The Phoenix Suns are about to start their 50th season of play in the NBA. As their golden anniversary campaign begins, Valley of the Suns will reflect on each season in franchise history. The series begins with the very first season of the team: 1968-69.
Professional basketball in Phoenix was born on January 22nd, 1968. On that date, the NBA officially selected the city for an expansion team to begin play in the 1968-69 season. After a public contest to name the team, the Phoenix Suns were born.
The original Suns’ ownership group was highlighted by many big names of the time, including singer Andy Williams. The Suns were the first major professional franchise in the Phoenix area. Jerry Colangelo and Johnny ‘Red’ Kerr were hired as the Suns’ first General Manager and Head Coach, respectively.
The Suns entered the 1968 NBA expansion draft with the fellow NBA newcomer Milwaukee Bucks. Phoenix’s selections were highlighted by future Hall of Famer Gail Goodrich, UTEP big man (and Glory Road subject) Dave Lattin, and “The Original Sun”, Dick Van Arsdale. The Suns won their first regular season game in franchise history on October 18th, 1968 against Seattle behind 27 points from Goodrich.
NBA basketball in the Valley of the Suns had arrived.
Phoenix had the typical season for an expansion franchise struggling to a 16-66 overall record, good for last in the division. Van Arsdale and Goodrich made the Western Conference All-Star team while Gary Gregor was selected to the NBA All-Rookie team. Goodrich led the team with 23.8 points per game and Van Arsdale averaged 21.0 points, 6.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. Jim Fox also shined for the expansion Suns as well, averaging 13.8 points and 13.3 rebounds per game.
Outside of the franchise opening win, the Suns took back-to-back games from Milwaukee (the other expansion franchise in 1968-69) during the season and also won a overtime thriller over Detroit 130-128 behind 33 points from George Wilson.
Although the first season for the Suns wasn’t the most successful, it was memorable. Phoenix had a professional basketball franchise, and even if the record didn’t show it, the Suns had talent to build around in the form of Goodrich and Van Arsdale. The future was bright.