PHOENIX -- Jerry Colangelo, the president and architect o the Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns, remembers the skepticism he expressed when, in 1968, the NBA first proposed awarding a franchise to this desert city.
"I remember wondering out loud, 'Phoenix? How can we give that place a team? There's nothing there but sand and cactus,' " recalled Colangelo, who coincidentally enough was then working general manager for the Chicago Bulls, the Suns' rivals for the title this year.
But Colangelo liked the challenge of starting from scratch with an expansion team. After finishing last their first season, the Suns flipped a coin with Milwaukee for the first draft pick. The Bucks won and got Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The Suns settled for Neal Walk.
But Colangelo made several advantageous trades, and Phoenix became competitive by its fourth season. In 1976, the upstart Suns, with present coach Paul Westphal as one of their star players, lost a memorable six-game championship series to the Boston Celtics.
In 1987, the Suns were besieged by reports that a number of players were on drugs, although no formal charges were made.
"That was the low point for this franchise," Colangelo told the Chicago Tribune. "It was based on hearsay and innuendo."
After forming a group of investors in 1988 that purchased the franchise for $44.5 million, Colangelo was in the driver's seat and made calculated deals that led to the acquisition of starters Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle and Mark West.
This year, he added the missing ingredient, obtaining superstar Charles Barkley from Philadelphia for Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry and Andrew Lang.
"If you're satisfied with just being competitive, you don't make bold moves," he said. "You've got to be willing to take risks."
Now he faces the team that launched his NBA career.
"Playing the Bulls is a very emotional matchup for me," Colangelo said, "but I've said all year that if we reach the finals, I want to play Chicago. You want to take your shot at beating the champs."
Before the finals had even started, Suns coach Westphal already was a loser of sorts.
For good luck, he wore his 1974 Celtics championship ring to a local restaurant last Saturday, but gave it to his wife, Cindy, for safekeeping in her purse. By the time they returned home, the ring was gone. Westphal said it has mostly sentimental value.
Former Suns coach Cotton Fitzsimmons, who relinquished his job for Westphal, his protege, is rumored to be a candidate for the Cleveland job vacated by Lenny Wilkens.
"I never say never," said Fitzsimmons, 61. "Once a coach, always coach." Cotton's son, Gary, is the personnel director for the Cavs, who also have interviewed Nets assistant Paul Silas.
The Los Angeles Clippers, who failed to land Wilkens or Magic Johnson, have interviewed former Suns and Knicks boss John MacLeod, now at Notre Dame.
The rebound-poor Suns would like to lure troubled Dennis Rodman away from Detroit. Team sources have Phoenix offering the Pistons rookie forward Richard Dumas and back-up guard Negele Knight.
Washington officials discounted a report that they were willing to swap center Pervis Ellison to Golden State for forward Billy Owens and center Victor Alexander. A source said Alexander, 6 feet 9, 265 pounds, would not solve the Bullets' inside problems.
Bulls assistant coach John Bach likes to refer to the ball-hawking combination of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen as his "Dobermans."
"Now I'm sorry I did it," Bach said. "Everyone in the country sends me dog pictures."