The 2021 NBA Finals, between the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks, has plenty of storylines to it. To read them all, click here.
One such underrated narrative involves forward P.J. Tucker. The 36-year-old, as a member of the Bucks, returns to Phoenix, a place he calls his 'second home'.
"Phoenix is honestly everything to me," Tucker said at the Finals media availability ahead of Game 1.
Including the Bucks, Tucker has played for four NBA franchises in his career and his time in Phoenix representing the Suns is the most he's spent representing one franchise (2012-2017).
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After playing out his rookie year in Toronto (2006-07), Tucker was forced to travel across the Atlantic to play professional basketball. For five years, he competed in professional leagues in Greece, Italy, Isarel and Ukraine before returning to the league in 2012 with the Suns.
"I literally turned down my contract I had to go back to Russia, which was the biggest contract I was ever going to sign, and it was a really big decision for me to do that. I wasn't happy about it at first, but my wife and agent talked me into it, and it ended up being the best decision I ever made in my life and it changed my life.
So I'm super grateful and indebted to Phoenix and the staff and the people that were here, Robert Sarver, all of them."
In his first 21 games, Tucker came off the bench but after that, a move by Alvin Gentry went on to make his career.
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"We were playing at OKC New Year's Eve, and Alvin Gentry just walked in was like, P.J., you start. I was like, What? He goes, you're starting. Mind you, I'm like 15th man for sure, and he's just like, yeah, you're starting. I was like alright (laughing). Alright. And I started from then on out."
"That was my first year, New Year's Eve. I'll never forget that."
After Gentry's decision, Tucker went from not playing in the league between 2007 and 2012 to starting in 511 of his next 660 regular-season games. Although it was his initial years in the NBA, the 6'5" wing was already a veteran in his late 20s and got to witness first-hand the talent that is Devin Booker, who has drafted by the franchise in 2015.
"We all knew that he was going to be really good. Like he wasn't just good, he was really good."
Ever since they were teammates in Phoenix, P.J. Tucker knew Devin Booker would be a star. #ThatsGame #NBAFinals presented by YouTube TV Media Availability- NBA (@NBA) July 5, 2021
MIL/PHX Game 1: Tuesday - 9:00pm/et, ABC pic.twitter.com/FCH0tkaHfv
The two are bound to be matched up over the course of a game and Booker looks forward to it.
"So excited. So excited. We have obviously had those matchups before in practice that have gotten heated at the highest level, but he's a competitor, and I have a lot of respect for that man, so we're going to be out there battling, for sure."
Both players have talked about their respect for each other and recall those competitive one-on-one battles from practice very fondly. Tucker, a sneaker connoisseur, seemed to have kicks most suited for the occassion as he took the floor with the Bucks for their first Finals practice.
PJ Tucker broke out the Nike Kobe 1 Protro @DevinBook PE for today's #NBAFinals practice! #ThatsGame #NBAKicks pic.twitter.com/nhl9uTAgLA- 🏀 #NBAKicks 👟 (@NBAKicks) July 6, 2021
Tucker, in the first Finals appearance of his career, looks set to cap-off a memorable postseason.
After defeating Trevor Ariza (Miami Heat) in the first round, James Harden (Brooklyn Nets) in the Conference Semifinals and then Clint Capela (Atlanta Hawks) in the Conference Finals, he is on track to defeat every other member of the Houston Rockets' starting line-up from the 2018 playoffs if they beat Chris Paul and the Suns in the Finals.
The 2018 campaign, where the Rockets were within two games of being crowned West Champions, is the closest Tucker previously came to making the Finals.
Game 1 of the NBA Finals gets underway Tuesday, July 7 with tip-off set for 9:00 p.m. ET.
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