In just their second season (1969-70) the Suns reached the playoffs behind the franchise s early stars: forwards Connie Hawkins, Paul Silas, and Dick Van Arsdale and guard Gail Goodrich. Phoenix first advanced to the NBA Finals in 1976, losing to the Boston Celtics. The franchise again reached the NBA Finals in 1993, with a team led by forward Charles Barkley.
The Suns entered the NBA in 1968 as part of an expansion that included the Milwaukee Bucks. Phoenix compiled a 16-66 win-loss record in their debut season and earned the opportunity to flip a coin with the Bucks to determine which team would own the number-one pick in the 1969 NBA draft. Milwaukee won the toss and selected Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar); the Suns selected center Neal Walk.
The Suns were involved in another coin toss that year. Phoenix and the Seattle SuperSonics flipped a coin for the rights to Connie The Hawk Hawkins, an explosive player who was being readmitted to the NBA after having been barred from the league seven years earlier during a gambling investigation. The Suns won the toss, and Hawkins played for the Suns from 1969 to 1973, helping the franchise to two winning seasons during this time.
Former University of Oklahoma coach John MacLeod became the Suns head coach in 1973 and guided the team for more than 13 seasons. The team s most exciting season under MacLeod was 1975-76, when the Suns compiled a 42-40 record and finished in third place in the Pacific Division. In the playoffs, guard Paul Westphal and center Alvan Adams helped Phoenix upset the SuperSonics and the Golden State Warriors to advance to the NBA Finals. The Suns faced a strong Boston Celtics team led by center Dave Cowens and forward John Havlicek in the championship series. Game five, which lasted three overtimes, is considered one of the NBA s most historic games. Boston won the game, by the score of 128-126, and went on to take the series as well.
In four out of five years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Suns registered more than 50 victories. Forward Maurice Lucas and guard Walter Davis led the team to a 41-41 regular season record in the 1983-84 season. The Suns surged in the playoffs and advanced to the Western Conference championship series, where they lost in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Injuries and aging or inexperienced players led to four consecutive losing seasons and an overhaul of personnel. Beginning with the 1988-89 season, the Suns registered seven consecutive seasons with at least 50 wins. In 1992 Phoenix obtained Charles Barkley from the Philadelphia 76ers. He sparked the team to 62 regular-season wins and won the NBA s most valuable player (MVP) award. Along with forward Dan Majerle and guard Kevin Johnson, Barkley led Phoenix to the 1993 NBA Finals, where the team lost to the Chicago Bulls in six games. The Suns won game three of the series in triple overtime the first triple overtime game in the NBA Finals since the Suns loss to the Celtics in 1976.
Through the mid-1990s Phoenix remained competitive, qualifying for the playoffs in 1994 and 1995. Major players included Johnson and forwards Danny Manning, A. C. Green, and Wesley Person. After the Suns finished 41-41 in the 1995-96 season, Barkley was traded to the Houston Rockets.