PHOENIX – Steak 44 rolled out the orange carpet for the Phoenix Suns organization Monday to raise money for Phoenix Suns Charities with former and current players in attendance.
The evening affair featured a cocktail hour, dinner at the restaurant and a chance to bid on Suns memorabilia, including autographed Chris Paul and Devin Booker jerseys.
It also provided an opportunity to reflect and celebrate on the 30th anniversary of the 1993 team that boasted an NBA- and a franchise-best 62-20 regular-season record (since surpassed by the 2021-22 Suns team), while topping the league in points per game (113.4).
That season, Charles Barkley won his lone MVP award, Dan Majerle earned an All-Star selection, along with Barkley, and Danny Ainge and Tom Chambers finished top five in Sixth Man of the Year Award voting. Off the court, former team owner and general manager Jerry Colangelo was named the NBA’s Executive of the Year.
Suns-mania was in full swing.
“I would go to a restaurant and never had to pay for anything,” said former Suns guard Negele Knight. “You got the fans, you got pictures all around, so all of that was going on.”
“It’s special,” said Oliver Miller, a first-round draft pick and backup center on the 1993 team. “It was my rookie season and being able to go to the Finals was a blessing, especially to be able to share the opportunity with these guys was great.”
The Suns battled the mighty Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls, but John Paxson hit the championship-winning 3-pointer in Game 6 to leave Suns players and fans alike wondering how he was left open. The franchise has made only one NBA Finals appearance since and remains without a championship after losing to the Milwaukee Bucks in six games in 2021.
“(Suns fans) are awesome, and they deserve a championship at some point,” Knight said.
Monday’s dinner event was organized by Phoenix Suns Charities, which has raised $35 million for nonprofit organizations in Arizona dedicated to basketball and recreation, education, career development and healthcare. In giving back, Phoenix Suns Charities positively impacts about 400,000 children each year.
“It means the world,” said Mark West, a center for the 1993 team who now serves as a Charities Ambassador for the Suns. “People all look for their purpose in life, and I think that purpose is helping somebody else and having the world be a little bit better when you leave than when you came in.”
Added guard Landry Shamet: “It’s cool to do anything in the spirit of giving back and helping the community who shows up and supports you every day. For us to be in a position to bring light and give back a little bit, it’s really cool.”
Last Saturday, the 1993 team reunited for a 30th-anniversary celebration at Footprint Center during halftime of a 112-107 win over the Indiana Pacers. Attendees included Barkley, Chambers, Miller, Knight, West, Cedric Ceballos, Kevin Johnson and Richard Dumas.
The energy of the crowd ignited the same competitive spark that inspired the players to play professionally in the first place.
“When we walked onto the court I got that feeling like, ‘Where’s my uniform?’” Knight said. “I didn’t expect people to remember me so I appreciated that.”
“I wanted to put a uniform on and go back out there again on the court and see what we had,” Dumas agreed.
The 1993 team won the war of attrition with an abundance of able-bodied players. The 2022-23 Suns roster, however, has been debilitated by injuries to the team’s biggest stars. Devin Booker is reportedly expected to sit out at least another week with a groin strain. Chris Paul and Cameron Johnson recently returned from extended absences to help Phoenix string together five straight wins before the streak was snapped Thursday in a 99-95 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
“When we’re a full roster and a full team, we’re really dangerous,” said current two-way player Duane Washington Jr. “So for us, keep adding these days together, guys getting back together, getting healthy, and nothing but greatness is on the way.”
Eddie Johnson, a color analyst for the Suns who played for Phoenix from 1987-90, echoed Washington’s sentiment.
“This team is dealing with something they haven’t dealt with the last few years, and that’s injury,” Johnson said. “So now they’ve run the full gamut of how difficult it is to get to the promised land. We have a tremendous team right now that I believe, once we get healthy, can make another run to the finals.”
“If they’re healthy, they’re going to be just fine,” West added.
And maybe the Suns can accomplish something the 1993 team couldn’t – winning the championship.