Collins was adamant on one point. "Nobody has ever come forward in all the dismissals and all the things that have happened and said that the basic premise of the case didn't exist," he said. "Nobody has ever said that. The general premise that there were a number of basketball players who for years had been using marijuana and cocaine in social settings, restaurants, [with] groups of other people, [and] dealing small amounts among themselves and with people employed [by the Suns]—that scenario remains intact."
That scenario had begun to trouble the partnership that owned the Suns. Colangelo sensed this—and worried that the team might soon be bought from under him and perhaps moved to another city. "I felt pressure, subtle or whatever, that there were some people in this league not so anxious to see this thing resolved so that Phoenix lived happily ever after," he says. "Maybe they felt it was best if this franchise wasn't even here." When asked who gave him this feeling, Colangelo shrugs. A moment later he blurts, "Might have been the league office."
Asked about Colangelo's remarks, NBA commissioner David Stern says, "I think the league office worked hand in glove with the Suns through this very difficult time, and was supportive of them and was supportive of their efforts to put together a sale."
The NBA did move its September owners meetings, scheduled for the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale, to the Los Angeles area. But Stern insists this was done only in response to Arizona Governor Evan Mecham's obstruction of efforts to have Martin Luther King's birthday declared a state holiday.
Nevertheless, Colangelo, encouraged by his friend John Teets, chairman of the board of the Greyhound Corp., decided to put a local group of investors together to buy the Suns and make sure they stayed in Phoenix. The sale went through for $44.5 million in October. The selling price, while well below that of a Van Gogh, was the highest in NBA history.
And so the Suns began to come out from behind the clouds. Their marketing and p.r. departments tried to stem the loss of fan support by sending videotapes explaining the franchise's view of the drug situation to every season-ticket holder. Wetzel, 43, a former Suns player and assistant coach, installed a livelier, fast-breaking offense. Gondrezick was placed on waivers, and both Bedford and Ed Pinckney—the Suns' last two No. 1 draft choices—were traded. (Pinckney was never under suspicion in the investigation.) But one major question remained: Could Davis, Humphries and Edwards put their differences aside and play together?
Here Davis took the initiative. He, too, had had a cruel summer. His father died of a stroke in August, and his mother died of a heart attack a week later. "That really may have focused Walter," says Wetzel. "It's a double tragedy, but maybe he stopped and took stock of where he was going and what his life was all about."
Davis showed up at camp seeming more at ease, more open. He said he had started attending special support group meetings every day, a practice he vows to continue even while on road trips this season. "I've accepted what I am," he says. "I believe the best years of my life are still ahead of me. My family [his wife, Susan, their two daughters and Davis's siblings] loves me. I love myself."
During the summer Davis wrote letters to his teammates explaining his reasons for testifying. Just before camp opened, he met with Edwards and Humphries, though the relationships remain strained. "We sat down and talked, but there's only so much that can be said," says Humphries.
By last week the Suns' most pressing trouble was of a more typical NBA variety: injuries. In addition to Gilliam and Nance being out, at least three other players were nursing aches and strains. "After all these injuries, I've finally started feeling sorry for us," said Adams, who has been troubled by a bad neck. Yet the Suns beat the Warriors to give Wetzel his first win. "The first of many, I'd like to say," said Wetzel.