It’s fitting really that the two greatest shots in Phoenix Suns’ history came in playoff losses — not to mention playoff series losses, as well.
The first was Gar Heard’s ‘Shot Heard ‘Round the World,’ a 20-foot turnaround jumper to beat the double-overtime buzzer in Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals at the Boston Garden. Heard’s shot extended the game an extra five minutes, but the Celtics went on to win the contest 128-126 in three overtimes, as well as the series in six games.
For lifelong Suns fans, that shot probably still brings back great memories in times of need — say when the team is rooted in a three-year stretch of not making the postseason.
Unfortunately, for the newer crop of
Purple Black and Orange supporters the ‘shot’ that sticks out came in a 122-115 overtime loss to the Seattle Supersonics in the 1997 Western Conference Quarterfinals.
If the Suns had won the contest, they would have moved on to the second round, defeating the reigning Western Conference champions in the process.
But the truth is, the Phoenix Suns weren’t a great basketball team in 1996-1997. If anything, they were one of the more eclectic squads to grace the hardwood at America West Arena in the 1990s.
The backcourt was made up of Kevin Johnson and Jason Kidd — two of the most distinguished point guards the game has seen over the last 25 years. The frontcourt consisted of two aging bigs, Wayman Tisdale and Hot Rod Williams, who were both were beyond the prime of their respective careers.
The bench featured a fan favorite (Danny Manning), a talented young shooter (Wesley Person), a veteran defender (Mark Bryant) and a former All-Star (Cedric Ceballos).
However, the night of May 1, 1997 — and really much of that series — wasn’t about any of them. That honor belonged to a 6-foot-4 shoot guard who was playing out of position due to the Johnson-Kidd backcourt.
Chapman, a sharp shooter out of Kentucky, was on his fourth team in nine seasons by the time he came to the Valley in 1996, but boy could the 29-year-old shoot.
Yet of the 832 career three-point makes he had in his career — both regular season and postseason — 10 stick out more than the rest.
The first nine came in the Suns’ 106-101 Game 1 victory over the Sonics at Key Arena. His heroics beyond the arc not only set a playoff record but also put Danny Ainge and Co. in prime position to steal a series despite being decidedly over-matched.
The 10th three-point shot, well, I saw that one with my own two eyes from Section 205 Row 10 Seat 5 of the Purple Palace. Three things stood out from that game, at least from the vantage point of an seven-year-old.
Shawn Kemp (25 points and 20 rebounds) was the greatest power forward I had seen in person not named Charles Barkley. The Suns were horrific in the first half — trailed by 12 — because they couldn’t stop anyone and K.J. couldn’t hit a shot. And finally, the play of Danny Manning (19 points and 10 rebounds) off the bench. Few players could win over an entire Phoenix crowd just by stepping on the court like he did from 1994-1999.
Yet all of that became mere subplots.
The game instead will always be remembered by the final 4.7 seconds of regulation, a horrific-turned-beautiful cross-court, in-bounds pass by Kidd and a heave that will forever in my mind defy basic scientific principles.
Chapman’s momentum was carrying him away from the basket and towards the far sideline when he corralled Kidd’s pass, Hershey Hawkins was draped all over him and the shot had to be released over his non-shooting shoulder with just one foot firmly placed on the ground.
If you want artistry in motion, that was it (narrated, of course, by the dulcet tones of Kevin Harlan).