He wouldn’t want you to call him it, but Patrick Battillo might just be the Phoenix Suns’ number one fan. The 26-year-old Peoria resident and Brooklyn, N.Y. native, can be spotted at every Suns home game, donned head-to-toe in bright orange as “Mr. ORNG,” a Suns super-fan who is known for his whistles, chants and all-around Suns support both at home and at road games. Battillo, a life-long Suns fan, works for Target as a logistics group leader during the day. He also volunteers as a basketball coach for National Youth Sports in the West Valley, gives post-game interviews to KTAR 620-AM after home games, and makes appearances at community events as Mr. ORNG. He stresses that just because many fans may not be able to make it to games, doesn’t mean they’re not loyal or passionate, but he’s happy to help represent them at the arena. He shared his motivation for supporting the Suns as Mr. ORNG, how he hopes to support the community in general, and five reasons why he loves living in the Valley, below.
What brought you to Arizona?
I moved here when I was 7 — my parent’s job brought me here. What was interesting is that I always followed the Phoenix Suns, but I didn’t know they were in Arizona. When I moved here and was able to follow them live in person as opposed to the TV, that was really cool.
How did you first hear about the Phoenix Suns?
There were some friends of my parents who loved the Phoenix Suns, so going to their house and watching sports, I was a Suns fan. That was when the Charles Barkley era was going on.
How did Mr. ORNG come about?
It was the playoffs in 2010, and we were playing San Antonio and had won the first two here and went on the road to San Antonio. I went to that game and was sitting on the baseline three rows up, and the owner Robert Sarver and his family was in front of me. I did my hair orange and wore an orange T-shirt, and when Tim Duncan was shooting free throws, I’d be really loud. It made it onto ESPN many times, and I got 250 text messages from people saying they’d seen it and loved it and wanted me to do it for every game here.
Did Sarver notice you?
Oh, yeah, he said hello and thanked me for coming. I actually had my tickets signed by most everyone, and that was the beginning of Mr. ORNG. They were so supportive — whenever you’re on the road for the away team, they’re so excited to see we’re there to support them.
How did Mr. ORNG evolve?
The Suns went on to play the Lakers, and I had a 2-week cruise booked to fly out of Florida to the Bahamas. I canceled and lost all my money for two people to stay here and go to the first two games in LA and launch what is now known as Mr. ORNG. There were about four of us, and I painted my face orange, did my hair orange and had an all-orange shirt and shorts. I went to the first two games there, we lost both of those, and then came back and won the next two, and it started to evolve. I started to paint everything, not just my face, and in that off-season, I decided to elevate it and make it something to get the crowd at US Airways Center into it.
How long have you been attending Suns games?
Since ’93. For the past 8 years, I’ve come to every game. I moved around the arena until I found the spot where I’m at now, which is the family area. Besides a few season ticket holders, most of the players’ and coaches’ families are there. I can be as into it as I want to be and bring passion and energy and excitement. You look at OKC (Oklahoma City Thunder), you look at Portland — those fans are in it, win or lose, no matter what’s going on, they have that passion. We have very loyal fans, but we’re in a transition and have been. A lot of fans are supportive but aren’t energetic and into it in a way that really makes a difference to the players. The energy in the arena should make a difference. We should have a home court advantage.
What do you attribute to Suns’ fans not being as vocal as some of the other markets despite our size?
I think, overall, Arizona has fair-weather fans because there are so many transplants here. This team is an original for Arizona, where they have the most loyal fan base overall, but I think the difference is the age difference. Many of these season ticket holders have been here 45 years, as long as the Suns have been, so obviously, they’re not going to be able to bring as much energy and excitement, whereas in a lot of these other cities, it’s newer and younger and more energetic fans that really understand the game. No disrespect for the Phoenix fan base, but it’s just knowing when we need to get loud, why, and how loud we need to get, and understanding that the players truly feed off of that.
What makes you motivated to keep Mr. ORNG?
Steve Nash interviewed me and explained to me one-on-one how much it meant to him and the players to have me and some of the other fans who are here. That was a light switch that what I’m doing is for the right reasons. Outside of the community stuff, I’m supportive of this team and want to keep the crowd together. Look at how many times we’ve made it to the Western Conference Finals, where our crowd can make that difference. That’s what I hope we can get to, where any team who comes to town or whenever our games are televised nationally, you can feel that Phoenix is one of those places to play.
What’s your typical game experience like?
It’s truly like a family. I’ve built relationships with the people I sit near. My typical game experience is getting there early to say hello to people and see how they’re doing and then spend some time with the fan base, walking the plaza, taking pictures with people, talking with them, getting them excited about the game, getting their feedback. That’s really what it’s about.
What’s your relationship with the Suns like?
It’s amazing how the players and coaches respond to fan support as opposed to the organization. At least every night, I’m getting questions about whether my tickets are paid or if I’m getting paid by the Suns — none of that is true. I’m just a fan, and that’s where it’s craziest because I have personal relationships with many of the players who have played here, such as Grant Hill, Steve Nash, Josh Childress. I don’t get autographs from these guys, but it’s respecting them as people and the skills they possess.
How would you characterize the Suns to other NBA teams?
