An Arizona State Affinity

If you follow college and professional sports, it’s inevitable that your collegiate heroes can become your professional rivals and the players who wore the wrong laundry on Saturday can quickly turn into your Sunday favorites. Sometimes, scholastic allegiances might provide you some type of semblance of a dog in the fight, when you’d otherwise have no interest in who wins or loses a big game.

The thought came to the forefront, as 16 teams prepared for the NBA Playoffs, while the Suns and their lottery brethren hit the golf course prior to Easter Sunday. This was a particularly tough year for the Phoenix Suns, who were undeniably in tank mode from the jump. We were treated to a lot of bad basketball for the privilege of welcoming a very unsure thing in the 4th overall pick in the upcoming draft.

Are the playoffs a time that mitigate cheering on a team that might be considered a rival by your primary team? For the sake of the conversation here, let’s say the Suns are your first love in the NBA and you’re all Sun Devil all of the time. Are you supposed to have an affinity for your beloved Big Men on Campus, or wish them well and move on when they trade in the Maroon and Gold for that elusive NBA paycheck?

Maybe Lionel Hollins brought a smile to your face when the Blazers it all in 1977. The Suns invitation to that tournament must have been lost in the mail, so maybe we avoid a conflict of interest there.

Eddie House was on the last Celtics team to bring home the trophy, but they beat the Lakers in 2008, so Phoenicians were likely not conflicted as to who they pulled for in that one. Maybe Suns fans would have had a hard time being glad for Arizona State’s all-time scoring leader winning with the Heat in 2011, but Dallas rendered that matter moot.

Few, if any, Suns fans would have been pulling for Byron Scott on the Showtime Lakers, while the 1980 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year brought 3 rings to La La Land in the decade he spent in Inglewood. Suns fans still have no love for the Spurs, I’m assuming. So for Sun Devil fans in the know–the ones that knew Jeff Ayres was referred to as ‘Jeff Pendergraph’ during his time in Tempe–probably had a very short-lived celebration for their former big man, while they held their nose over the Spurs having nice things in 2014.

That brings us to James Harden. To be fair, Harden stayed a year too long to be considered one-and-done, which seems to be a way to dismiss this alumni status of the players who make a 1-season cameo on a college bench. In 2009, Harden’s ASU team reached the NCAA Tournament, which lost in the second round, but Sun Devil fans know better than most, you do not take those tournament appearances for granted around here, where they are not as dime-a-dozen as they are a few hours down I-10.

So, there’s plenty to appreciate for the what the now 8-year NBA veteran was able to do at Wells Fargo Arena, but does that mean locals default to supporting his team when it does not conflict with their own rooting interests?

I get the sense that they do not. Sure, it would be much easier if they just landed on Planet Orange out of college, but the odds suggest that it’s more likely a 2nd round talent like Carrick Felix would be an option for Phoenix than a lottery guy like Harden. You know how draft lotteries go for our Valley teams.

Of course, Harden could not have been on the Suns RADAR in the 2009 NBA Draft. Scooped up by the Thunder with the third pick, Harden was hardly a superstar in his 3 seasons with Oklahoma City, and needed a change of scenery to be the Alpha Dog.

The Suns have been plagued with chemistry issues, forcing future stars to shine in other city’s skies–Harden may have just been another name on that list in a scenario where the Suns could take him in the 2009 Draft?

Now, the Rockets are done. The team that took them down in the Western Conference Semifinals were gone shortly thereafter. In hindsight, is your affinity for James Harden’s days at Arizona State enough to keep you as a fan, even 8 years after the fact?