Can I Keep My Jersey?

The title of this entry is taken from the book of the same name by Paul Shirley, occasional NBA player and basketball wordsmith. It’s a very funny book, mixing insight into the sometimes surreal lives of basketball mercenaries, along with ruminations on more philosophical questions. Given the occasional crazy outburst by an NBA player, it’s easy to forget that there are hundreds of players hanging around on the periphery of the NBA (or playing internationally), still hoping to one day make it in the Association. Playing in foreign leagues offers a chance at making decent scratch — but those toiling in the minors in this country aren’t exactly breaking the bank. Shirley, a mechanical engineer by education, would seem to be one of the few that is actually well-equipped for a life outside basketball. But even though he repeatedly reminds us that he harbors kinship or friendship with very, very few of the people he has played with, he still doggedly pursues the opportunity to play professionally.

The book, which is really a compilation of journal entries kept over four years by Shirley, doesn’t dwell too long on any other individuals. There are some interesting (to me, at least) cameos, among them fan-mail-trashing Shareef Abdur-Rahim, talk of the lack of skill of ex-Hornet (and current member of the Utah Flash) James Lang, and one-time Dallas Maverick Chris Anstey (at the time, playing for UNICS Kazan — a team that was also the one-time home of another late-90’s Mavs flameout, Martin Müürsepp). Undoubtedly, though, the book is really more about Paul Shirley and his travels than anything else. That’s fine, though — his writing and wit are both worthy of praise. Strangely, I found the section of the book dealing with his time as a benchwarmer for the Phoenix Suns to be probably the least interesting (with the notable exception of an anecdote about Bo Outlaw and the “kiss cam” shtick used at sporting events).

It’s a quick read — I burned through it in a few hours after borrowing it from the library — but definitely worth a read.

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