By Brad G. Faye, Suns.com
While to professional sports organizations it has always been the name on the jersey which matters most, for many professional athletes, the number has at times appeared to be just as important.
Since his days playing at Duke University, new Suns forward Grant Hill has always worn the No. 33. It wasn’t necessarily his first choice, but a number he grew more than accustomed to over the years nonetheless.
“With Magic Johnson being my favorite player as a kid, I originally wore 32 growing up,” Hill said. “When I got to Duke, Christian Laettner had 32 so I was going to wear my dad’s football jersey No. 35, but Danny Ferry had that number retired. So I compromised and picked a number in between.”
Since that time, Hill has never had any road blocks in terms of wearing the number, and did so throughout his days with both Detroit and Orlando. When he arrived in Phoenix, however, many were unsure of which digit or digits he would be donning on his newest jersey. That because since 1988, the No. 33 has been retired by the Suns organization in honor of their former All-Star center Alvan Adams.
The man nicknamed the “Oklahoma Kid” spent his entire 13-year career with the Suns after they selected fourth overall in the 1975 Draft. Adams went on to receive Rookie of the Year honors during the 1975-76 season, and was instrumental in the turnaround of the Phoenix Suns organization. After finishing below .500 in each of the previous three seasons, Adams helped the team to a 42-40 record as well as a trip to their first ever NBA Finals. While the Suns fell short against the fabled Boston Celtics, Adams along with teammates Paul Westphal, Dick Van Arsdale and Garfield Heard helped put the Suns on the map during that memorable campaign.
In the years which followed, Adams’ No. 33 became among the most recognizable in Phoenix – a number he wore in recognition of another great center, former Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
“When I first started playing basketball in seventh grade there was a great college player by the name of Lew Alcindor who wore 33,” Adams recalls of the center who would later change his name to Abdul-Jabbar. “I figured he was the big guy for UCLA and I was the big guy for our team so that was the way I wanted to go. Unfortunately at that age, our league only went up to 15 so I had to wait until high school.”
After 988 games, 6,937 rebounds and 1,237 steals at the professional level, Adams ended his NBA career in 1988. A year later he became just the third Sun in franchise history to have his number retired by the organization.
Nearly twenty years later, Adams’ number was again the topic of conversation when free agent Grant Hill made his way to Phoenix. With Hill having worn 33 since his days in college, Adams made the decision to pass on his 33 without much hesitation.
“To me it’s not my number, it’s Jerry Colangelo’s,” Adams said. “He’s the one who made the decision to retire my number and I think of 33 as belonging more to him, the fans and Suns history. The past is great, but the most important thing is this franchise winning a championship. The best chapter in our history will be the day we win the championship and if I can make a small contribution by making Hill’s transition to Phoenix a smooth one, then I’m all for it.”
Adams’ gesture has not gone without notice by those in the Phoenix Suns organization. New Suns General Manager Steve Kerr was quick to acknowledge the All-Star move by the big man.
“I love the fact that we have so much history with this organization and so many former players who feel vested in this current team,” Kerr said. “We definitely thank Alvan for that.”
Adams still remains with the only franchise he’s ever called home. The former All-Star works as Vice President of Facility Management for the Suns and their home at the US Airways Center. And while his job responsibilities haven’t given him the time to follow Hill’s career regularly, he’s more than familiar with the name which will now be worn above his No. 33.
“It was hard to follow him being in the Eastern Conference with Detroit, but I’ve known about Grant since the beginning,” Adams said. “I was a Cowboys fan when growing up in Oklahoma, so I was a big fan of his dad Calvin. Over the years I’ve seen a lot of highlights, but also how much Grant does in the community he plays in, and how much he means to people. There aren’t many NBA players I can say I’d be happier to see playing with that number.”
Also happy is Hill, who was all smiles when Adams’ name was brought up at Wednesday’s press conference.
“Alvan Adams doing that for me is a wonderful honor,” Hill said. “I was prepared to find another number – maybe 35 – but for Alvan Adams to extend that my way says a lot about him and I’m honored. I’ll go out and try to honor him as well as myself with that number and try to help us win a championship.”