April 9th, 1990: Phoenix Suns Make NBA Record 61 Free Throws

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

The 2015-16 NBA season has been a brutal one for the Phoenix Suns.

Winning April 9th, 2016 against the New Orleans Pelicans dropped the Suns into the 4th spot in the NBA lottery with 2 games to play. Even when the Suns win it is a disappointment this year.

There is enough negativity around this season, and I’ll try not to pile on today. Instead, I am going to highlight one of the more unique records held by the Phoenix Suns: the most free throws made in a single game in NBA history, 61 against the Utah Jazz on April 9th, 1990.

The Suns would end up beating the Jazz 3 games to 2 in the first round of the playoffs that season. That team would eventually fall to the Portland Trailblazers in the Western Conference Finals.

I can’t imagine this was a particularly fun record to watch in person, but it is surprisingly difficult to find information on this game. If any Suns fans remember this particular game (or even went to it), I’d love to hear more about it in the comments.

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On that night, the Suns won 119-115 in overtime – meaning over half the Suns points came at the free throw line. The Suns missed 19 free throws on top of that, bringing their total to 80 attempts for the game.

How does a team shoot 80 free throws in a game? Lots and lots of fouls. The Utah Jazz committed 52 fouls in that game, the shot-clock era record (since 1954-55). The Jazz had 4 players foul out, 2 players with 5 fouls, and 4 players with 4 fouls. Karl Malone kept the Jazz in the game with 39 points and 17 rebounds, including a strong night of his own at the line (17-21).

For the Phoenix Suns, there are some pretty great stat lines. Kevin Johnson came just 2 assists short of a huge triple-double, finishing with 37 points, 8 assists, and 11 turnovers. KJ alone was 23-24 from the free throw line.

Tom Chambers only needed 15 field goal attempts to score 36 points thanks to a 17-22 performance from the line.

The Jazz took 41 free throw attempts of their own that night, meaning the teams totaled 121 free throw attempts. Fans likely didn’t realize that they were witnessing history that night – they probably thought they were watching the slowest basketball game in history.

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What does this have to do with the Suns this season? Nothing. But in a year like this, we need distractions.