An Original Nice Guy
Sidelined by a stroke six years ago, the ‘Original Sun’ finds art to be great therapy.
Jimmy Magahern | Apr 4, 2012, 11:54 a.m.
Dick Van Arsdale has always been a nice guy.
“He’s very likeable,” says Steve Rich, who met Van Arsdale on a New York City basketball court back in 1965, the year the future three-time NBA All-Star began his stellar NBA career with the New York Knicks. He would later become known as the blond bomb-throwing Flying Dutchman during his nine-year tenure as the first-drafted original member of the Phoenix Suns.
“He’d always stop to sign autographs,” says Rich, who still retains his tough New York accent, decades after immigrating from Madison Avenue to become a Phoenix marketing exec. “If there were 10 kids, he’d sign 10. If there were 100 kids, he’d sign 100.”
“I’ve always been with the people,” says Van Arsdale, now 69, relaxing in the office of the thriving real estate firm he and his brother, Tom, founded after the two retired from the NBA in 1977.
“I go to the games today, and there’s still some players like that — Steve Nash is great. Shaq [who played for the Suns during the 2008–2009 season] is definitely a people-person. But some of the guys playing now, they make so much money they don’t care about the fans. It’s a different world.”
Van Arsdale, who says he and his teammates “never made a lot of money — but man, we loved the game!” says he never felt an imposing responsibility to make nice with the fans. “I like people anyway!” says the affable All-Star, displaying a natural friendliness that seems to verify the claim.
Today, Van Arsdale is finally reaping the spoils of being a lifelong nice guy. Since suffering a stroke six years ago, he has been working himself through his physical recovery by painting — and his whimsical creations, from abstract Keith Haring-like pen-and-inks of basketball players in action to Grandma Moses-style Americana folk art of his Indiana farm upbringing, have been finding a growing fan base among Valley residents enamored with his iconic approachability.
“It’s coming back to him now,” says Rich, his best friend and marketing whiz who’s already scored Van Arsdale some plush assignments creating special-edition prints for Phoenix Suns events. Rich is working out a deal he hopes will land his pal on the pages of Playboy magazine, the first home of renowned sports illustrator LeRoy Neiman.
“Call it karma. People have always liked him, and now they’re wanting to buy his art,” says Rich.
Van Arsdale is the first to admit his artwork, which he generally creates on smallish 9 x 12 canvases, is a far cry from Picasso or even Neiman. “Some people like it, some don’t,” he shrugs, motioning at the couple dozen framed paintings lining his office — innocent-looking depictions of farms, cats, even a witch on a Halloween pumpkin. “I think it’s kinda cute — I don’t know,” he says. “Most people say it makes them feel happy. That’s good enough for me!”
Regardless, both Van Arsdale and his buddy Rich are enjoying the small stir the Original Sun’s latest passion has been generating.