In 1993, the last time the Phoenix Suns reached the NBA Finals, they finished with a 62-20 record behind Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle and late head coach Paul Westphal. That team eliminated the Lakers, Spurs and SuperSonics to earn the franchise’s second-ever Finals berth. Barkley, who was acquired from the 76ers in a June 18, 1992 trade, made an immediate impact, averaging 25.6 points, 12.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists in 35.4 minutes over 65 games to win the NBA MVP award.
“We needed Charles Barkley,” current Los Lakers assistant coach Lionel Hollins told Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson of Bally Sports. Hollins was also an assistant on the 1992-93 Suns team. “We needed some more rebounding and inside scoring because we were a very devastating fast break team.”
Barkley carried the Suns to the Western Conference Finals against a SuperSonics team that featured superstars Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton. The series went seven games with the Suns prevailing 123-110 in the deciding contest in Phoenix. Barkley posted a triple-double (44 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists) in a Game 5 win and scored only 13 points in a Game 6 loss and he got back on track with 44 points and 24 rebounds in Game 7.
“I remember on the plane he made a comment about he didn’t know if he could play that great (as he did in Game 5) again,” Hollins recalled what Barkley said. “And (Suns reserve guard) Frank Johnson told him: ‘If you want to get to the Finals, you’re going to have to.’ Well, Charles had an even bigger game in Game 7. He just destroyed the Sonics on the glass and destroyed Shawn Kemp, and so we go to the Finals.”
The Suns lost to the Bulls 4-2 in the 1993 NBA Finals. With the Suns leading 98-96 in Game 6, Bulls guard John Paxson hit a 3-pointer with 3.9 seconds to play for a 99-98 win that clinched a third consecutive title for Chicago.
“The biggest memory was watching John Paxson shoot that ball from that angle and seeing the arc of it and knowing it was nothing but butter,” Hollins explained. “We lost the first two games at home and had to go play the next three in Chicago. And we won two out of three, including the triple-overtime game we won (129-121 in Game 3). But Michael Jordan outshined everybody.”
Like the 1992-93 team, the 2020-21 Suns made an offseason trade to add a star who would make a difference. And like Charles Barkley, Chris Paul altered the landscape of the Western Conference.
CP3’s arrival from the Thunder gave head coach Monty Williams a leader he needed to guide a young and talented team that displayed unlimited potential during an 8-0 record in the NBA bubble before the 2020 NBA Playoffs. Paul revitalized his career with the Thunder and he joined Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton to form new big three in Phoenix. And, like Barkley in 1993, Paul reached the NBA Finals for the first time in his career.