The field of sports marketing is not without its challenges, so when folks in that business are presented with a layup, they better take it.
That’s what the Phoenix Suns are doing by bringing back the sunburst uniforms first worn by the 1992-93 team, which lost to the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals.
It’s the 30-year anniversary of that season, and one way the Suns are celebrating is by going retro in a fashion sense. Wearing your clothes from the ’90s isn’t a good look for most of us, but Suns jerseys from that era are different. Over the years, market research has indicated the jerseys worn in the Charles Barkley era are the most popular among fans, especially the purple one.
“The easiest thing in sports is to give the fans what they want,” said Graham Wincott, the Suns’ senior director of marketing.
The announcement of the jersey’s return was made Tuesday morning via a release video and photos that include current Suns center Deandre Ayton wearing the uniform.
The target date for sales to begin is Oct. 1, but supply-chain issues make that somewhat of a moving target, Wincott said. The Suns experienced that in selling their City Edition “The Valley” apparel the last two seasons.
MORE: Suns reveal retro uniforms from successful 1992-93 NBA season
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“Sometimes we’ll think we’re getting merchandise and at a certain time as you can see from like ‘The Valley’ last year, we kept getting waves of jerseys instead of like a big chunk of them,” Wincott said.
The Suns will wear the retro jerseys at least 20 or so times this season, Wincott said, and the team is working now to determine a target date for a reunion of that 1992-93 team.
“The Valley” line of apparel has been successful for the Suns, and they are expecting the retro theme this season will be greeted similarly.
“The Valley” apparel will always be connected to the Suns of the last two seasons, as well as their two biggest stars, Devin Booker and Chris Paul, just as the sunburst uniforms of 1992-93 are forever linked to the Barkley era.
The throwback line of apparel is just one way the Suns are acknowledging the 1992-93 season, which was a pivotal one not only for the organization, but also for basketball, in general.
In July of 1992, the Suns traded for Barkley, who was a part of the United States “Dream Team” in the Barcelona Olympics later that summer.
That team, which cruised to the gold medal, contributed to basketball growing in popularity throughout the world.
The 1992-93 season marked a pivotal time in Suns history. They had just traded for Barkley. Paul Westphal was taking over for Cotton Fitzsimmons as coach. And America West Arena in downtown Phoenix opened that summer.
Suns President Jerry Colangelo gave his staff “marching orders” to redesign the logo and the uniforms, said Tom Ambrose, the Suns’ senior vice president of communications at the time.
“The feeling was the logo was very conservative,” Ambrose said. “The uniforms were kind of an old Western typeface. We just wanted something more modern.
“So, we took the logo and leaned it over in one direction, kind of gave it more motion. And then we worked with the NBA design department to come up with some ideas (about uniforms). We wanted to use the sunburst that had been on the shorts, but we weren’t sure how that should manifest itself. They came up with the good idea of putting it on the jersey. At the time, it was very unique.”
Picking that design, however, wasn’t a no-brainer. Ambrose remembers presenting options in a meeting with Colangelo and other members of the front office. Ambrose had a long pointer that he used to highlight prototypes, and he attached a rubber chicken to the tip.
The message: You can’t be chicken. We’ve got to make a decision.
“It lightened the mood, and we picked the one that we saw on opening night.”
The uniform, Barkley and America West Arena made their basketball debut in Phoenix on Nov. 7, 1992. The Suns beat the Clippers by six points, with Barkley finishing with 37 points and 21 rebounds. His teammates didn’t do much to help him.
“Our best play was to keep throwing up bricks and let Charles go get them,” Dan Majerle said. “He really did a great job.”
The Suns won 61 more games that season, a franchise record at the time, advanced to the NBA Finals for the second time in franchise history and lost there for the second time in franchise history.
The redesigned logo and uniforms became popular, too, and remain so.
“I think the fans are going to love it,” Wincott said.
They have for 30 years, after all. Why would they stop now?