What a Feeling, To Be Mortal

It just feels right to live in a world where the Phoenix Suns are competitive again. They may be lacking in many respects, but to see Steve Nash lead this squad on break after break is a facet of the modern NBA that simply cannot be replaced. The unique combination of pure speed, versatility, and team coordination just can’t be rivaled, and though this year’s team may shine in a different hue than the models featuring Shawn Marion, Boris Diaw, or Joe Johnson, I don’t think it makes them any less resonant.

Mike D’Antoni may not have been a prophet, but he was certainly a philosopher. The trademark of D’Antoni’s Suns was always their mortality, and I think that legacy has lived on through this current team. The Seven Seconds or Less squads wear (or wore) their vulnerabilities on their sleeve, but their mortality comes as much from leading a particularly vulnerable existence as it does from finding exuberance in it. These teams, in all of their fast-breaking splendor and glory, know how to live. They know how to play a bit, too, but the defining legacy of the Mike D’Antoni era in Phoenix (which lives on today) should be the Suns’ artful display of basketball as life.

Maybe the hustle and the bustle of the Suns doesn’t quite fit your living style, but who could possibly claim that the exaggerated in-game highs and lows of the Suns — the 20-point lead built and swallowed by a 5-25 run, the 3-point barrages followed by defensive letdowns — aren’t basketball’s most fitting equivalent of life on the outside? It’s not about the 9-5 grind, and it’s not necessarily about winning all the time; the Suns’ existence is predicated on winning more than you lose, embracing who you are, playing by your own rules, learning to live through the ups and downs, and remembering that the line between work and play doesn’t have to be crystal clear. They work hard, they score points, and they play basketball like it’s a game worth playing. They may not have the talent of the Lakers or the convention of the Spurs, but this is a team of hard workers and ball players with a plan. I don’t know if that plan means anything in the Western Conference playoff picture this season, and in the grand scheme of things I’m not sure it matters all that much. If there were ever a solid case to be made against the championship being the end-all of athletic conquests, it would have to be the Suns, who may have discovered along the way to 60-win seasons and the Conference Finals that the journey is perhaps the worthier part.

I’m not presumptuous enough to claim to know everything about life, but a very wise, script-assisted high schooler once gave me some sage advice: Life moves pretty fast, and if you don’t stop to look around once in awhile, you could miss it. It’s easy to have your perception of the Suns skewed by the whiz-bang-boom of their transition offense, but taking in the entire scene is crucial to our understanding of the Suns in a historical context. There are plenty of teams in the league that I enjoy watching, but few, if any, so perfectly encapsulate what is it to do something to its fullest and to enjoy it so wholly and completely. Watch this year’s team and you’ll see it. Breeze through the pages of Jack McCallum’s book and you feel it. And then think about the Suns, consider all that they’ve been through and all that they’ve done for the game of basketball, and you’ll just know it. While some may remark that the Suns play as if they have nothing to lose, I think their style speaks to the contrary. The Suns play basketball like they have everything to lose. If not, then they themselves might slow down for a minute to pick at old wounds or over-analyze what they see in the mirror. But they don’t, and each night on the schedule is another exercise in celebrating everything that is theirs to lose. If basketball is life and life is basketball, then the run-and-gun Phoenix Suns have been the game’s magnum opus: a team that plays in a way that begs you to watch, but more importantly plays in a way that begs you to listen.

Seth Carstens