Best Sports Savior 2013 | Alex Len, Phoenix Suns | Sports & Recreation | Phoenix

The Phoenix Suns are rebuilding after the almost-heady days of Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire. We mean, despite his two MVPs, Nash never brought us a trophy. Neither did Charles Barkley back in his day, though he came closer. Then came last season, when the Suns without Nash (Amar'e was long gone) were nowhere close to contention. In fact, they were the worst team in the NBA's Western Conference. So because of this new low in suckage, we're heartened by any seemingly positive development. Anything that could bring the team back to almost glory. And we think thrifty owner Robert Sarver and his crew may have stumbled on a guy who could help ace guard Goran Dragic make our purple-and-gold goons respectable again: 7-foot-1 Alex Len. We know: Tree-tall white guys (jump-shooters like Dirk Nowitzki aside) tend to be meat in the middle in today's NBA, not the mega-scorers needed to be to win championships. But if Len can stay healthy (ankle issue), we predict he'll be different. A sophomore at the University of Maryland last season, the Lithuanian averaged 11 points, eight rebounds, and two blocked shots per game (impressive college numbers). Against the reigning-national-champion Kentucky Wildcats last year, he dominated the player whom scouts would declare the best big man in the '13 draft, Nerlens Noel — scoring 23 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, and blocking four shots. Don't look for the Suns' fifth overall pick in the NBA draft (he could've gone first if not for the ankle injury) to start immediately; he'll play behind journeyman big man Marcin Gortat, whose contract expires after next season. The Suns say they picked Len because of his, um, "upside." He's a giant 20-year-old who, they say, may not be done growing physically. He's certainly not done growing as a scorer and defender. We pray he becomes the franchise player that the Suns can build around.

We'd been hearing Joe Garagiola's gravelly voice our whole waking lives. It was always a comfort to hear him broadcasting baseball games for NBC and, since moving to the Valley, off-and-on with the Arizona Diamondbacks, with whom his son, Joe Jr., used to be an exec. Joe Sr. always was a wise and wisecracking presence. When he retired from broadcasting recently — to much fanfare by the Diamondbacks — we got a lump in our throats to think a presence from our sports-crazed youth no longer would be a mainstay.

Garagiola's 87 and we're . . . well, never mind — but his departure's a reminder of the cruel passing of time. Garagiola's a true sports legend, and not in the traditional sense for an ex-jock. He cracks that he wasn't a great catcher in the major leagues, that he wasn't even the greatest catcher on the block where he grew up in St. Louis — Yankees Hall of Famer Yogi Berra lived down the street. He was no Bob Uecker, mind you, but Garagiola hit only .255 lifetime, spending the bulk of his nine-year big-league career with his hometown Cardinals. He also played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Chicago Cubs, and, briefly, the old New York baseball Giants. As a rookie, he played in one World Series with the Cards, who prevailed over the Boston Red Sox and slugger Ted Williams. Joe became famous for his mouth, his monkeyshines, and his sense of humor.

He was a character, and not just as a sportscaster. He kept fellow panelists and his audience on The Today Show in stitches for eight years during two stints. He was an occasional guest host of the Johnny Carson show, including the only Tonight Show appearance of John Lennon and Paul McCartney while the Beatles still were together. A pal of Gerald Ford's, he watched election returns at the White House with the accidental president. His good humor and wit have carried him far. No question that his boyhood pal Yogi was the far better ballplayer, but Joe lasted longer in the public eye.

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