For one more night, Cotton was king.
As longtime Suns coach Cotton Fitzsimmons was made the 11th member of the franchise’s Ring of Honor Friday night during the Suns-Warriors game, the ceremony was marked with the greatest names in franchise history.
"If Kevin Johnson is here," Charles Barkley joked, "then this is a big night."
The halftime celebration was missing Cotton, of course, after he passed away in July of lung cancer at age 72. Johnson, the former point guard whom Fitzsimmons took under his wing when the two brought the franchise back to prominence in 1988-89, served as Fitzsimmons’ speaker during the ceremony.
Johnson wasn’t the only ex-Sun now rarely around who returned. Former coach and player Paul Westphal, another Ring of Honor member, also was at America West Arena.
"I don’t know if it has really sunk in that he’s not here," Westphal said. "He’s usually in the middle of these things."
Only Walter Davis was missing of the team’s previous 10 ring of honor inductees. The crowd of about 60 or so people sitting on the court during the ceremony included Johnson-era Suns such as Jeff Hornacek and players from Fitzsimmons’ first tenure as Suns coach, like Clem Haskins and Dick Snyder. Nike founder Phil Knight was also on hand.
Former Suns Eddie Johnson, Tom Chambers and Dan Majerle all had anecdotes that brought smiles from the sellout crowd. But it was Barkley’s tale about Cotton picking him up in a convertible the first time he arrived in Phoenix after being traded to the Suns in the summer of 1992 that brought the biggest laughs.
"He had the roof down," Barkley said. "I was like, ‘It’s like 122 degrees out here. Is it always this hot?’ Cotton said, ‘You’re going to hell one day, so this will help you get used to it.’ "
Said Barkley later, "There was no way this could be a sad night."
Before the game, Fitzsimmons’ widow, JoAnn, gave out Cotton’s old neckties to media members and people in the organization to wear in Cotton’s honor.
Meanwhile, Colangelo announced the creation of the 100 percent Cotton coach’s award, which will go yearly to the high school, junior college or university coach that exemplifies the best aspects of Fitzsimmons. That school will receive an annual grant of $10,000 in perpetuity.
Suns chairman and CEO Jerry Colangelo also said the team will donate $100,000 to the Phoenix Boys and Girls Clubs to help build a new facility in south Phoenix, including a basketball court named in Cotton’s honor.
Colangelo, whose relationship with Fitzsimmons stretched since the inception of the Suns’ franchise, kept his friend with the franchise as an adviser after his coaching days were over.
"Cotton was the man I wanted next to me in the trenches," Colangelo said.
Fitzsimmons had that effect on most of the people he met.
"He meant a great deal to me because he brought me to Phoenix, the best thing to ever happen in my life," Barkley said. "It was a typical Cotton night because everyone had fun stories. You could see the appreciation."
Suns Ring of Honor members
Joe Proski (trainer) Dick Van Arsdale Alvan Adams Connie Hawkins Paul Westphal Walter Davis Tom Chambers Kevin Johnson Dan Majerle Charles Barkley Cotton Fitzsimmons