Originally created 04/28/01

Suns players buy tickets to help ensure sellout



PHOENIX -- Six Phoenix Suns players are helping make sure the team plays in front of sellout crowds at home in their first-round playoff series against Sacramento.

The players have purchased about 4,000 tickets for Game 3 Sunday and Game 4 Wednesday and will distribute them to disadvantaged youngsters through area charities.

Jason Kidd, Tom Gugliotta, Penny Hardaway, Shawn Marion, Cliff Robinson and Chris Dudley came up with the money when it appeared the games at 19,023-seat America West Arena might not sell out.

"There's tickets available, which normally there wouldn't be, you would think," Dudley said. "Since there are, let's give them to people who need them."

Kidd said he bought 1,000 tickets and will distribute them through his charitable foundation to organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club.

The young fans should pump up the volume for a Suns home crowd that, unlike the ultra-noisy throng in Sacramento, is far from the NBA's most boisterous.

"They'll come with their voices. You don't have to tell them to be loud. They're loud automatically," Kidd said.

With the best-of-five series tied 1-1 as it shifts from Sacramento, the Suns know the importance of making the home-court advantage as big as possible.

But after a blowout victory in Game 2, the Kings are coming to Arizona confident of their ability to win on the road.

Sacramento won a franchise-record 22 road games this season, including one in Phoenix in which the Kings rallied from 28 points down. That's up from 14 road victories a year ago.

"We have a good record on the road this year," Sacramento's Vlade Divac said. "The road was a big problem for us last year. We were terrible."

Kings coach Rick Adelman, a veteran of many playoff ups and downs in his years as coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, understands that his team is still in a tough situation after losing Game 1 at home.

"I think we're going to see Phoenix's best game," he said. "They did what they needed to do, they got a split. Our backs are still against the wall. We need to win this next game."

The Suns were once the darlings of the city, with a long waiting list for season tickets. Now regular-season sellouts are few in a market saturated by professional sports, with every team struggling at the gate.

"It was the only game in town," Dudley said. "Now you have all four sports here."

The Suns became ticket salesmen on Friday. Players and coaches were out in the 97-degree heat outside America West Arena, handing out T-shirts and signing autographs for ticket buyers. Later in the day, they were at three area shopping malls for more of the same.

While coach Scott Skiles wasn't thrilled with the added duties, and Mario Elie grumbled that selling tickets wasn't in his contract, Suns reserve Tony Delk didn't mind at all.

"It's been good. We need to interact with the fans," Delk said. "I think we should do it more during the course of the season, because people pay a lot of money to come see us play and support us but never get a chance to get an autograph or a chance to meet us. We're people just like they are, and they need to see that."

No player feeds off the home crowd more than Sacramento's flamboyant but sometimes erratic point guard Jason Williams. Delk said Williams will find it a lot tougher on the road.

"Now he's going to get a crowd going against him," Delk said. "How does he play when the crowd is not on his side? That's why we're trying to get the fans out and get some support, because once you get the fans on your side, the momentum changes."

Delk has seen it from both sides. He played for the Kings last season.

"Being a player on their team, and now being on the opposing team, I know the difference a crowd makes," Delk said. "I mean, it really gets them going, and with Phoenix, we can feed off that as well."



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