“In transition” are the words everyone uses, and that’s definitely a very fair statement to make. It’s hard for Robert Sarver to follow someone great like Jerry Colangelo, but I truly believe Robert wants to win. A lot of people say we settle on being mediocre, that we don’t want to be bad but don’t want to be amazing. I think the problem is this franchise has been so successful for so long and has made the playoffs for so many years and has not had to deal with adversity at this level, that I think that’s why there’s so much uproar. Is the personnel right? Probably not, in terms of the players we have. Lon Babby and Lance Blanks are newer in their roles in the front office, so there’s a lot of learning that’s going on, and whatever decisions Robert makes about who to keep in these positions are probably very important. It’s tough to watch, of course.
Other than administrative changes, what kinds of changes could benefit the team?
We need a star player. We lost leadership in Steve and Grant, not just in what they brought to the court, but also to the locker room. We got some talent in players like Michael Beasley, and Jermaine O’Neal is a veteran that we picked up and can help with some of what we lost with Steve and Grant leaving. We may have the talent, but we need one or two leaders to help and guide the team to bring it to a different level.
Who would you ideally like to see come to play for the Suns?
Rudy Gay would be a great franchise player, and Chris Paul is a great young, mature leader.
How many Mr. ORNG outfits do you have?
I have two, with multiple variations of both — what I call old school and new school. The old school is a Mr. ORNG T-shirt with orange shorts with my all-orange gym shows. The classy new look is the orange tux, with a shirt underneath.
Who’s your favorite Suns player currently on the team?
Jared Dudley. Just the hustle that guy has and what he does for his fans in the community is great.
Who’s your favorite all-time Suns player?
Steve Nash. A guy of his caliber and skills speaks for himself — he’s a two-time MVP. But what he does for the community is amazing. He’s someone who gives back a ton. I do get upset at fans who bash Steve for leaving, because he wanted to stay in Phoenix.
What’s your whole getting-ready process for Mr. ORNG like?
To get the makeup ready is about 40 minutes, and from start to finish is about an hour. Sometimes I’ll wear a hat, but if I’m not, it all starts with the hair. I have a hair spray and do that first. It runs, so to make sure exactly where it needs to be takes time. You do it by sections, with towels all over. Then, it’s body paint, for the head and neck. That takes about 20 minutes so it’s even — it’s going in rhythm and making sure it’s smooth in each area.
How much would you say it costs you to dress up?
I go to about 10 road games a year on average and then the home games, so that’s more than 50 games without playoffs. In paint and makeup, I would say it’s about $600 — I go through so much of it.
Have you ever considered doing some type of crowdfunding campaign to help you pay for everything?
Oh, no, though this is financially tough for me. The ticket where I sit is $6,500 for the season, which some people say is chump change to the organization or players, but I’m more interested in the relationship with the players. That’s why I don’t ask for autographs. I fly on my own, I buy my own tickets — asking for something is not who I am.
What are your goals with Mr. ORNG?
I want our crowd to be a difference-maker, to truly be a sixth man. That, in the game aspect, is my goal. If the Suns hired me to do something, that would be awesome, but that’s not the goal. I just love what I do and being that fan, both for the organization and within the community.
Why should people come to Suns games?
It’s the original team for Phoenix, a team that’s been around forever, an exciting brand to watch. The in-game entertainment, and what the Suns bring outside of the court, is a great experience. It’s a fun environment to be a part of, to watch a game. You’re still going to see heart and effort with the coaching staff we have, even on the tough games that we may not squeak out, but you’re going to enjoy yourself outside of the game.
How many arenas have you been to?
At least 15. This year, I’m adding. Brooklyn just added their new stadium, and I’m going there to support the Suns. I’m hitting OKC for the first time, and I want to try to hit Portland. I want to hit their fan bases’, for sure.
How can people hear you at games?
My whistle is going to be the most distinct thing. Now, I’m trying to start more chants during chants. During free throws, I do either a very loud, high-pitched whistle or try to distract them by saying something funny. I’m very appropriate and don’t go too crazy.
How can people be better fans at games?
It’s paying attention and being a part of the game. If the crowd needs to let the team hear it, then let them hear it if they’re not doing something right. When we’re defending, you just have to find the flow of the game and be vocal. It gets on me when we’re in the last minute of the game, and 90 percent of the arena is sitting down. It’s about helping the team to elevate to get to that next level. We’re all human, we all feed off that energy. Let’s help them get there.
How would you characterize Suns fans?
What’s interesting is, attendance is down this year, but the energy in the arena, to me, is louder than it was when we were sold out in the past. That says we have a very loyal fan base, so when you’re here, bring that energy and that passion. I cannot tell you how much the players say in their interviews how much the crowd’s energy means to them.
What would people be surprised to learn about the Suns?
If you haven’t had a tour of the Suns facilities, they’re really, really neat. The branding in the training facility is so neat, and you feel like you want to be a part of it.
Alvin Gentry’s contract ends at the end of this season. What are your thoughts about it?
There has been a lot of talk about Alvin with the way the season is going, with many people calling for him to be fired or asking if he is the right coach. I will confidentially say this — I not only believe Alvin is the right coach, I believe he is one of the best in the league. What makes me say that is that the level of commitment, time and energy he puts in as a coach is invaluable. Any team can go out and buy maybe a coach with more wins or someone that may have had more recent success, but you can’t buy work ethic, loyalty and determination. Lastly, the respect of Alvin’s players past and present speak to the kind of coach and individual he is. Alvin is by no means perfect, but all he has gone through with personnel changes and rosters over the past few years makes me not only impressed with him, but wants him to get a new contact when this season ends. He earned it.