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IMAGINARY MALADIES

For the past two weeks, we've seen what is quite possibly the most magnificent hoax in Phoenix Suns history unfold.

I refer, of course, to the mysterious ailments of three key players. These injuries were contracted with the statistical predictability of a triple lightning strike. They defy belief.

Yet with a straight face and a tear welling in each eye, Cotton Fitzsimmons, that masterful teller of tales about tall people, declared that Kevin Johnson, Tom Chambers, and Dan Majerle all had been placed in the hands of the team's medicine men.

None, said Fitzsimmons, could play until further notice.
Not from the opening gong have I believed this outlandish tale of woe. My opinion from the start is that it was a work of fiction created by Fitzsimmons and Jerry Colangelo, the Atomic Age's answer to Cardinal Richelieu.

The plan behind this sudden burst of creativity is obvious. The Suns have been resting up their most valuable players for the start of the playoffs. I don't blame them. But I decline to make a judgment on either the legality or the ethics involved.

Not a single one of these phantom injuries has been backed up by photographic evidence. Even though each mishap supposedly occurred on the playing floors of the NBA in full view of thousands, not one living soul has stepped forward to boast of seeing any of it happen.

Thanks to television, we have been seeing sports injuries take place before our very eyes for years.

They fall into a classic pattern. They are shown to us in slow motion over and over again. Then the injured are rushed into press conferences where they reveal every detail of the MD120 Col 1, Depth P54.01 I9.01 excruciating pain caused by the tearing of their muscles or the cracking of their bones.

These battle stories are always accompanied by assurances that the players will be back with their teammates as soon as possible.

This is not the way these eccentric mishaps suffered by Johnson, Chambers, and Majerle have played themselves out. Mind you, we are talking about three players who are valued like million-dollar business corporations--which they are.

It was obvious they had no intention of rushing back into service.
There is a tricky bit of business here, though. Don't the Suns owe it to their fans to put their best players on the floor at all times? Isn't there even a league rule to that effect?

We all know the regular season is too long. So are the playoffs, because too many teams are allowed to participate. But all of this excess is necessary to pay the million-dollar salaries.

When did it become acceptable strategy to hold out players with questionable injuries so they might be in a better frame of mind for the playoffs?

Isn't this what the Suns are doing with KJ, Chambers, and Majerle? Isn't Boston doing the same thing with Larry Bird?

Let's examine what Fitzsimmons has allowed us to learn about the injuries.
Dan Majerle, our incarnation of Lochinvar of the West, simply failed to return to the bench for the second half one night. Fans were told Majerle felt a numbness in his groin area.

This sketchy report was more than enough for Al McCoy, the Suns' radio cheerleader.

"We all know that if there was a chance to play that our Thunder Dan would be out there on that floor right now," said the ever-devout McCoy.

I admire McCoy's unquestioning loyalty. But he gets paid handsomely to parrot Colangelo's view of the world. I don't.

Next there is KJ. We are supposed to believe he played his last entire game at top speed and strained his thigh muscle on the way into the dressing room.

Do you remember when KJ actually did strain his thigh muscle last year in the playoffs? Do you remember the histrionics?

We are told that Tom Chambers was shoved rudely from behind by a Golden State rowdy and thus reduced immediately to a state of near It will take more than this injury charade to help this Suns team do very much in the playoffs.

They are good, but not great. They are really a three-man team: KJ, Majerle, and Jeff Hornacek. The Suns can entertain you, but they cannot win it all.

Chambers isn't over the hill. He's just too selfish to do any team much good.

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Tom Fitzpatrick