JERRY'S SECRET BATTLE PLAN
Memo: To our Phoenix Suns
From: Chairman Jerry
I thought I would leave a copy of this note in each of your lockers. It will give you some insights into the business side of professional basketball. I want you to think about these things while awaiting your next season.
As you are aware, Cotton Fitzsimmons will no longer be spokesman for our team. I deliberately use the term spokesman" because, as players, you long ago realized that Cotton was more a front man than a coach.
There are many corporate reasons for making a coaching change. Partly, it's simply time to have a new face. It's that simple.
This aspect has not been addressed by local media because it is their function to express concern only about wins and losses.
To me, they displayed shallow thinking in their reaction not only to that great double-overtime game against the Portland Trail Blazers, but also to the entire series.
Mark Emmons wrote: Some losses are easier to shrug off than others. Some are impossible." David Casstevens wrote: What a game. What a letdown." Mike Tulumello thought it necessary to write: Consider in the fall of 1989, the Suns took to camp a group of players that included Armon Gilliam, Eddie Johnson and Michael Williams... . The three players in their place are Kurt Rambis, Jerrod Mustaf and Negele Knight. None played a minute in the playoffs." Peter Vecsey revealed in USA Today that Cotton told him Tom Chambers doesn't even try to guard his man on defense to help out his teammates. Cotton had a tendency to talk more freely when he saw the New York media. He seldom realized their stories would get back here to Phoenix.
Other writers complained about our trading Tyrone Corbin and then letting Xavier McDaniel go for Mustaf and keeping tiny Greg Grant and letting Williams go to Indianapolis where he's become a star.
Keeping Grant was Cotton's idea. He thought the fans would like to see a tiny man playing in the National Basketball Association. Cotton always did have a circus approach to things.
Steve Benson did two vicious cartoons. One accused our team of choking" against Portland. His second used the image of our gorilla mascot to denigrate us publicly.
Once and for all, understand there is nothing racist intended by our use of The Gorilla" as a mascot. We only use it as something to entertain our white fans during time-outs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had it all wrong when he tried to strangle our gorilla underneath the stands one night.
And the writers keep complaining that neither Andrew Lang nor Mark West can catch, shoot or dribble the ball. So what, I say. Andrew and Mark are learning and their salaries fit nicely under the cap.
And yes, I still insist that Tim Perry and Cedric Ceballos are going to be big-time players for the Suns.
With players like these on our team, how could we possibly use a Hakeem Olajuwon or Charles Barkley?
But since you are members of our extended Suns family, I shall take this opportunity to give you a fuller explanation than the media can possibly give.
First of all, here is a dose of reality. I want you to think carefully the next time you speak to your agents about demanding a rewrite of your contract.
I want you to understand that none of you, with the possible exceptions of Dan Majerle and Jeff Hornacek, are indispensable. The reasons for that should be obvious.
Look at one of those television tapes of this year's playoff games. How many black faces did you see in the audience?
The reality is that there aren't more than a handful of untouchable players. Michael Jordan in Chicago and Patrick Ewing in New York are two obvious examples.
With everyone else, management can back up the truck and conduct a solid moving job. The fans won't know the difference. We have moved a lot of stars in the past. No one complained or missed them. We moved Walter Davis. We moved Larry Nance. There was never a murmur.
Paul Westphal will be the coach for now. He will run things a little differently. For one thing, he was a highly skilled player in this league for years-an all-star. He will teach you to run an out-of-bounds play. He will see to it that the game doesn't depend solely on Kevin Johnson.
Westphal won't be nearly as effective on radio and TV as Cotton. He won't be as popular.
Secondly, he will have little credibility if he continues to tell us in that television commercial that Whataburger makes the best hamburgers.
We will miss Cotton in the marketing department. He was a real drum beater. He was like the carnival barker who tells people what wonders there are to see if only they will buy a ticket and come inside the tent.
Cotton made every fan feel good about our Phoenix Suns.
When he talked about them, he sounded like a benevolent scoutmaster. He spoke of K.J. and Andrew, Tom and Horny, and even his best friend Rambis, who he later buried so deep on the bench that people thought Rambis was on the disabled list.
I've been saving Rambis for the last 20 games of the season and then the playoffs," Cotton said brightly one day. Amazingly, a few people even believed him. Even I was a little taken aback.
Rambis may be hurt right now. But even he has to admit his salary of $900,000 was the easiest big money anyone's ever made in the history of professional sports.
Let's talk about Cotton's coaching style for a minute.
Didn't you think it was strange that Cotton never had time to teach you a single out-of-bounds play that would help you get a shot off in the final seconds of a close game?
Didn't you ever wonder that, for all Cotton's years as coach, our Suns still couldn't throw the ball in from outside and set up a play that got us a decent shot at the basket?
