When The Suns Were On Fire: Looking Back At The 1992-93 Season

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports /

The last time the Phoenix Suns won the Western Conference was in 1993. It’s time to take a moment and look back at when the Suns were on fire.

The past month has been a depressing one for Phoenix Suns players, coaches and fans. They are currently on a nine-game losing streak and there is little optimism surrounding the outlook of the team. Instead of focusing on the sad state of the squad today, I am going to take a moment to look back at one of the most successful seasons in franchise history.

The Suns were a team in transition back in 1992. They were coming off of 53 regular-season wins and a second-round playoff loss to the Portland Trail Blazers the year before. Head coach Cotton Fitzsimmons retired following the 1991-92 campaign, and he was succeeded by assistant Paul Westphal in the offseason.

Westphal was a four-time All-Star with the Suns from 1977-80, and he had served on Fitzsimmons coaching staff since 1988. Additionally, he helped lead the franchise to their first NBA Finals appearance in 1976.

The coaching change wasn’t the only one made by general manager Jerry Colangelo over the span of that fateful offseason. The team made national headlines when they traded Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang and Tim Perry to the Philadelphia 76ers for superstar Charles Barkley.

The trade would turn out to be the best one in the history of the franchise and it would help propel them to their most successful season ever.

Phoenix had a loaded roster heading into the 1992-93 season, which was also the first year they played at America West Arena (now the Talking Stick Resort Arena). Barkley joined forces with star point guard Kevin Johnson, sharpshooter Dan Majerle, former All-Star Tom Chambers, high-scoring rookie Richard Dumas and veteran sixth man Danny Ainge.

Together they took the league by storm and ending up winning a franchise-record 62 games in the regular season. Barkley and Majerle both made the All-Star game as players, and Westphal guided the Western Conference as a rookie head coach.

By the end of the season, they team had stockpiled a bunch of other awards as well. The outspoken Barkley won his first and only Most Valuable Player award after averaging 25.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.6 steal and 1.0 blocks per game.

Colangelo was named the NBA’s Executive of the Year for the personnel moves he had made, Ainge came in second for the Sixth Man of the Year award, and Dumas made the All-Rookie Second Team. Majerle tied Reggie Miller with 167 three-point baskets made, which was tops in the association.

Things began to get a little tougher for the Suns once the playoffs rolled around. They met the 39-43 Los Angeles Lakers in a best-of-five first round series. The Lakers shocked the league when they won the first two games in Phoenix, which put the Suns on the brink of elimination.

However, Westphal wasn’t deterred by dropping the opening games despite the fact that no team had ever come back from losing the first two at home. He made news by claiming that his squad would come back and win the series. He turned out to be a prophet; the Suns stormed back and won the final three games behind Barkley’s dominant play.

The team moved on to play the 49-33 San Antonio Spurs in a second round battle. Phoenix had to be feeling great when they won the first two games of the matchup, but David Robinson and the Spurs answered by winning two on their home court. Regardless, the resilient Suns team brushed the losses aside and won the final two games. The series ended with a game-winning Charles Barkley 20-foot jump shot with 1.8 seconds left on the clock in Game 6.

The Suns had made the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 1990, where they met up with the talented 55-27 Seattle Supersonics. The series turned out to be a great one between two worthy opponents. The teams alternated victories throughout the seven-game series, but the home court advantage turned out to be the deciding factor for the Suns.

Barkley led the team once again by averaging 25.6 points and 13.9 rebounds per game for the series, and he had them four wins away from a championship by the time it was over.

Unfortunately for everyone emotionally involved, the playoff run came to screeching halt in the NBA Finals against the two-time defending NBA Champion Chicago Bulls. The team started the series slow by losing the first two at home once again.

They managed to win a triple-overtime game in Chicago which preserved the optimism for a little while longer, but they were eventually finished off in six games.

Despite the fact that they couldn’t accomplish their goal of winning an NBA Championship, the 1992-93 Phoenix Suns were one of the best teams in the franchise’s 47-year history. Charles Barkley was in the prime of his career and he should always have a spot in any Suns fan’s heart for his contributions to the team. I wonder how long it will take for the Suns to play at this level again.

It could be years before they make another run at the NBA Finals. At least the fans will have these moments to look back on whenever they feel down about where the team is now.