It was 2003 and I was 14 years old spending a weekend at my grandma’s place. Let’s admit it – while we all love seeing our grandparents, their houses are never the most exciting places to hang out for prolonged periods. That is, unless you enjoy watching TV shows that make James Lipton‘s Inside the Actor’s Studio completely enthralling. So as an excuse to leave, my uncle used my desire to watch a meaningless Game 1 between the Suns and Spurs first round matchup to get out of the house.
After spending the majority of the game learning to play pool in a mostly-empty sports bar – I still can’t play a lick with confidence – the No. 8 seeded Suns looked doomed against the No. 1 seed and eventual champion Spurs; doomed because it wasn’t expected that they had a chance. Instead, it turned into an overtime thriller, the underdog Suns pulling off the upset on a miraculous Stephon Marbury buzzer beater. Of course, Phoenix would lose 4-2 in the series, but the game sticks in my memory as one of the most exciting in my 22-year-old memory bank. It was because, as a Suns fan, there wasn’t any inkling that Phoenix could pull off the upset of a series, let alone a single game. And as an teenager yet to be jaded by the idea that sports are just a game (not to mention the false hope strewn out through the years of following Arizona sports teams), it’s quite possible that one meaningless Game 1 will, in my mind, forever hold its place as the most memorable.
That was when Doris Burke was brunette and when David Robinson was still chugging along, but it’s more than my personal account that makes it possible to unearth dozens of storylines from this one game. Looking back, that meaningless game told us so much more about basketball.
The height of Starbury, the beginning of Tony Parker
The reason Phoenix had a chance to topple San Antonio was because Tony Parker was an unheralded 20-year-old from France, in his second season in the NBA and completely at Marbury’s mercy. In four regular season games, the Suns won the series 3-1 as Marbury torched Parker with averages of 32.5 points on 50 percent shooting and 8.8 assists.
That’s Derrick Rose digits in today’s world. Much of it was simply Marbury’s dominance in the 2002-03 season. He was an All-Star, a warrior and an underrated defender (I recall him going nearly punch-for-punch against Allen Iverson that season). But what defined Marbury as a player was that patented, New York-identifiable floater; his go-to move. That year, arguably his best in the league He had the swagger of Coney Island leading him to be The Man – he hit a number of game-winners spanning the year – on a squad that featured two guys who would later be The Man (Amar’e Stoudemire and Joe Johnson) and two others who were always damn close (Penny Hardaway and Shawn Marion). Oh, and he swiped the victory from the Spurs’ grasp in that epic Game 1.Subscribe to UPROXX
Meanwhile, Marbury’s dominance on Parker was the last of its kind. During the regular season, Parker could only muster 10.3 points on 19 percent shooting to go with 5.5 dimes against the Suns. Parker survived the onslaught, however, and thereafter cemented himself into the NBA landscape with the Spurs’ eventual title. And is it of no coincidence that Parker’s career blossomed after that butt-kicking at the hands of Marbury? Making Marbury’s floater his own weapon, Parker ironically and repeatedly used it in destroying the Suns and Steve Nash time and time again following the Marbury years.