PHOENIX — The jumbotron and screens the Suns set up for their draft party Thursday flipped to ESPN. The fans who filled up about three-quarters of Talking Stick Resort Arena’s lower bowl kept quiet.
They didn’t move as the pre-draft montage flipped from Duke’s Marvin Bagley to Real Madrid’s Luka Doncic to Michigan State forward Jaren Jackson Jr. They collectively held their applause until they saw Arizona center Deandre Ayton.
And when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called Ayton’s name first overall, despite the fact that Ayton had been linked to the Suns for weeks, fans let loose in jubilation. Decked out in the bright orange shirts the Suns handed out which read “Time to Rise,” the arena broke out in screams that would rival an NBA Finals victory.
Without a product on the floor, people, for the first time in a long time, were excited about Suns basketball.
“I think the Suns just turned basketball around,” said fan Merrill Matthews, who met with a Suns ticket rep about possibly buying tickets. “Everyone should be excited. Suns basketball is hot like it was when I moved out here 10 years ago.”
Just a year after fans were reminded of the Suns’ illustrious history during their 50th anniversary celebration, a fanbase used to winning snapped back to attention after their team finished the 2017-18 season with the worst record in the NBA.
Over the last few seasons, one could have confused Talking Stick Resort Arena for a library. With poor attendance, it was quiet. The product was bad. Fans weren’t enthused. On Thursday, though, thousands packed into the arena to watch a TV screen.
Suns’ President Jason Rowley said the team’s plan when it got the No. 1 pick was to appeal to fans like Matthews. He said it didn’t matter whether they were selling tickets to longtime season-ticket holders or to those who never had them.
The No. 1 pick is a fresh start.
“The door’s always open and come on back,” Rowley said in an appearance at a Boys and Girls Club recently. “It definitely moved the needle on the business side.”
Basketball fan Matthews wasn’t there to watch the Suns select Ayton. Heck, he was hardly there for the Suns, having come from Philadelphia as a 76ers fan. Instead he was there for the No. 1 pick.
As a basketball fan who hails from one of the best basketball cities in Philadelphia, Matthews said that the No. 1 pick “is always a big thing.”
With their second pick in the first-round, Phoenix traded away its 16th-overall pick, Zhaire Smith, and the 2021 unprotected Miami Heat pick that they held for Villanova’s Mikal Bridges.
Matthews wasn’t too happy that the Suns stole Bridges away from his team.
At least he can see him in person now.