May 25 - May 31, 1995

B y  T o m  D a n e h y

[Danehy]SEVEN THINGS I'VE learned from the Phoenix Suns' latest playoff debacle.

1. As I get older, the successes and failures of sports teams that I follow take on a greater meaning for me.

This is bizarre on the surface. I don't play as often (or even remotely as well) as I used to, but that really doesn't bother me. I still compete as hard as ever, and (as always) when the game is over, it's over.

But watching sports is becoming a gut-wrenching experience. Things I used to shrug off nag at me nowadays. Watching the Suns blow Game 5 at home was actually painful. I came as close as I've come in years to getting a headache.

Watching the final game was even worse. The Suns blew out to a big lead, maintained it at the half, then had the chance to blow it open with Hakeem on the bench and a bunch of stiffs on the floor for Houston. But instead of blowing it open, they blew the lead, the game and the series.

The Suns actually didn't play a bad game, overall. They played hard most of the way and scrapped until the very end. When I was younger, I would be able to blow it off. Now I don't.

Thus far, that--and nose hair--are the two worst things about getting older.

2. I should know better by now.

I grew up in the '60s with the Los Angeles Lakers, who reached the NBA Finals seven times in nine years and somehow managed to lose all seven times. That's the sports fan version of being a Boy Named Sue. You learn to handle adversity. This Suns stuff should be easy to take, but it ain't.

3. Bill Walton sucks.

As a player, Bill Walton was one of my favorites. I think he was the best college center ever, even better than Kareem.

But as an announcer, he bites. He's like that character Bruno Kirby played in Good Morning, Vietnam. He sucks the sweat off a dead man's--well you know.

Late in Game 7, Kevin Johnson was abusing the Houston guards, taking them to the hole every time. And every time he's getting hammered. And as often happens at that stage of an NBA game, the refs put their whistles in their pockets.

Walton starts going on about, "Yeah, this is good. No calls. Let the players decide the game."

What if the players that are deciding the game are some sorry dogs who can't play any defense and so they foul all the damn time? Should that be the determining factor in the game? And what, do the refs have some work slowdown thing going? They're only going to call 43 minutes of the game and let the last five minutes go? That's weak, and it's even weaker for Walton to defend it.

I'm not saying that the refs determined the outcome; I'm sure the Suns could have found any number of ways to blow that game. I just don't like Walton trying to make a name for himself by being really outspoken when 90 percent of his outspokenness is just plain stupid.

4. Gun nuts (and the media folks who cover them) don't seem to like basketball.

I was watching Game 7 at the NRA Convention in Phoenix and for long stretches of time, I had the TV to myself. One guy walked by and asked, "What's that?"

"It's basketball," I answered. "You wanna watch it?"

"Naw, ain't nobody bleedin'."

Honestly, more people watched the Preakness horse race on the other TV than watched the Suns. Maybe they were hoping for a crash.

5. I reeeeeeealllly hope Charles Barkley doesn't retire.

In all my years of watching the NBA, I've only had three guys who were my "favorite" players during their careers: Jerry West, Magic Johnson and now Barkley.

Charles Barkley deserves a championship. He plays hard every minute that he's on the court. He doesn't have the skills and physical stature that others in the league have, but he overcomes adversity. Despite his protests to the contrary, kids should look up to him, not for what he says, but rather for how he plays.

I hope he gets over the bitterness and makes one last run at a title. He deserves it and frankly, so do I.

6. The Suns have the whitest crowd in America.

I've got nothing against white people. My mother was white. She still is, for that matter. It's just that after the game got over, I walked over from the Phoenix Civic Plaza to America West and watched the crowd come out. It looked like a reunion of every person who's ever been in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

7. Things could be worse.

Ah, the healing process begins. It's tough watching your favorite team lose in the playoffs every year. But then again, we could all be Minnesota Timberwolves fans. In Minnesota, it's a misdemeanor to say the words "NBA" and "playoffs" in the same sentence.

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May 25 - May 31, 1995

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