The words speak to Devin Booker. The words are written on a pair of souvenir shoes that Kobe Bryant once gave the Phoenix Suns star. They are the words now tattooed on the back of Booker’s arm.
And now the time has arrived.
The Suns’ breakthrough season becomes a gauntlet on Wednesday. Four games a week until the end of the regular season, including six back-to-back contests. Their closing schedule is currently ranked the fourth-hardest in the NBA, with an opposing winning percentage of .537.
There are issues to resolve. The Suns rank last in the NBA in free throws attempted. They’ve become too enamored with three-point shots, occasionally shooting themselves out of big leads. They might be susceptible at the rim when pitted against physical frontcourts in the postseason. They need to figure out their playoff rotation. And they’re in big trouble at point guard if Chris Paul gets hurt, and the Suns should really try and taper his minutes heading into the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the 2020-21 Suns might rank among the best performances by a general manager in Arizona sports history. But James Jones also passed on acquiring a backup center at the trade deadline/buyout market. He bet his team is good enough to win a championship as currently constructed, a decision that effectively put a target on his back.
The Suns are also 23-5 in the past two months. They’ve won 35 games for the first time in Booker’s career. They’re on pace for over 50 wins in a 72-game season. Dating back to the Orlando bubble, they have won 43 of their last 57 games.
It will be fascinating to see how the Valley responds in the coming weeks. It’s been a while since we’ve had white-knuckle basketball games in Phoenix. It’s been a while since an incompetent NBA official has caused significant damage to our psyche and our region. It’s been a while since sports bars were packed with basketball fans cheering for a local team. All of that will be coming back to a fan base that has been out of the playoff business for 10 years.
The Suns will also need good luck and good health in the postseason, elements that were clearly missing in the Steve Nash era.
Booker can make things a lot easier. After some clunky fourth quarters in the recent past, Booker put the Suns on his back and carried them to the finish line against the Houston Rockets. It was a reassuring sight for a player who must do that on a nightly basis once the playoffs begin.
The final one-third of the Suns’ regular season also arrives after another example of national disrespect toward Booker.
On a confusing ESPN list of the top 25 players under the age of 25 based on future potential, Booker ranked No. 8, behind LaMelo Ball, De’Aaron Fox, and Ben Simmons. The list was largely meaningless, but it elicited a lot of angry criticism from the pro-Booker crowd.
In other words, Booker is surely aware of the list. Just like the All-Star Game snub. All of it counts. And now is Booker’s time for payback, including all the people who thought he was just a stat-gatherer inside a dysfunctional organization. It turns out teammates matter, after all.
But this is also highly personal. It’s the platform Booker has always craved and the very mission dictated to him by his mentor, Bryant. It’s time for Booker to close out games and shut everyone up for good. It’s time to be legendary.
Yes, it’s an enormous task. It’s a giant ask.
But it’s what the moment requires. It’s what is expected of most truly great NBA players. And it’s exactly what the Suns need starting now.