(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Must Read: Paul Shirley's Diary About Trying to Hook Up With an NBA Team

If you're a real basketball fan, college or pro, you must read this outstanding book by Paul Shirley, who played power forward for Iowa State (when they had Jamaal Tinsley and Marcus Fizer and suffered the ignominy of being one of the only #2 seeds in history to lose to a #15 seed, Hampton, about 8 years ago) and graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering. Shirley, who writes very well (and who loves basketball while being dismissive of many who play it for their inability to do anything other than, well, play basketball), talks of his life trying to hook on with an NBA team. He plays in Europe, in Russia (and where he played technically wasn't part of Europe because it was west of the Ural Mountains and almost in the midst of Siberia), in the now defunct (and awful) American Basketball Associaton and a pre-college season touring team for EA Sports (playing against college teams to give them a tuneup for the regular season).

It's been clear to me that you have to be a great hoopster just to become the twelfth (or fifteenth, given that there's an official/unoffical "reserve" squad of up to three today) man on an NBA roster. The lives of the guys at the end of the bench have fascinated me. These aren't the guys with the max contracts and personal assistants, but the guys who have played in the NBDL, the CBA, in Europe, who've signed more 10-day contracts than the number of pairs of shoes a megastar buys at Freedman in Atlanta on his team's only visit to that city during a single season.

Do they have agents? (Yes, and dedicated and caring ones too). Do they have homes and a lot of stuff? (Yes and no)? Do they enjoy themselves? (Hard to tell). Is Shirley handicapped because he's smart, was a good student and has something to fall back on (so that his aversion to failure might be less than some of the guys with the max contracts)? (It's always been a question that's intrigued me about the difference between success and failure, but you'll have to read the book and then comment here). Can they play? (Absolutely).

At the end of the day, this is a very frank look at some of the workings of the NBA. Shirley honors the time-honed premise that to be successful as a writer you have to be brutally honest and not care whom you offend. He's hilarious at times, a bit controversial at others, and very open about his experiences. He clearly wrote this book not caring if he ever got another chance in "the league" again -- in any capacity.

But he might still be trying. Shirley is 30 now, and he played in Spain this past season. From the looks of his photo (which well could have been taken after his having taken an 11-hour night flight from Chicago on a day's notice to get there), he's looking every bit his age. Perhaps he's settled into a nice life in European hoops (as one of the two Americans allotted to a Spanish league roster, making good money, and better than most people make in their corporate jobs), or perhaps he's still looking for that one last shot to sit at the end of the bench, play hard in practice and be told by another NBA coach looking for a good "character" guy to fill out the roster, only to fall victim to the hard, cold fact that the team has 14 guaranteed contracts, "I can't believe that you aren't on someone's roster already."

You also can check him out here, on his page on (and, believe it or not, this is the first time I've seen a page).

The book is excellent and a very worthy expenditure of your book-buying dollars.


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