This is the reality of what our plan was in running this operation under Cotton. He wasn't hired because he could teach players about Xs and Os on a board. His strong suit was salesmanship. His whole coaching technique here evolved into giving the ball to K.J. and letting him freelance.
When Kevin was good, the team was good. When Kevin was awful, as he was in the final game of the playoffs, we lost.
But on the whole, our strategy was a great business decision.
Cotton gave us acceptability. He was brought back here because that down-home twang of his sounds so good on television and radio.
It was always more important for Cotton to have a one-liner ready for Jude LaCava's radio show than it was for him to stay late at the gym running drills that no player enjoys anyway.
Cotton says he might like now to become a commentator on television. I wish him well. But I noticed last Sunday that he prefaced remarks about every coach in the NBA by pointing out that the coach in question had just turned in one of the best coaching jobs in the league.
The bland comments that made him so popular in the Phoenix market won't play for a national audience. If he wants to play in that league, Cotton will have to do his homework. Schmaltz won't sell in New York, Chicago and L.A.
As players, you understand how little most coaches in the NBA have to do with the outcome of the games. Even the fans understood that all that shouting Cotton did from the sidelines meant nothing. It was all part of the show.
The best players make too much money to sit on the bench. Cotton was able to cut down Tom Chambers' playing time only after Chambers' skills eroded.
Do you think that a Tom Chambers who could still score 30 points a night and earn $2 million a season would sit on the bench throughout an entire playoff game as he did against San Antonio?
I still don't know what Cotton was thinking about when he did that to Tom. Has he resented Chambers all these years? Or did he take this opportunity to get even by humbling him before a sellout crowd?
Our marketing position was always that if the fans liked Cotton then it follows they will like the Suns, too. We were fortunate enough to win most home games during the regular season. So it worked. We have been very successful, financially.
When Cotton came back to our franchise, our Suns fans were in a bad mental state. All they could think about was the drug scandal and the involvement of Walter Davis, one of our great stars of that day.
At tip-off time each night there were huge chunks of empty seats in Veterans' Memorial Coliseum. Even season- ticketholders weren't showing up. Corporate ticketholders were complaining they couldn't even give game tickets away.
Our Cotton Express advertising campaign worked. We've had a remarkable run.
This is what the NBA is all about now. Packed houses. Slam dunks. The Gorilla. Ear-shattering sound effects. And most of all, commercial involvement in our product lines like shirts, posters, jackets, caps and whatnot.
For almost two seasons now, we've played to capacity crowds at the old arena. Financially, we have never been in a better position. The television profits keep pouring in. Advertisers are fighting to get in line to advertise with us. Season-ticket sales are at an all-time high.
We have a quality product that has caught the American public's fancy. We have been helped, too, because the shape of the playing floor actually makes it a better game to watch on television than either baseball or football.
These are the things that make it possible for me to drive a Jaguar and have a big house and a summer home, and for each of you to drive a Mercedes-Benz and a Porsche on alternate days.
Now we must look to the future.
Permit me to pat myself on the back a little bit about what I'm about to tell you next. I admit that I am an ambitious man who never sits still. I am a little bit like Commissioner David Stern in that regard. We both think continually in terms of commercial greatness. We are the Cosimo and Lorenzo de Medici of modern times.
A few years back, just when the NBA's popularity was about to explode, I was clever enough to coerce the City of Phoenix into an incredible sweetheart deal for us.
I hinted that we would be forced to leave town because the Coliseum was too small. City officials panicked. As a result, we will have our own brand-new America West Arena starting next season.
Let me assure you that it is a state-of-the-art playing facility. With this new arena, we will be able to sell more season tickets than ever before.
And it won't stop.
Ticket prices will continue to rise. So will television revenues. More and more products will be sold. Commissioner Stern and I won't rest until every man, woman and child in America is the proud owner of a team tee shirt, cap and jacket, as well as a life-size poster of Michael Jordan.
There will be sky boxes for our corporate Suns fans who now seem willing to bear any ticket price as long as their corporation pays for it and it can be buried in the corporate expense report.
And don't be dismayed by your friends who try to tell you this arena is really an ugly, oversize building when they see it from the outside.
Beauty is in the eye of those who understand the box office. Let critics call our arena a monstrosity as often as they want. The song that will be played inside the accounting office will be prettier than any by Aretha Franklin or Ray Charles.
In addition to professional basketball, we also are going to have our own indoor football team and a series of public events that will keep the doors revolving for as many nights of the year as possible. Tractor pulls, mud wrestling and other cultural events are a distinct possibility. So are such cultural events as conventions by the National Rifle Association.
We are entering a truly golden era.
The future is one of world domination by the NBA and Commissioner Stern. I envision a time in the not-too-distant future when every man, woman and child has an NBA tee shirt and cap, as well as a life-size poster of Michael Jordan in the entrance hall of their abode.
Thank you for your attention. Chairman Jerry
THE KINGDOM AND THE POWER PASTOR LEO GOD... v5-20-92
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.