The mantra of “Seven Seconds or Less” truly manifested itself in 2004 when the Phoenix Suns acquired pout guard Steve Nash from the Dallas Mavericks. That season, after the team was bought by a San Diego investment group during the offseason, marked the Suns return to the NBA’s elite. Not since the Charles Barkley era had the Suns won 62 games in the regular season. Clearly freewheeling Italian head coach Mike D’Antoni was on to something in Phoenix. He finally had the players to achieve his dreams of running one of the most sophisticated offensive systems in NBA history; for that, D’Antoni was named coach of the year in 2004.
So what do hoops aficionados mean when they cry “seven seconds or less?”
Well, it starts with hustle. The mantra is centered on the belief that all scoring must happen in seven seconds or less. One of the guards, usually a floppy haired Canadian named Nash; dribbles the ball up the court in three seconds. Then, as the other players get into their sets, he distributes to the open man or comes off a pick or screen to attempt a shot of his own. Nash made a nice living coming off screens and knocking down three pointers during the Suns 62-win season in 2004-05.
Other players responsible for the 4 second component of the seven second mantra in 2004-05 were Joe Johnson, Amare Stoudemire, Leandro Barbosa, and Shawn Marion. The Suns advanced to the Western Conference Finals that year and eventually lost to the Spurs 4-1. The freakishly athletic Stoudemire led the Suns by averaging a stupendous 37.0 points per game. Running up and down the court like flashes of lightning, Suns players wreaked havoc on the league. Not since the heyday of Don Nelson had the association witnessed such a freewheeling style of play. Nash led the NBA in assists and players such as Stoudemire and Marion burst onto the scene as talented young stars. Both made their first All-Star team in 2004.
Enter the 2005-06 season. Joe Johnson demanded a trade and the Suns reluctantly obeyed, sending the quiet but talented guard to Atlanta where Johnson was tapped to spearhead a rebuilding project. The Suns acquired Boris Diaw from Atlanta and also signed Raja Bell and Kurt Thomas. That year, the Suns dispatched the Lakers and Clippers in the playoffs but lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the Conference Finals.
Seven seconds or less gave the Phoenix Suns a unique identity. The Suns style of play was perhaps the most recognizable in the league. Suns games were huge draws on national TV as basketball fans everywhere congregated to watch offensive greatness unfold. The Suns never claimed the NBA’s ultimate prize with their unique style of play, but they captured the imagination of basketball fans the world over.
There are many who regret the demise of “seven seconds or less,” myself included. The NBA needs another totally unique offense to recapture the minds of its fans. D’Antoni is trying to install a similar system in New York, but with limited success. Give the Suns credit for sticking to their style after such disappointing losses in 2005 and 2006. They were aware of their identity and they were not about to change their style because critics railed about their lack of defense. “Seven Seconds or Less made basketball fans smile; it even reminded some old-timers of Oscar Robertson. I hope someone reinvents this system soon, because I miss good, honest, balls to the wall, high flying, freewheeling offense.