Originally published in SLAM 108
The 6th Man: Full-time members of the SLAM staff have long had a hard time getting to Nets home games during the week because of the hassles involved in reaching the Meadowlands from our office at rush hour, but we will still make the trek for a worthwhile opponent. For the past few seasons, I’ve considered the Suns annual visit as worthwhile as it can get. After all, the thinking goes, you never know when the Suns might blow up for 150.
Ironically, when the Suns visited Jersey in ’05-06—with me watching from the press section—they barely reached half that magical number. Instead, struggling to work Amare Stoudemire back into their lineup, the Suns got absolutely embarrassed by the Nets, 110-72, by far Phoenix’s worst loss and lowest point output of the season. That game, on March 27 of ’06, represented the last game of Amare’s season, as the team decided afterward that they—and he—would be better off with him rehabbing his knee injury than gumming up their free-flowing offense. The Suns still went on to win 54 games, but there was always a sense that they couldn’t win it all without Amare to bang inside.
This season, the Suns visit to the swamp came in December. Lang and I dutifully trekked out there hoping for some fireworks we felt were almost owed to us given the previous season’s Suns-Nets debacle. Well, we got pyrotechnics to spare. The two teams treated us to the most exciting regular season game I’ve ever seen in person, a 161-157 double-overtime thriller that showed the Suns at their very best. Steve Nash had 42 points and 14 assists; Shawn Marion had 33 points; Amare hit 9 of 13 from the floor for an efficient 23 points before fouling out. I had a sore jaw from dropping it so often. The Nets played their asses off that night, but Nash and crew had an answer for everything.
I hardly needed convincing that the Suns were a team worth celebrating on the cover of SLAM, but that night was the final proof. Sitting just four rows from the court—about 20 feet behind the photographer who took the above shot—while the Nash/Marion/Amare triumvirate led the Suns past the buck-60 mark burned them in my brain as a cover. The Suns still may not be able to get past Dallas (see page 88 to see our staff’s early picks for who is gonna win it all), but they have once again been the NBA’s most entertaining team, and that is something that deserves our celebration. The cover didn’t come sooner because Melo and Bron were already in the works and then there was no way we weren’t honoring AI in a new uniform, but to those of you who think we’ve been sleepin’ on the Suns, trust: They’ve been on the cover in my mind since last December.
Now that image can be in your mind, too.