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WAIT UNTIL NEXT YEAR

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But here I was, waiting outside Paul Westphal's clubhouse. Westphal is likable. He is a born-again Christian with decidedly conservative political sentiments. He went to USC because he thought there was too much radicalism on other campuses, like Berkeley and UCLA.

Westphal is a big fan of Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk-show host who had sat under the basket in seats Westphal provided for him. It's Limbaugh who goes to dinner with Westphal and rides with him on the team airplane.

Limbaugh, the loquacious and witty fat man, loves to be hated by the liberals. Each day he announces how much longer the White House will be held hostage by Bill Clinton and the liberals.

Limbaugh wore a dark suit, despite the 110-degree temperature in Phoenix, and he was in his element throughout the game. During halftime, Limbaugh fans lined up to get his autograph.

"How many of you saw me interviewed at the Suns game last week by Hannah Storm?" Limbaugh had asked his millions of followers all of last week.

This week, Limbaugh will no doubt talk about the Suns again. Only this time, he will be talking about what a great game he had seen in Phoenix. And for this one time, I will be forced to agree with him.

If the Suns had to lose this series to the Bulls, this was the only acceptable way to do it. They left the field of battle with honor. Suns fans are all now certain that the best team lost. As they used to say in Brooklyn: "Wait until next year."

@rule:
@body:On the door closest to Barkley's dressing stall, there is a sign in big letters that reads: "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the Earth?" It is signed, "God."

There is plenty of space in the room. So the influx of media people did not actually crowd the place too much. They spread out like locusts to interview the Suns players. Groups quickly surrounded KJ, Dan Majerle and Danny Ainge. Another group surrounded the Suns' owner, Jerry Colangelo.

Majerle seemed totally wasted. He had played his heart out.
Majerle was on the floor all during the final period, when the Suns made their drive after trailing by eight points--87 to 79--at the beginning of the quarter.

With incredible intensity, the Suns held the high-scoring Bulls to only 12 points for the entire period.

"Our defense forced them into two 24-second violations," Majerle said. "When we took a four-point lead, I thought we were in the driver's seat. But it didn't turn out that way."
Majerle was referring to the final three-point shot by Paxson.
Ainge left Paxson open, and went to defend Horace Grant on that play.

"It looked to me," Ainge said, "like Charles was going for the steal. I stepped back and was going to foul Horace when he caught the ball. But he caught it quickly and threw it back out to Paxson.

"It was a well-designed play. We all just reacted. Charles went for the steal and I picked up his man and nobody saw Paxson. You don't want to give up a three, but you don't want to give up a dunk, either. Tough play."
Ainge has been like a coach on the floor all season. He never gives up. And he has never been afraid to throw his body in the way of bigger men charging to the basket.

"It was a terrible way to end it," Ainge said. "I can't ever remember being this disappointed after a loss. This is a great basketball team.

"We didn't play consistently all year, but we always stayed together and played great when we had to. Today was no exception. We had an unbelievable season."
The game-winning shot was also indelibly engraved in Westphal's mind. As a coach would, he saw it from the overall perspective.

"It was just a spread-out situation," he said. "They tried to take it to the basket and Mark West left Horace Grant to try to stop the penetration. Then Ainge thought he could intercept the pass in to Grant and left Paxson open." Westphal recalled watching Paxson's perfect shot.

"It seemed like the ball was in the air for about an hour," Westphal said. "It's something every kid dreams about, and John Paxson got to live that dream out." Barkley arrived from the shower wearing only a towel. Everyone moved to surround him. At first it seemed that no one would ask the first question.

The lights hit him from all sides. Drops of perspiration began rolling off his shaved head.

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Tom Fitzpatrick