Ayton poster boy

By BRENT STUBBS

Senior Sports Reporter

bstubbs@tribunemedia.net

Bahamian Deandre Ayton, preparing for his third season in the National Basketball Association (NBA), was the poster boy for the upstart Phoenix Suns as they unveiled their new Nike City Edition uniforms.

Ayton, selected as the first pick of the 2018 draft out of Arizona State University, displayed the new jersey that pays homage not just to the city of Phoenix, but the entire metro area.

Across the chest of the new jersey design reads “The Valley.” The Suns have been one of the Valley’s few professional sports teams to keep Phoenix in their name, while Cardinals, Coyotes and Diamondbacks market themselves as “Arizona” teams.

The Suns are coming off an impressive showing in the bubble this summer in Orlando, Florida to complete the abbreviated 2019 season that was halted because of the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in March.

Following a great 8-0 run in the seeding games in Orlando where they fell short of advancing to the playoffs, the Suns are hoping to make a statement both on and off the court this season as they unveil their ‘City Edition’ uniforms, which celebrate the Arizona region.

The reveal of new Nike Inc. (NYSE: NKE) uniforms has become a tradition among NBA teams and fans over the past few years and the Suns uniforms emphasize their motto that “We support The Valley. We play for The Valley. Now, we are repping The Valley.”

The ever-changing rotation of uniforms has allowed teams to get more creative in their designs, as well as sell more merchandise. Fans can start buying the new Suns jerseys on December 3, and they can preorder them now on the team’s website.

For the third season in a row, the Phoenix Suns jerseys will include a patch of the logo of PayPal Holdings Inc. (Nasdaq: PYPL). In 2018, the Suns partnered with PayPal on a deal that put the logo of the digital payment company on the team’s uniforms and its technology throughout the Suns fan experience.

PayPal is headquartered in San Jose, California, but has significant operations and employment in the Phoenix area. The deal with PayPal was recognised by the NBA when the team was named the 2019 “NB Changemaker of the Year.” The deal was said to not only grow PayPal’s business, but also change how the fans experienced watching Suns games.

As they prepare for the start of the new season on December 22, the Suns with their young core of players led by guard Devin Booker, have added veteran point guard Chris Paul from the Oklahoma City Thunder in a major trade yesterday, which is expected to rise their stock for the playoffs this year.

Now the Suns are near the completion of the first phase of a $230 million renovation of Talking Stick Resort Arena. They are also set to open a new state-of-the-art $45 million practice facility just in time for the new season.

As he waits for the new season to unfold, Ayton throws his support behind the frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic as he has aided in upgrading two respite rooms at Banner Estrella Medical Center that provide much-needed moments of relaxation.

“I thought it was important to create the rooms because leisure time is important, especially when you have a long, stressful day,” Ayton said in a Suns video. “These workers have been through a lot throughout this year, 2020 hasn’t been all good and this is just something for them to really relax and just take some stress off.

With a Phoenix Suns theme, the two rooms are now furnished with new amenities such as a massage chair, headphones, calming music and food for the workers doing their part to address the pandemic. “They’ve been through a lot,” Ayton later said. “They help us fight off COVID. I just want to give a huge thank you.”

There’s also an autographed Ayton white No. 22 jersey in the area.

Ayton, 22, catered food for over 300 meals and Puma donated 1,000 pairs of slides for frontline health care workers at Banner Desert Medical Center during the NBA hiatus that began on March 11 after Utah Jazz centre Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19.

Booker joined Ayton in support, donating $25,000 to Banner Health.

Only the second Bahamian to be selected with the first pick in the NBA draft, following Mychal ‘Sweet Bells’ Thompson, who was the top overall pick in 1978 by the Portland Trail Blazers out of the University of Minnesota, Ayton fell short of winning the NBA’s Rookie of the Year honours.

He began his notoriety as a sophomore in 2014-15 when he led Balboa to a 17-14 record, averaging 21 points, 16 rebounds and 3.8 blocked shots per game.

In 2015, he was ranked by Scout as the top prospect in all of high school in their “Ultimate 100” list.

Then a junior, Ayton transferred to Hillcrest Prep Academy in Phoenix to play out his final two years.

As he embarked on his college career, Ayton posted a season high with 19 rebounds on December 30, 2017 against in-state rival Arizona State Sun Devils.

And on January 20, 2018, he blocked six shots, which was listed as the most in Arizona freshman single game history.

With just “one and done,” the 6-foot, 11-inch, 250-pound centre packed his bags and took his talent to the NBA with the Suns as the first overall pick.

He is one of two Bahamians now participating in the NBA alongside Chavano ‘Buddy’ Hield, who is now heading for his fifth season, but there are reports of the 27-year-old 6-1 guard out of Grand Bahama being traded from the Sacramento Kings.

Meanwhile, Thompson, a colour commentator for the Los Angeles Lakers, whom he helped to win back-to-back titles in 1987-88, has an American born son Klay Thompson, who will be returning to the Golden State Warriors’ line-up this season after he underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee sustained during game six of the NBA finals in 2019.

As a result of just completing the 2019/20 season in October with the Lakers winning the title over the Miami Heat in six games in the bubble in Orlando, due to COVID-19, the NBA has agreed to start the new season on December 22 with a 72-game schedule.

The NBA draft will take place on Wednesday night and free agency will commence shortly thereafter with training camps starting on December 1.