Suns fans bring Saturday morning fever to open practice at Footprint Center
Forget Saturday night.
It was more like Saturday morning fever as Suns fans mobbed the team's open practice at the Footprint Center in Phoenix.
The event had an unofficial estimated 10,000-plus fans to see the Suns work one day before their preseason-opening home game against the Adelaide 36ers.
That's over three times the amount of attendees for last year's open practice, which was on a Friday night.
"It felt like regular game out there today. I can only imagine how the regular season's gonna be," Suns guard Cameron Payne said after practice.
The arena doors opened to ticketholders at 10 a.m. and practice began at 11, but some fans waited since 7 a.m. to get in.
Families clad in the team's fan gear roared when Suns coach Monty Williams and the players such as Payne, Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Mikal Bridges entered the court before to start practice.
One of the Suns' arena music providers DJ Javin, who splits time with DJ Automatic for Suns games and at local hip hop radio station Power 98.3 FM, drove the party atmosphere with bass-heavy rap music classics and current hit songs one hour before the practice started.
“It’s different being at 8 a.m. and everybody’s getting ready to come over here. They’re already hyped and excited to watch the players, so that definitely kicks off my morning pretty great. So it’s just it’s nice to be with everybody partying like that," DJ Javin said.
The event included interviews from retired Suns player Cedric Ceballos with the some of the players such as Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, who wore their retro-1990s "sunburst" uniforms and new Nike Statement Edition uniforms, Suns general manager James Jones and Williams, then defensive and shooting drills, and ended with half-court shooting contest.
“We went 37 minutes, and (assistant coach Bryan Gates) came up to me and said, ‘Man, that was 37 minutes well spent because of the continuity,'" Williams said.
He added while laughing, "Just having the guys we’ve had in our program for four years now, they could run the practices. I get so bored in practice now because the coaches are running the drills and I’m going side to side trying to figure out, ‘How can I be of service?’”
Many fans want to turn the page away from the Suns' huge home collapse to the Mavericks in Game 7 of the West semifinals.
Samantha Davis of Mesa has been a Suns fan since the Seven Seconds of Less era of the team back in the 2000s, led by Hall of Famer Steve Nash, Shawn Marion and Amar’e Stoudemire. She attended the team’s open practice last year, and brought her teenage son and nephew on Saturday.
“I got a lot of confidence for them. I think they can do it this year. They got a really good team with a lot of great players,” Davis said to The Republic.
Laveen resident and season ticket holder Cristobal Nevarez, 32, has been a Suns fan since he was eight years old, brought his seven-year-old son Giovanni to several games last season. At their first open practice together, Cristobal said the event was “amazing” while donning a 2021 NBA Finals Suns hat, black “Valley” Devin Booker jersey, and his son draped in a black felt “We are the Valley”-inscribed blanket.
The league's reigning Coach of the Year Williams believes "fans in general are just hungry to see this team" after the last three consecutive altered season schedules because of the pandemic.
After a ten-year playoff absence from 2011 to 2020, team's success began with their 8-0 run in the Orlando bubble, their run to the 2021 finals, notching the Suns' franchise-best 64-win season in April and securing the top seed in this past postseason.
Williams attributed Saturday's attendance numbers as a reminder that the Suns are one of the league's winningest teams in league history and has one of the proudest fan cultures despite never winning a title.
“It’s a blessing, man. I talk about Phoenix everywhere I go," Williams said.
"I don’t understand why we haven’t been spoken of as a flagship organization, fan base, and city just based on the quality of life here. But now the basketball team is something that adds to that and we saw that today. I think people talked about it this summer, this is one of the hidden gems of the NBA, and you’re starting to see it with this type of turnout."
Williams added he's not surprised about Suns fans looking past the recent offseason drama of team's majority owner Robert Sarver announcement in September he's selling the team.
His imminent departure stems from the backlash of his one-year suspension and $10 million from the league. The league’s investigation cited several findings, including him repeating the N-word several times, his workplace misconduct toward female employees, and creating a "toxic" work environment during his 18-year tenure with the team.
Scottsdale resident Katrina Sanford, who's African-American, can attest to Williams's claim about the fans regarding the Sarver controversy and the open practice.
Sanford told The Republic she hasn't been to a Suns game since Charles Barkley was their best player between 1992 to 1996. She wanted to come support the team in person after one of her friends offered her an open practice ticket.
"The things in the news because of everything that’s going on with our people (of color), it’s just shocking but then it’s not shocking because it seems like everything is just repeating itself over and over again," Sanford said.
"So, I guess it doesn’t bother me because while watching the game I try to separate those things versus just concentrating on the good parts of basketball, watching people come together to watch a team play.”
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