The Phoenix Suns are up 3-2 in their Western Conference semifinal series, with Dallas going into Thursday’s Game 6 as the pressure mounts for the Suns to close out the second-round series. Phoenix will look to their carefully cultivated locker room culture to keep them together and loose.
As reported by David McMenamin of ESPN, the Suns begin their pregame festivities clowning around with each other, some playing around like their Iron Man, others acting like they’re in the middle of a football play. There’s even some dancing or meme-inspired gesture that the Suns find and shop around, hoping a teammate will execute it in the tunnel.
Then comes the Suns’ 15 players dapping up their teammates in 14 unique ways. Each handshake displays just as much muscle memory as the dazzling euro steps, fadeaway, and stepback jumpers they execute shortly afterward.
“It loosens it up a little bit,” JaVale McGee says. “Everybody doesn’t have to be 100 percent serious when they go into the game, but focused. Focused and serious are two different things.”
“We’re the circus, and we pack up and move every day,” Cam Payne added. “because it’s the greatest show on Earth.”
Once all the fun is over, the Suns gather around their veteran leader, Chris Paul, who galvanized the troops with a speech or message to the team to help them set the tone for the evening. The entertaining display of teamwork has become a welcome release for the Suns; a self-described circus show that McGee originated.
As a three-time champion, McGee knows the importance of culture, and setting a tone is just as crucial as the mundane task of setting a screen or making the proper defensive rotation. McGee reminds the Suns that they are “dogs” and the “best team in the motherf…ing world’ played a huge part in the Suns finishing the regular season with the best record in the NBA.
The Suns also finished the year as the only team with top-five rankings in offensive and defensive efficiency. Coach Monty Williams was recently named Coach of the Year, Mikal Bridges finished second for Defensive Player of the Year, and Devin Booker recieved MVP buzz. According to McMenamin, the pregame ritual is the backbone of the Suns performing so well as a team and individually.
Per Deandre Ayton, the Suns have a culture that doesn’t come around too often in a professional setting.
“It feels like a college team sometimes,” Ayton says, “but we get so much money for this.”
Adds Paul: “I’ve been in this league so long that I done seen teams that don’t do anything [pregame]. If you’re on another team and you see that, you’re like, ‘Damn, we ain’t got that.’
“That right there has sort of been our little sacred space.”
When the Suns take the Mavericks o for Game 6 on the road, the culture they’ve built will help them will gather up the energy to close out this semifinal series and win Thursday’s pivotal Game 6.