Despite having zero championships in franchise history, the Phoenix Suns have given basketball fans some of the most exciting teams to watch since the organization was founded in 1968. After eliminating LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, is this iteration of the Suns—led by Devin Booker and Chris Paul—already the best in team history?
Almost, but not quite there yet.
The “Seven Seconds or Less” Suns led by Steve Nash and coach Mike D’Antoni were thrilling to watch even though the team never won it all. The same can be said about the 1992-93 Phoenix club, which was led by Hall of Famer Charles Barkley and the late coach Paul Westphal.
After spending the first eight years of his NBA career with the Philadelphia 76ers, Barkley was traded by the Sixers to the Suns in the summer of 1992. What Chuck did in his first season with Phoenix is the stuff of legends.
The Suns began the 1992-93 season 16-4. Barkley’s transition from Philadelphia to Phoenix was really smooth. Sir Charles averaged 25.8 points and 13.5 rebounds through his first 20 games with the Suns. Phoenix put up 113.4 points per game. That was first in the NBA. The Suns weren’t that good of a defensive team, so they had to be lethal on offense every night to win and Barkley and Kevin Johnson made sure of that.
The Suns finished the season with a remarkable record of 62-20. Barkley won the MVP award after averaging 25.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, and 5.1 assists. Phoenix had the no. 1 seed in the 1993 playoffs and the team was ready to ride Barkley’s broad shoulders to the championship.
The Suns began the playoffs with a first round matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers. This particular Lakers team was led by Vlade Divac, Sedale Threatt, and a 31-year-old James Worthy.
When we say the 1993 playoffs got off to a bad start for the Suns, that’s an understatement. Phoenix lost Games 1 and 2 at home to the Lakers and the Suns were already facing elimination in Game 3. The first round of the playoffs was still a best-of-five, so the Suns’ stellar regular season was about to be thrown down the drain in three quick games.
However, Barkley wouldn’t allow it. The Round Mound of Rebound scored 27 points in Game 3 in Los Angeles to help the Suns stay alive in the series with a 107-102 win. Phoenix followed that up with a blowout victory in Game 4, setting up the decisive Game 5 back at the Suns’ home court.
Whatever happened to the Suns between Games 2 and 3 was exactly what the team needed, as they won three straight games to eliminate the Lakers and advance to the second round. It’s remarkable how quickly things can change in basketball. Momentum is a crazy thing in sports.
The second round of the playoffs saw the Suns take on the San Antonio Spurs, who had David Robinson and Sean Elliott as the two main cogs. This time, Phoenix took care of homecourt advantage by winning Games 1 and 2. Johnson had 25 points and seven dimes in Game 1. Barkley led the way in Game 2 with 35 points and 10 boards.
As expected, though, the Spurs took care of their own business in Games 3 and 4 in San Antonio. The series was now tied at 2-2. Whichever team won two more games first was heading to the Western Conference Finals.
Barkley had enough of the Spurs’ tricks and just took over Games 5 and 6. He finished with 36 points and 12 rebounds in the Game 5 win and followed that up with 28 points and 21 boards in Game 6 to knock the Spurs out. Phoenix was headed to the Conference Finals with Barkley on a roll.
The ’93 Western Conference Finals was a bloodbath between the Suns and Seattle SuperSonics. Both teams were full of dogs. The Sonics had Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, and Sam Perkins leading the charge while Johnson, Barkley, and Dan Majerle were more than ready for war.
The Suns ended up winning the series in seven epic games. Barkley averaged 25.6 points and 13.9 rebounds. The MVP was on his way to the NBA Finals, where the best basketball player and team in the world was waiting for him.
Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were the reigning two-time defending NBA champions. Barkley was able to win the regular season MVP award over Jordan, but His Airness wound up capturing the end goal which was the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Jordan averaged a whopping 41.0 points per game in the series. The Bulls defeated Barkley and the Suns in six games. Chicago guard John Paxson hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 to give the Bulls their third straight ring. Barkley put up 21 points and 17 rebounds in Game 6, but he struggled from the field, shooting just 7-of-18.
Chuck finished the ’93 Finals with averages of 27.3 points, 13.0 rebounds, and 5.5 assists. That Suns team was so exhilarating to watch. It’s too bad they weren’t able to win the championship, but it doesn’t take away from what Barkley and company accomplished as a unit.