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DESERT HEAT
Jack McCallum
May 28, 1990
Kevin Johnson and Jeff Hornacek are an opponent-wilting duo that has Phoenix vying for an NBA title
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May 28, 1990

Desert Heat

Kevin Johnson and Jeff Hornacek are an opponent-wilting duo that has Phoenix vying for an NBA title

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Off the court, KJ and Horny, both friendly and accessible, constitute one of the least intimidating backcourts in NBA history. Johnson is an idealist whose religious principles and charity work have yet to come across as anything but heartfelt—without a speck of irony, KJ once listed, on a team publicity form, Benji the dog as his hero because Benji is unselfish and "makes so many sacrifices so all groups of people can get along." Yikes! Hornacek is the quiet family man who picks up Ryan at the baby-sitter's and defers to his wife, Stacy, who is pregnant with their second child, on any number of issues.

Even a wispy mustache cannot make KJ look a day over his 24 years, and he seems even younger when he flashes one of his frequent, cherubic smiles. Hornacek, who just turned 27, looks like the kind of guy who wears his letter sweater to bed. His prominent jawline suggests Dick Tracy or some other impossibly virtuous character of yore.

Everything else about the Suns' backcourt is contrast. Johnson was raised by his grandparents, under difficult circumstances, in Sacramento. Hornacek is the product of a middle-class background in Elmhurst, Ill. His father, John, is the varsity baseball and freshman basketball coach at St. Joseph High in Westchester, Ill., where he once coached Isiah Thomas. KJ stepped into Fitzsimmons's wide-open style and played as if he had been running an NBA team for 10 years. Hornacek, on the other hand, was a plugger.

Johnson already makes a star's salary of about $1.5 million per year, while Hornacek, who began his career at $94,000, just above the NBA minimum, now makes about $350,000. Colangelo has promised him a new pact when the season is over, however.

"You know who Horny reminds me of?" says Fitzsimmons. "My damn paperboy. The kid who rides his bike up to the house every afternoon at five and drops it in the box."

How about your point guard, Cotton? "Special," answers Fitzsimmons immediately. "That's the only word that comes to mind. Special."

Fitzsimmons smiles as he ponders the backcourt that has given him his best chance at a title in 17 years at the helm of five different NBA teams. "We're happy with 'em," says Cotton. And now that KJ and Horny are better acquainted, they're happy with each other, too.

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