative shot-making with a low-key, old-school edge. The flashiest thing about Booker might be his celebrity girlfriend, model and socialite Kendall Jenner of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” fame.
“Too blessed to be stressed,” Booker said in January following a Suns victory over Detroit, perhaps best capturing his even-keeled approach.
With Booker rising to All-Star status, the addition of playmaking guard Chris Paul, an unexpected surge to the NBA Finals last season and the league’s best record this season, the Suns are getting national attention.
And that includes attention from some celebrities such as Academy Award-winning actress Emma Stone, who grew up in Phoenix and has described herself as a “next-level Phoenix Suns fan,” and actor Jesse Eisenberg, who isn’t from Phoenix but did grow up idolizing former Suns star Dan Majerle and became a Suns fan because of him.
Through the years, the Suns have attracted celebrity fans such as comic David Spade, golfer Phil Mickelson – who even married a former Suns dancer – and rocker Alice Cooper. Athletes such as the late Muhammad Ali, former Diamondbacks pitcher Randy Johnson and retired Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who is now a minority owner of the team, also have been regulars through the years.
The late Sen. John McCain was another familiar face in the floor seats at what is now the Footprint Center, and former presidents George W. Bush and George H. W. Bush occasionally sat courtside when Jerry Colangelo owned the team.
For most of the team’s history, celebrities have been nearby. The original ownership group that bought the Suns as an NBA expansion team even included several entertainers, singers Andy Williams and Bobbie Gentry and actor Ed Ames.
But even during the team’s lean times, which included an 11-year playoff drought that was broken last season, some of their celebrity fans have stuck with them.
That includes Hollywood producer and screenwriter, Rhett Reese, whose projects have included “Deadpool,” “Deadpool 2,” “Zombieland,” “Zombieland: Double Tap” and “Life.”
Reese met his co-writer Paul Wernick when they were attending Phoenix Country Day School, and both have been Suns fans since they were young.
Of course, Reese’s screenwriting entails putting all the pieces together to create a magical movie, so he especially appreciates how the Suns have assembled a team that produces magical entertainment night after night.
“The guys enjoy each other,” Reese said. “They are selfless and they put the team ahead of themselves. And I think that’s a credit to Devin Booker for being a leader, Chris Paul for being a mentor and the young guys for allowing the leaders to lead.”
Reese was introduced to the Suns after moving to Phoenix during the mid-1980s as a fifth-grader. It allowed him to live out some of the biggest moments in Suns history.
But Reese sees something different about this new era of the Suns.
He believes that the chemistry of the Suns is what makes them special, and this edition of the Suns is unique because the players have bought into what coach Monty Williams is preaching at both ends of the floor.
“We’ve always had teams who just looked to outscore the opponents,” Reese said. “This team is great offensively and defensively. They’ve got a scrappiness and a hustle on defense that we have never seen before.”
The Suns also have their long-time loyal fans like Andrew Lozoya, whose “celebrity” status is strictly as a voice on social media. Using the Twitter handle @AndrewLeezus, Lozoya has a following that rivals some players.
And he’s excited to see his favorite team getting the attention he’s always thought it deserved. The Suns definitely had his attention, even during the recent lean years.
“I’d watch every single minute of the game, because I thought it was something that was really cool,” Lozoya said. “I really believed in what the Suns were building and as soon as the Suns got Devin Booker I knew he was the truth.”
Lozoya looks back on the losing seasons with a positive light. He would live tweet many of the games, eventually gaining a following from Suns fans around the world.
Lozoya believes it was the change in leadership and culture from Williams that took the organization to the next level after then-new General Manager James Jones hired him before the 2019-20 season.
“Hiring Monty was huge because, (he is) a coach who is going to get players to completely buy into their message,” Lozoya said. “And I think the city knew that (Williams) was a believer when he chose Phoenix over Los Angeles.
“He saw something special in the Suns when he decided to come here.”
The Suns were 26-34 when Williams’ first season with the team was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. When the season resumed in the so-called “Orlando Bubble,” the Suns went 8-0 against teams battling for playoff positions. It wasn’t enough to get Phoenix into the postseason, but it was enough to convince Chris Paul that the Suns were building something he wanted to join.
Paul had played one season for Williams in New Orleans, and the two had occasionally butted heads. But 10 years later in Phoenix, both had grown. And Paul saw qualities in Williams that he hadn’t seen before.
“He commands respect, not just the way he coaches but the way he carries himself,” Paul said. “And having a relationship with Booker, (former assistant coach) Willie Green and James Jones, it’s sort of new.”
With Paul at the point, the Suns made it to the 2021 NBA Finals, their first appearance in the championship series since 1993 and the third in franchise history. They fell to Milwaukee in the Finals and are yet to win a championship.
Now – if their stars align – they’re poised to make another run.