A few weeks ago Bob Ferry, the general manager of the Washington Bullets, was playing word-association games on an all-night radio talk show. Larry King, the host, would name an NBA team and Ferry would say the first word that popped into his mind. For instance, the host would say, " Washington," and Ferry would say, "Excellence." And so on. After some teams brought responses like "brutal," "undisciplined," "explosive" and "scrappy," the host said, " Phoenix."
"Pretty," said Ferry.
That stopped King, who said, "Pretty? That's a curious word to describe a pro basketball team."
Ah, but wasn't it the right word? Phoenix is a pretty team. From the coach, dapper and genteel John MacLeod in his three-piece suits and soft loafers; to the handsome, suntanned and superb starting guards, Paul Westphal and Don Buse; to the delicately talented high-post center, Alvan Adams; to the second-year small forward, Walter Davis, who plays with a grace and beauty equaled by few, the Suns are lovely to look at. They make the basketball fly smartly from hand to hand as though it were a Frisbee, and they shoot it exceedingly well, hitting more than 50% of their shots.
Their discipline and execution won them 49 games last year, and in 1976 they reached the NBA finals—a tribute to MacLeod, one of the best coaches in the league. But when push came to shove, as it always does in the NBA, the Suns turned out to be just another pretty face. The problem was that they were loaded with every important commodity save one, a strong forward.
Thus, when Phoenix pulled off a trade Jan. 12 for New Orleans' 6'7", 225-pound, 27-year-old Leonard (Truck) Robinson, last year's NBA rebounding champion, the whole league took notice. In return for two reserves, Guard Ron Lee and rookie Forward Marty Byrnes, two first-round draft picks and some $500,000, Phoenix got Robinson and began stirring the fog that has been hovering over the Pacific Division, where Seattle, Los Angeles and the Suns are within two games of each other.
"I'm real sorry to see Truck come into our division," says Los Angeles General Manager Bill Sharman. "Especially to Phoenix, because they were a good team already." Hubie Brown, who coached Robinson in Atlanta two seasons ago, says the Suns now possess the best starting five in the NBA, a feeling shared by others, since they are the only team whose starters have all played in NBA All-Star games.
Seattle's Lenny Wilkens refuses to speculate about what the Suns might do now that they have their rebounder, and with good reason. His SuperSonics and Ferry's Bullets are two of the league's more physical teams. They have regularly beat up on the Suns and are 5-0 against them this year. But that was pre-Truck. Says Ferry, who drafted Robinson and had him for 2� seasons in Washington, "He gives Phoenix a new dimension. I think Truck can do anything he wants to do. If he wants to mesh his talents with the Suns, maybe give up some shots, it means they can still be a pretty team—and pretty great, too."
MacLeod and General Manager Jerry Colangelo clearly feel they've made a deal for the history books. "Jerry asked me in October what else we could do for this team," says MacLeod. "I said, 'The only thing we can do is get Leonard Robinson.' "
"On a scale of one to 10," says Colangelo, "our chances of going all the way before the trade were between two and four. Now I'd say they're seven or eight."