The Starting Five

By Jeramie McPeek, Fastbreak Magazine
Printed: April 1994


Of the 139 players who have donned the purple and orange of a Phoenix Suns jersey, only five have had their jerseys retired.

When Walter Davis, a Sun from 1977-1988, had his No. 6 retired earlier this month, he joined an elite group of Suns greats. A small fraternity founded on Nov. 19, 1976, when the Hawk landed in the rafters of the Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

It was "Hawk Night" at the Madhouse on McDowell when the Suns' first superstar, Connie Hawkins, was honored with the retirement of his No. 42 at halftime of the Suns, New York Nets game.

During the ceremony, Suns' General Manager Jerry Colangelo thanked the high-flying Hawkins for his four All-Star years with the Suns from 1969 to 1973. Colangelo then presented the Hawk with an oil painting of one of his classic dunks, a rocking chair to enjoy retirement and the keys to a brand new Ford automobile.

Hawkins stared in awe at the keys in his big hand, as the crowd roared its approval.

"It was all a blur, because when it happened I had this feeling of euphoria around me," Hawkins recalled. "I remember that the fans appreciated me and they made a lot of noise."

Suns players Dick Van Arsdale, Alvan Adams and Paul Westphal joined the crowd in making noise and applauding for the Hawk, never thinking that they would soon be the next pledges in this new fraternity.

Dick Van Arsdale gets a little choked up during his retirement ceremony.
Van Arsdale, who was the first player selected by the Suns in the 1968 NBA Expansion Draft, became the second player to have a banner with his name and number hung from the ceiling of the Coliseum.

"The Original Sun" had his No. 5 retired in 1978 after a nine-year career in Phoenix. Van was joined for the ceremony by his wife and kids, his high school coach, several of his college teammates from Indiana, and his twin-brother Tom, who also played for the Suns during the 1976-77 season.

Having all of his friends and family to celebrate with made "the Flying Dutchman" a bit uneasy.

"When you're involved in something like that where there are so many people involved, you're nervous and you just want to get through it," he said. "You try to enjoy the moment, but it's also nerve-wracking. Sometimes you don't want to be the center of attention, but all of the attention is on you and it was a little bit uncomfortable."

Like the Hawk before him, Van Arsdale was presented with a water-color collage of his career highlights and a new Jeep CJ5, which he drove until recently.

"I traded it in a few years ago, but I wish I still had it now," he said with a sigh. "I regret getting rid of it."

In 1988, it was Adams' turn to enjoy a rocking chair. He informed Colangelo that he had decided to leave the game he loved, after a successful 13-year career. The Suns' president let him know that his No. 33 would be retired the following season.

After looking at the schedule, Adams asked that the ceremony be held during the first home game of the year against the Dallas Mavericks. "Double A" wanted then-Mav's coach John MacLeod to be there for the festivities. MacLeod had been the Suns' coach during Adams first 11 seasons in the NBA.

"It meant a lot for me to have John there," he said.

Besides his former coach, "The Oklahoma Kid" had his wife and children, old teammates, friends from his Phoenix neighborhood, and even his uncle and grandmother from Austria to share in the moment.

"It was like my wedding, having all those people come in," Adams said laughing. "When will that whole group of people ever get together again? Probably never. So it was very special."

Just as special, was seeing his banner unroll from the rooftop.

"I played in all the NBA arenas for a number of years, and I know that there's not too many numbers hanging in too many buildings," he said. "So, it was quite an honor."

The former Suns center waved to his fans as the crowd gave a standing ovation for the man who holds franchise records for games played (988), rebounds (6,937) and steals (1,289).

But unlike the first two members of the retired jersey club, Adams wasn't given a new car. Instead he and his family were presented with two new snow-mobiles to use at their home away from home in Colorado, and a trip to Austria, to visit relatives.

Paul Westphal receives a congratulatory hug from his wife Cindy during his retirement ceremony.
Five months later, Adams' teammate and road-trip-roommate, Paul Westphal, had his No. 44 reserved for history.

Years earlier Westy's NBA career had ended after he had been waived by the Suns in 1984. There were bitter feelings for several years, but the Sun and his family soon made up.

After successfully coaching college basketball at Southwestern Bible College and Grand Canyon College in Phoenix, the Suns brought Westphal back to the team in 1988 as an assistant coach under then-Head Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons.

It was his first season as an assistant, when his number was officially retired for his years of loyalty to the Suns' organization.

"It wasn't something that I played my career with that in mind," said Westphal, who averaged more than 20 points a game during his Suns career. "But I'd have to say that it was a real nice honor, that no one will ever take away."

Before the event, held during the Suns-San Antonio Spurs game, Westy told Colangelo that he didn't want any gifts. Instead he asked him to donate money to start an education fund with the Christian Family Care Agency, in the name of Armin Westphal, his late father.

Colangelo was glad to oblige and presented a check for $10,000 towards the fund. But the gifts didn't end there. Westphal, who loves ice cream, was given 200 gallons of it and a stack of board games to fuel his competitive drive.

Now the Suns' head coach, Westphal can coach players who may one day have their jersey's hanging from the purple rafters.

Van Arsdale is now the Suns' vice president and player personnel director, while Adams is the Arena operations director, and Hawkins is one of the Suns' community relations representatives.

"That shows the loyalty that Jerry has for those who have been loyal to him," Adams said.

Hawkins agreed saying, "That's true, so I guess now Jerry's going to have to offer Davis a job here too."

If "Sweet D" Walter Davis did return to work for the organization, the Suns could have a starting lineup of five of the best players in the team's history.

"I'd take our chances against anybody in the world," said Hawkins who would play power forward.

Adams would be a little leery of playing again, however. "We would be a great team in the "70s or "80s, but I don't know how we'd do now. There's so much talent in the league."

The other teams wouldn't be the problem according to Westphal. "It would be nice," he said with a smirk, "but it would be hard getting all those other guys to pass the ball."

Van Arsdale just laughed when he heard that comment. "He's the one that wouldn't pass," Dick said. "Hawk passed. Alvan passed. I tried to run over people, and you definitely wanted Walter to shoot. Paul was definitely the biggest ball hog of the five (laughs).

"But I have nothing but respect for those other four guys. I enjoyed playing with Hawk and Paul and Alvan. I didn't have the opportunity with Walter, but I'm sure I would've like that."

While the first four frat brothers each liked their retirement parties, they disagree on the meaning behind them.

"The fact that no one will ever where my number again, I think that's the thing that makes it special," said Hawkins, who was also the first Sun to have been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Adams agreed with the Hawk, "I don't think I realized the significance of it then, but now whenever someone asks for my autograph, I can put number 33 with it, and no one else is ever going to wear that again."

Westphal doesn't believe it. "I don't know about that," he warned. "The Boston Celtics have retired so many numbers, that some people are going to have to start wearing them again. Besides, that's not the point of it too me."

Van Arsdale is willing to donate his No. 5 to a future Sun.

"Three hundred years from now, if the team is still around, and they need my number, they're welcome to pull it down and use it again."

But until the year 2294, Van's number will hang with the others in the Purple Palace reminding generations to come of the "Original Suns."

"I think it's more important to the tradition of the team," he said. "People who never saw any of us play, can see that there was somebody who played before Charles Barkley, Dan Majerle and the team of players now."