PHOENIX — There are 15 minutes left before tipoff at Phoenix's Footprint Center. Deandre AytonHe is standing on all fours in front of the locker room and barks like an animal.
Ayton says, “I'm a big dog.” “Without the leash.”
A chaotic, but beautifully orchestrated, few minutes of chaos ensue within the house before Ayton can make his transformation from center-to-canine. Suns‘ tunnel.
Mikal BridgesPretends he's wearing Iron Man's armor. He has a palm repulsor that lifts him from one side to the next.
An ex-Baylor tight end turned NBA power forward Ish WainrightAyton holds an invisible football in his hands and sprints a few meters forward. Ayton, who is still standing at this point, stops him with classic tackle form.
15 players execute 14 handshakes simultaneously, one for each teammate. This is a breathtaking display of muscle memory sync that is so amazing that it almost seems effortless to perform the Euro steps and step back 3s on court.
“It loosens the tension a bit,” says backup big man JaVale McGee says. “Everybody doesn’t have to take the game seriously, but they can be focused. Both focused and serious are different things.
The pressure is mounting on Phoenix, the top-seeded team, to win the series. It will face the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinal. Dallas Mavericks (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPNThe fun pregame routine has been a welcome escape.
A message for the rest of the league.
“We're the circus and we pack and move every day,” backup point-guard Cameron PayneIt's “the greatest show on Earth,” he says.
AS WILD ASNo matter how dramatic the scene appears, there's a pregame structure you must follow.
The handshakes, the Iron Man demonstrations and football tackles are first.
Then, it's Chris PaulIt was the turn of's to address the team, with the 17-year-old veteran point guard commanding all attention.
Then, there is an interruption.
“Hey, motherf—ers!” McGee shouts his way through the scrum, forcing his way in with an exaggerated delivery that Samuel L. Jackson would be proud of.
McGee, the proud creator of the Suns' pregame show and ringleader of its pregame huddles, is undeniably a circus.
Although the soliloquy varies from one game to the next, McGee always includes two statements. The Suns are “dogs”, and “the best teams in the world,” or, to be more precise, the best team of the “motherf—ing universe.”
“I was saying, ‘We’re the best team worldwide,’ when I said it. [our record was] 0-0. McGee states that before we scored a single point, it was already too late. “I am a firm believer in seeing things through to completion.”
Three-time champion since his days at the Golden State WarriorsAnd Los Angeles LakersMcGee understands that setting the tone before a game is just as important than setting the screen. McGee was even FaceTimed by the Suns when he couldn’t make it to one of their midseason road trips due to bronchitis.
McGee is Payne's “main event”. “There are a lot more shows than he is, but he is the main attraction.”
McGee has made McGee's directives for huddles a reality. Phoenix's regular season record of wins was 64-18. This not only secured the league's highest record, but also distinguished itself as the only offensively-minded team in the top five. AndIn 2021-22, defensive efficiency
Monty Williams was named Coach-of-the Year. Bridges was second in Defensive Player Of The Year. Devin BookerReceived MVP buzz, Philadelphia 76ersCenter Joel EmbiidGiving him a shoutout Tuesday during discussion of the award.
The seemingly absurd ritual is the backbone of all this.
“We have a team,” says forward Jae Crowder says. “We share camaraderie. We are there for one another. All of us are on the same page. This keeps us all connected.
This is something that professional basketball doesn't offer very often.
Ayton said, “It sometimes feels like a college football team,” but “we get it.” It's so easy to spend too muchFor this.”
Paul adds: “I have been in this league for so long that I have seen teams that do nothing.” [pregame]. You'll be like, “Damn, we don't have that!” when you're part of another team.
“That was our little sacred space.”
PHOENIX HAS SOMETHINGThat is part Chicago Bulls‘ “What time is it? Game time! Whoop!” from the 1990sMixing it with the spectacle of Warriors star Stephen Curry‘s pregame shooting displayA decade ago, it was half a century old. It is now a must see experience for fans.
It's only grown. It's just grown.[Fans]They may just be coming in to see what they can do. [the huddle on the video board]They then get up, buy a T shirt, have a drink, then go back to their seats.
The huddle is a great place to get energized. A micro impact can transform a 37-year-old point-guard on his fifth franchise into an energetic warrior.
Paul says that “there were many games this past year where we might be playing back-to-back, or the fourth in five days. You come out and try to find it,”
Its macro reach can help players regain their dignity. Payne shared sideline dances early in his career that were mocked by some of his teammates. Russell WestbrookWith the Oklahoma City ThunderBecause they were only accompanied by 13.2 minutes per match.
Payne states, “I suppose when you're unable to produce or if your not playing, they aren't trying too see that.”
Now? Crowder beams when Payne is called “the best dancer on the team” [with]The best handshakes
Payne states that this is what I want to accomplish now. He says, “Just make sure I produce on and off the court.” You can't take it away. “You don't get it if you take that away.”
A galvanizing element is also included.
McGee states, “I just make certain that we all know that we are all together and that we don't rock without anyone else.” “We don’t care if your brother — your twin brother — is on the other side. We won't rock with them if we cross these boundaries.”
They have all they need: the Suns. They have all they need in the Suns.
Ayton states, “My friends and my teammates are my friends.” “Some of my closest friends.”
McGee adds: “We'll still have friendships for the rest of our lives, even after this.”
Thursday night, the Suns will take over the hallway outside of the visitor's bathroom at Dallas' American Airlines Center 15 minutes before tipoff.
McGee will shout, McGee's handshakes will fly and Ayton's barking will be heard. A team will then take to the court looking for a win that will bring the Suns back to the Western Conference finals.
“On the roads, I like [the pregame huddle]Payne believes that Payne is the best. I know that at home it's cool to see our fans, but we have our own energy. It's us and our energy on the road.
“Like, we are against the world. We're going to show everyone why we're the best.”