March Madness is often eclipsed by Spring Training fever in Scottsdale, much to the chagrin of die-hard basketball fans. But visit any sports bar when the Phoenix Suns are playing, or during the Sweet 16 college basketball playoffs, and you’ll surely see that Scottsdalians like to (w)hoop it up!
Catch these rebounds of Scottsdale area basketball history:
• In 1924-1925, a year after opening, Scottsdale High School debuted its Scottsdale Beavers basketball team. Despite the lack of many paved streets and no freeways in the Valley, the team traveled to Litchfield Park, Tolleson, Buckeye, Wickenburg and the Phoenix Indian School to compete. Among 1950s/1960s-era Beaver standouts were at least two professional baseball players, Corky Reddell and Hall of Famer Jim Palmer. Other former SHS hoopsters went on to become a minister, a restaurateur, a retail mogul and hold other business and civic leadership positions in Scottsdale. In 1946, we were still such a small town, with only one high school, that the Scottsdale Superintendent of Schools W.W. Dick was also the men’s junior varsity basketball coach. Using 1940s sports lingo, an article in the Nov. 25, 1948, Scottsdale Progress put out a call for “Casaba Hopefuls” among Scottsdale High students. The 1953 Scottsdale High School Beavers won the state basketball championship in its division.
• The town of Scottsdale Recreation Department was created in 1960 to administer a town recreation program. Previously, youth and adult sports were organized by the all-volunteer Civic Coordinating Council, churches and nonprofit youth groups. During the 1960s the local church league was very active; Scottsdale Presbyterian youth were the 1963 league basketball champs. Basketball—in city parks and recreation centers—has always been a popular, year-round activity, indoors and out.
• In 1968, despite reports that the NBA commissioner considered the Phoenix area too hot and too small to support a team, the Phoenix Suns played their inaugural season at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Jerry Colangelo, at age 28, was general manager; Johnny “Red” Kerr was coach; and Tom Van Arsdale was the team’s top draft choice, earning him the nickname “The Original Sun.” Over the past 46 years, many Phoenix Suns have lived in the Scottsdale area (like “Sir” Charles Barkley), hosted or played in numerous pro-am golf tournaments, and have supported a variety of local charities. “Thunder” Dan Majerle’s name is on a popular downtown Scottsdale sports grill. Phoenix Suns Charities have been generous supporters of Scottsdale area youth activities.
• In the 1970s, Scottsdale citizens Jack Karie and Tom Dunlavey helped establish Club SAR (Social, Athletic, Recreational) to provide an outlet for young people to learn responsibility through boxing. In 1984, the city moved Club SAR to facilities at Indian School Park as a full-fledged fitness center, where basketball was a key attraction. Other venues for youth and adults to play basketball near the downtown Scottsdale area in the 1960s and 1970s were the YMCA and the Boys Club on Osborn.
• Starting in 1974, the Scottsdale Charros got involved in sponsoring/hosting a major boys’ basketball tournament. In 1974 the Charros donated and presented the trophies at the first National Senior Boys Summer Basketball Championships held Aug. 15-18 at Scottsdale Community College. The following year, the Charros sponsored the second annual Summer Prep International Basketball Tournament, with Charro Garth Saager as general tournament chairman and former Olympic champion and Valley resident Jesse Owens as chairman of the Basketball Congress International. The August event drew young athletes and collegiate scouts to Scottsdale from throughout the United States. In August 1976, the Charros and the Basketball Congress International again sponsored the U.S. Summer Prep Basketball Classic and International Championships, which were held at Scottsdale’s Coronado High School. Saager and the Charros worked with the athletic staff of Scottsdale Community College and Arizona State University, as well as Owens to stage the multiday event. Hundreds of high school teams competed in basketball games nationwide until there were 16 teams remaining. Those teams were invited to play in the Scottsdale championship. Over eight days, some 10,000 fans cheered on their favorite teams while scouts from nearly 30 universities viewed the playoffs in hopes of recruiting for basketball strongholds like UCLA, Michigan State, South Carolina and Maryland.
• On Jan. 14, 1975, the Valley of the Sun(s) was the focus of the basketball world when the NBA All-Star game was played at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Among the greats on the court were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Walt Frazier and John Havlicek. The All-Star game returned in 1995, to the then-new America West Arena. Superstars on the court included Shaquille O’Neal, Patrick Ewing, Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dan Majerle and Karl Malone. The All-Star Game returned again in February 2009 to the US Airways Center. Although most of the All-Star game events were held in Phoenix, one year the NBA commissioner held his party at Rawhide, the 1880s Western Town and Steakhouse once located on North Scottsdale Road from 1971-2005. Each time the Valley hosted an All-Star game, scores of fans came to Scottsdale to stay and play; some flew in and out of Scottsdale Airport.
• In the mid-1990s, Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan was a member of the Scottsdale Scorpions (one of six teams in Major League Baseball’s Arizona Fall League) during the one year he played minor league baseball. Jordon has also been a familiar sight on Scottsdale golf courses.
• When “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee” was broadcast from the Desert Mountain Golf Course in far North Scottsdale in fall 1993, the Phoenix Suns Gorilla stole the show. Arizona’s most famous ape has also been a popular entertainer at the Special Day for Special Kids event at the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park.
• According to the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau website, past and present NBA stars have favorite area resorts: Amare Stoudemire has been seen at the Hotel Valley Ho, and Wilt Chamberlin and Michael Jordan have each been spotted at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess.
• The Harlem Globetrotters “front office” is actually in Phoenix. Long-time Globetrotter star Meadowlark Lemon lives here, and his Meadowlark Lemon Ministries website lists Greenway Parkway in the Scottsdale Airpark area as its headquarters.
• The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) Phoenix Mercury played its inaugural season at America West Arena in 1997, bringing national attention to women’s sports in Arizona.
• The WNBA All-Star Game will be July 19, 2014, at the US Airways Center, hosted by the Phoenix Mercury.
• Phoenix/Glendale is a finalist in the bid process to host the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four for the years 2017-2020. A final site selection decision is pending. Glendale’s University of Phoenix Stadium was the site of regional “Sweet Sixteen” games in 2009. Previously, regional finals were hosted by Arizona State in 1999, 2004, 2008 and 2012 at America West Arena/US Airways Center. Whenever the big March Madness games come to the Valley, fans congregate in downtown Scottsdale and at area golf courses and resorts.
• For fledgling hoop stars, Scottsdale offers a wide range of training and playing opportunities. The Scottsdale/Paradise Valley YMCA and Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale offer junior basketball leagues. The city of Scottsdale offers skills training and basketball leagues for youth at various age levels, and also offers spring break and summer sports camps that include basketball.
• The city of Scottsdale offers four seasons of adult basketball through its sports and recreation program. See www.scottsdaleaz.gov/sports/bball
• Scottsdale area high school boys’ and girls’ basketball teams have produced many champions and set state records. See www.aia365.com/archives to find your team or favorite player’s statistics.
Joan Fudala is a Scottsdale-based community historian and author. Contact: email@example.com.