PHOENIX -- It should have been a night of celebration in Arizona as the Suns took Game 2 of their Western Conference Semifinals series against their arch-rivals, the San Antonio Spurs. The 102-110 victory was bittersweet, however, as Phoenix mourned the passing of B. A. Refs, a cherished and longstanding member of the team.
"I still can't believe it," said Amar'e Stoudemire, who paced the Suns with 23 points on this triumphal yet tragic night. "I mean, Bitching has been part of the Phoenix squad for as long as I can remember. He hasn't played as big a role this season as he has in other years, but really, he was the heart and soul of this team."
Steve Nash, the All-Star point guard whose quiet but effective performance helped put Phoenix ahead 2-0 in this Playoffs series, was visibly emotional in discussing the death of Refs. "We've lost a part of who we are. It's that simple," Nash told reporters when informed that his team, though slightly less aggressive in the paint than the visiting Spurs, had shot fifteen more free throws. "Bitching was what this team was all about. Bitching defined our identity as a franchise. Bitching on the court, Bitching in the locker room, Bitching between games. He was the public face of the Suns as well -- we all remember how, during some of our past postseason struggles, there was always Bitching on TV and on the radio. This is a sad, sad time. We've got a duty to go on, somehow, but it will not be easy. I'm not sure we know how to play basketball without Bitching."
While the Suns players did their best to keep their grief away from the cameras, outside the US Airways Center the pain at the death of B. A. Refs was on full display. "I can't believe he's gone," sobbed Al Cohn, a lifelong Phoenix fan. "He meant everything to Phoenix fans. I love the team so much, but can I really be a Suns fan without Bitching About Refs? It just won't be the same." Cohn said he was concerned about B. A. Refs' health when he noticed that Joey Crawford was officiating the game. "I held out hope until the end," Cohn said. "Even when things started looking really bad, I kept telling myself that Bitching has always triumphed in the end. He's always been our rock, our foundation. But as the calls kept getting more and more one-sided ... as even the calls against the Suns just served to take the energy out of Spurs rallies and sent a cold-shooting Duncan to the line ... somehow I knew that this was it. I mean, we'll never forget him. But he's gone."
Coach Alvin Gentry joined the team after B.A. Refs' career was already on the wane, but he understands the significance of the loss. "It was a great run," Gentry said. "Bitching has been a part of the Phoenix Suns for a long time. After tonight, Suns fans will have to deal with the fact that -- no matter how tough things get -- they will no longer be able to fall back on Bitching About Refs."