"It's easier to get into the house of representatives than it is to get into the NBA" (Paul Shirley in Can I Keep my Jersey? 11 Teams, 5 Countries, and 4 Years in My Life as a Basketball Vagabond). This is so true and this book makes you believe it. For four years, Paul Shirley got bounced around between the Los Angeles Lakers, the Chicago Bulls and even Greece and Russia in an attempt to solidify a professional basketball career. The book, Can I Keep My Jersey? is written like a diary of sorts and with every entry you truly understand what it means to be a non-Kobe or non-LeBron trying to crack an NBA roster. I remember doing a radio show with the Dino Blogger way back when and we were discussing the "surface level interviews" a lot of professional athletes give and how the level of honesty in their pad answers can come across as suspect. Paul Shirley really bucks this trend and tells us how he really feels; especially, when it comes to religion, whites versus blacks in the NBA and the longevity of NBA as compared to the European League. When you read his one and only book, you feel as if he's your buddy writing home and keeping you up to date on his "life as a basketball vagabond" as he puts it. I think a lot of Shirley's honesty comes from the fact he is no longer pursuing a professional basketball career and can let loose so-to-speak. Regardless, he takes us inside a world the everyday fan will never be privy to. (Incidentally, the everyday fan may never want to write another fan letter after reading this book). Let's dig in.
The Lord is my Shepard and my 6th Man
"I have known many a basketball player who will rarely miss saying grace before a meal but who will give no second thought to cheating on his wife on a road trip". This is how Paul Shirley sees religion in the NBA according to the book. I both laughed and growled at this part. Laughed because of how ironic the statement is and because my father told me to never marry a professional hockey player for this reason (how funny that conversation was). I growled because it is for this very image some females have had a hard time making it in this business. I remember covering the OHL back in university and a high school friend of mine Steve Nimigon, played for the Niagara Falls Thunder. Well, since his Thunder were playing the Ottawa 67s, in the town I was living at the time, this became a special story to cover. I hadn't seen Steve in a while so my first reaction was to run up and give him a hug. Well, don't I get a sneer from the "puck bunnies" waiting outside (I'm sure they have another name for it in the NBA). Yeah ladies, I work my tail off to become an accredited member of the media just be compared to the likes of you bottom feeders. Whatever. It's the very situation Paul Shirley describes in the book but compares it to religion. I am sure not all religious NBA stars are unfaithful but the idea there are people making a living out of presenting opportunities of temptation, lets just say, make it difficult for everyone.
To Michael Jackson: It Matters If You're Black or White
This is the big elephant in the room no one likes to talk about but everyone wants to. Before seeing the front cover of the book or even googling his name, some people I have talked to assumed Paul Shirley was black when I told them he had various stints in the NBA. Here's his take on the race issue. According to Shirley, he was a white player in a predominantly black player league and he felt they needed more white players to cater to the majority of NBA fans who are white: "Every person in history, regardless of comments to the contrary, has an easier time rooting for someone who looks likes him". There is some truth to this statement, I'll admit. However, I cheer for Ron Artest because I think he's an entertaining basketball player -both on and off the court. It's not because he's black or he looks like me because clearly he doesn't have the right plumbing for that. But Shirley claims on his travels he's been treated differently because he's a white player trying to make it in a black player's game. Some coaches and team management have given him this feeling: "We [white players] are viewed as physically inferior and so should be thankful that we are allowed to set foot on the court". Food for thought.
It's a Money Game
It's so funny how many similarities there are across the board in professional sports. Paul Shirley makes an interesting argument in the book about the viability of the NBA compared to the European Professional Basketball model. He has a unique perspective since he's played in both the NBA and in Europe: "[European] Leagues embrace sponsors, which finance teams and their coaches and, in turn, develop multitalented basketball players". He compares it to a factory churning out players. Shirley says in the book, he worries if the NBA doesn't take on this economic model, "the NBA might have to move to Europe". This is a bit of a stretch but I see where he is coming from. The same challenge exists in the NHL. The Russian League complains they spend all their time and money developing a player so they would stay in Russia for their professional hockey career. Yet some fly to the NHL on first opportunity. I can see where the Russian League is coming from in that they don't want to be seen as a farm or development league for the NHL. But a player should really be able to choose where to play. Unfortunately, unless you are the LeBrons or Kobes of the NBA, you are not afforded this luxury. The exact picture Can I Keep My Jersey paints.
Flick Pick of the Week
I know my boss will be shaking his head, but this week I want you to watch Kazaam staring Shaquille O'Neil. I haven't even watched it yet but I have always wanted to see why I've heard this is one of the worst movies ever. I have been watching the TV show Shaq vs. and it's been growing on me. He's not a great actor by any stretch of the imagination, but Shaq is entertaining nonetheless.
Next week we will be discussing Red and Me by Bill Russell with Alan Steinberg. After last week and my new appreciation for the Russell and Auerbach era of the Celtics, I wanted to read a book along these lines. I will see you on Thursday for another serving of Jiggly Bits but until then, happy reading.