Professional Sports Teams
Arizona may have arrived late to the professional sports game, but our momentum is unstoppable. For three decades, the NBA Suns were Arizona’s only representative in professional sports. After Phoenix acquired the NFC's Cardinals in 1988, taking over one of the oldest professional football teams in the nation, the city gained its first professional hockey team, the Coyotes, in 1996, again providing a new home to an old team. In 1998, after hosting spring training for other teams for decades, the Arizona Diamondbacks were hatched as one of America’s newest professional baseball franchises.
In the 1990s, Arizona led the nation in joining the newly established professional leagues of Arena Football League (AFL) and the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). The Arizona Rattlers and the Phoenix Mercury are some of the oldest teams in these young leagues, and they are some of the strongest, both winning two championships in under twenty years.
These teams continue to gain fans and inspire athletes. Watch them play in their state-of-the-art home arenas, and see what our athletes can do.
Phoenix Suns—National Basketball Association
The Phoenix Suns hold the NBA’s fourth-best all-time winning record. Since their beginning in 1968, the Suns have shone brightly enough to make the playoffs 29 times. Winning 56 percent of games and enjoying nineteen seasons of 50 or more wins, the first major professional sports franchise in Arizona has long been a force to be reckoned with. Throughout the years, Suns rosters have featured superstars like Walter “Sweet D” Davis, Kevin Johnson, and Tom Chambers. In the 1990s, Charles Barkley’s sizzling point count warmed fans to the team. In the past decade, Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Nash have brightened the Suns’ performance.
Despite their blazing record, the Suns have never won an NBA championship. They have made nine trips to the Western Conference Finals and played in the NBA finals in 1976 and 1993, and in fact are the most winning franchise never to have won the championship cup. For the past two years the Suns have not qualified for division playoffs, an event that hasn’t occurred since the 87-88 season. In 2012, star player Steve Nash achieved free agency, and his future with the Suns is unknown. However, the steady hand of coach Alvin Gentry offers the hope that with careful management the Suns will shine.
The Suns are owned by Robert Sarver, who also owns its WNBA counterpart, the Phoenix Mercury. Catch games at US Airways Center, which received every award a new venue of its kind was awarded during its first year of operation in 1992 as America West Arena.
Phoenix Mercury—Women's National Basketball Association
Before there was the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), there was the Phoenix Mercury. The team is one of only eight original franchises. This team is hot, reaching the WNBA finals in its second year and qualifying for WNBA Playoffs six times in fourteen years. After experiencing a cool period from 2001–2006, the Mercury rose again in 2007 with a win in the WNBA championships. This peak was repeated in 2009 with another championship victory. In 2010 and 2011, the Mercury has reached conference finals.
The Mercury welcomes five new players to their roster this season. However, fans can still watch power forward Candice Dupree and Diana Taurasi sizzle at Mercury home venue of the US Airways Center.
Arizona Diamondbacks—Major League Baseball
The Arizona Diamondbacks, along with the Tampa Rays, are the newest addition to Major League Baseball, joining the Western Division of the National League in 1998. They are also Arizona’s youngest professional sports team (ironic considering the 65 year history of the Cactus League). The name “Diamondbacks” was chosen by a contest in which future fans submitted ideas.
The team’s first game pitted them against the Colorado Rockies at Bank One Ballpark, now renamed Chase Field. This facility, still the home of the Diamondbacks, is the first stadium in the United States to have a retractable roof. The team moved their spring training from Tucson Electric Park to the newly built Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in 2011.
In 2001 the Diamondbacks became the youngest expansion franchise to win the World Series. In only their fourth season in existence, the team beat the New York Yankees in a 4-3 series. The team won the National League West Division title in 2001 and 2002 with the help of talented pitchers Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, and popular outfielder and hitter Luis Gonzalez.
The Diamondbacks won another division title in 2007, then took one in 2011. So far, the 2012 season looks promising. Rookie pitcher Wade Miley was named the National League’s Rookie of the Month in April.
Arizona Cardinals—National Football League
Like birds, the Arizona Cardinals traveled many places before they alit in Phoenix in 1988. The team hatched in Chicago in 1898 as a football club and became charter member of the National Football League (NFL) in 1920—one of two charter members in operation since the league’s founding. Throughout the years, the team has been known as Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Cardinals, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cardinals, Racine Cardinals, Normals, and the Morgan Athletic Club, but since receiving red uniforms in 1901, the color has remained the same.
The thermometer topped 100 when the Cardinals met on May 22 for their first organized team activity of 2012, but energy soared. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, currently ranking fourth all-time in league history in receiving yards per game for a career (76.0 yds/game), signed an eight year contract extension with the Cardinals on August 20, 2011. Can this help bring the Cardinals to their first Super Bowl appearance since 2008?
Northern Arizona University (NAU) has been the home of the Cardinals’ summer training camp since their arrival in Arizona. With a contract running through at least the 2012 season, the team will be enjoying the mountain air this summer for about 4 weeks in late July and August. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King ranked NAU among the top three preseason NFL training camps in the nation, calling the campus “a gorgeous sight to see,” with pristinely-kept fields and terrific access to the players. Practices are free and open to the public. Watch the Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium, voted the NFL’s top playing surface among NFL players in 2006, 2007, and 2008.
Arizona Rattlers—Arena Football League
Football fans have another opportunity to enjoy live games with the Arizona Rattlers, a leading franchise in the Arena Football League. Founded in 1992 as an expansion team, the Rattlers have the third longest tenure in one city. Already, the Rattlers have won six division titles and have played in five ArenaBowl championship games, winning the championships in 1994 and 1997.
Arena Football Hall of Famer Kevin Guy has been the Rattlers’ head coach since 2007.
Catch the Rattlers at US Airways Center (formerly America West Arena), home of the Phoenix Mercury and the Phoenix Suns.
Phoenix Coyotes—National Hockey League
Arizona gained its first ice hockey team in 1996, when the Winnipeg Jets relocated to Phoenix to become the Coyotes. This year, fans howled with joy as the Coyotes advanced to the Conference Final, their first appearance at the finals in team history. Though they lost the chance to vie for the Stanley Cup to the Los Angeles Kings, the Coyotes are sharpening their teeth for next year with players like team captain and Olympian Shane Doan, Keith Yandle, and Radim Vrbata.
In 2003, the team underwent a massive facelift. It moved from the America West Arena (a state-of-the-art basketball facility but the second-smallest hockey venue in the league) to the newly opened Glendale Arena, now known as Jobing.com Arena. The uniforms were revamped to the “Sedona Red” color seen on Cardinals uniforms (adopted by the Diamondbacks in 2008). Attendance numbers continued to sag despite improvements in play during 2007 and 2008 season, and in 2009 the National Hockey League (NHL) took over ownership of the Coyotes.
Despite financial uncertainty, the Coyotes performance has improved steadily over the past few years, with appearances in the playoffs in 2010 and 2011. Fans are advised to keep a close eye on these predators.