It’s been precisely three decades since one of the most memorable turnarounds for one team in NBA history.
The architect of the 1988-89 Phoenix Suns turnaround was Jerry Colangelo, who today serves as a special advisor to the Philadelphia 76ers.
After Suns posted 28-55 record in 1987-88, missing to make the NBA playoff from 1985 through 1988, and just after a drug scandal which involved a number of Suns players, Colangelo put together a group of investors which would take over the NBA franchise from Arizona in late 1987.
Their first major move in the player personnel department was bringing an explosive point guard Kevin Johnson, who saw limited playing time with the Cleveland Cavaliers, with Mark Price making the most of his opportunity to shine.
Another huge boost for head coach Cotton Fitzsimmons was the signing of Tom Chambers, power forward who was the MVP of the 1987 NBA All-Star Game in Seattle. With Johnson, Chambers will immediately form one of the best point-guard – forward tandems in the League, alongside Utah’s Stockton & Malone and Lakers’ Magic & Worthy.
Both Chambers (25.7 ppg) and Johnson (12.2 apg) were voted into 1988/89 All-NBA Second Team.
On offense, rejuvenated Suns would mostly rely on both KJ and Tommy Gun athletic ability and scoring punch.
Outmatching the majority of NBA players at their positions they would also open more space for the players like veteran sharp-shooter Eddie Johnson, rookies Armon Gilliam and Dan Majerle and great shot blocker Mark West.
FEATURED VIDEO LINK: Since ’68 – The 1988 – ’89 Season
After posting 55-27 regular-season record, in the 1989 postseason Suns will prove their overall strength – first sweeping the Denver Nuggets and then defeating Golden State Warriors by 4:1. In the Western Conference Finals, it would be Los Angeles Lakers, led by ingenious playmaking of Magic Johnson, who would end the great run by the Suns. One year later, in 1990 NBA play-off, in it would be the Suns returning the favor by beating the Lakers 4:1!
From today’s perspective, it’s intriguing to discuss the possible 1988-89 Suns advance into the 1989 NBA Finals, which would certainly make it more interesting. Just to remind you that in 1989 NBA finals Detroit Pistons won the ring relatively easy outmatching Lakers squad depleted by injuries to their starting guards – Magic Johnson and Byron Scott.
Without any exaggeration, it’s obvious that with 1988-89 season the Suns organization set the great cornerstone for the success which followed – after 1989 postseason Suns would appear in twelve postseasons in the row!
Unforgettable Phoenix Suns season in 1988-89 was crowned by numerous season awards – Eddie Johnson was named the Sixth Man of the Year, Kevin Johnson was named the Most Improved Player and Jerry Colangelo was named the Team Executive of the Year.
Murray A. a.k.a. Marjan Crnogaj is BN contributor and the author of the book ‘Drazen – The Years of the Dragon’ which can be found here.