View Full Version : Paul Shirley is back!!!

10-20-2005, 04:41 PM

Welcome to My LifeBy Paul Shirley

The powers-that-be at ESPN.com did some brainstorming regarding what this column/journal/blog/mess should be called. It turned out to be more difficult than they, or I, thought.

How does one describe his life in a four-word phrase -- especially when the life is as convoluted as mine is?

Here are the facts:

About six months ago, I was a bona fide member of the Phoenix Suns basketball team (that's the one in the NBA). I barely played, but I was on the active roster and so had something of a unique perspective on life in the NBA. I was living it, but not really. I was like my hometown Kansas City Royals -- in the league, but only barely.

At some point during the year, the Web site guys from the Suns approached me about jotting down some of my thoughts during a long road trip on which we were about to embark. I accepted their assignment, thinking I could probably find time to come up with some thoughts while on the bench, in between scanning the crowd for attractive members of the opposite sex and making it look like I was paying attention to the game.

When the regular season was finished, I reprised my role as an embedded journalist of sorts during the playoffs. I jotted down some more random thoughts, managed to get myself in a little bit of trouble, and rode off into the sunset after the year with a book deal from Random House in hand.

When the year ended, the Suns had an "option" on my contract for this season (the 2005-06 campaign). The management in Phoenix made it clear that, while they had appreciated my literary efforts, I was not going to be returning to the team.

(This was due in large part, they said, to the fact that they had not actually seen me play much in games. Curious, since they had been the only people with the power to make that happen last year. But I digress.)

I went from being, if not on top of the world, at least somewhat near the summit, to unemployed and wondering where my basketball career would take me next.

I have played for 11 professional basketball teams in the four years since I graduated from Iowa State University. The stint with the Suns was my longest in the NBA; I also played (was injured for) about one-third of the season with the Chicago Bulls the year before. In addition, I had a massive 10-day contract with the Atlanta Hawks during the previous season.

I have also played in Greece, Spain and Russia, and have spent some time in both the CBA and ABA (American minor leagues). The cornucopia of basketball experiences I have had has left me (a) slightly more worldly than most and (b) slightly more jaded than most.

After the limited success of my blog (short for "web log"; also synonymous, it would seem, with either the wicked end result of massive constipation or the ill-conceived name of an alien race from a bad science-fiction sequel), ESPN contacted me about the prospect of perhaps writing for its Web site.

Thus, here I am -- on something of a trial basis. I have no real training as a writer and have never lusted for a deadline, so I don't really know how I will react to the situation. I could very well cave in to the pressure and may someday be found muttering incoherent phrases between the Argosy Casino and the Missouri River here in Kansas City.

Some of my hesitation is due to the fact that I do not have a job. As is often the case about this time of year, I have not the foggiest idea where I will play this year. I could go to Europe, an NBA team could call with a desperate need for a 6-10 white guy (which seems to happen constantly) or I might have to, once again, play in a minor league. It is conceivable that I could spend the entire year waiting around, whiling my days away between the gym and the weight room, a seemingly washed-up 27-year old professional basketball player who cannot let go of his dream. I just do not know.

Whether I play this year in Seattle, Split or Sioux Falls, it will likely be an interesting season. If it is not, I will relegate myself to reviewing Nine Inch Nails shows and Chuck Palahniuk novels and ESPN will kick me out of its lineup. But until they do, check back from time to time. I might have an interesting story to tell about my so-called career.


Journal #2: So why would I turn down $500K?By Paul Shirley

I recently made a trip back to Phoenix for three reasons.

First, I wanted to work out with the Suns one last time, just to make sure they were truly ready for us to part ways. Next, Nine Inch Nails was at the top of my "Bands I've Not Yet Seen Live" list, and I needed to remedy that. Last, I hoped to see some friends and participate in some general relaxation for a weekend.

I was successful in the last goal for about one day, then my agent called.

(Side note: My agent's name is Keith Glass. Also known, to my brothers and me, as "Keets," which is funny only to us and only because we often say "teats" for "teeth." As in, "I'm going to go brush my teats now." Yes, we have a collective mental age of 22.)

Keith called to tell me that, in addition to the interest he was getting from a team in Ukraine called BC Kiev, he had heard from a Lithuanian agent who was acting on behalf of a team called Khimki of Moscow. He was not sure what would transpire, but assumed any offer would be for a large sum of money.

It would not take much to keep me around in the NBA -- a guarantee of twelve buckets of birdseed to go to training camp with Team X might have been enough.

He wondered, with that initial call, whether I would even consider going back to the former USSR. Keith, along with almost everyone to whom I have spoken for more than 20 minutes in the last year, has been subjected to an occasional rant on the subject of my distaste for the two months I spent in Russia last year. Accordingly, he was treading lightly even when he suggested that a trip back to Siberia could be a possibility for me.

After taking a very long deep breath, I told him that, before I just summarily dismissed the idea, he should find out what they were offering. We reasoned that, since Khimki (pronounced KIM-kee) is headquartered in Moscow, the living arrangements might at least approach tolerable. And, I thought, I might be able to survive eight months under hellish conditions if it meant I could buy half of my hometown.

Keith called back after not very long at all and told me the Russians had made an offer. Most of the time, I will hear of interest from a team only to have it fade into the wind like smoke from a post-homecoming bonfire party near Meriden, Kan. In fact, most European teams rarely will go as far as to make an actual "offer" without some assurance that the subject of their affection likely will accept it. It would seem that they fear rejection as much as the average seventh-grader at his first school dance.

At any rate, my interest was piqued when Keith told me the agent with whom he had been dealing, who had been authorized by the team to make a deal, had offered me $400,000 to play for Khimki.

(I'm going to go ahead and dispense with the custom of not talking about money because the amount of money about which I am speaking plays into the plot line here. It's like the sex scene that is actually involved in the story of a movie -- rare, but possible. Also, it will make it easier to see why I should be made fun of to no end for considering turning the offer down later in my little tale.)

Keith told me he had immediately asked for $600,000. (We're talking about net salary here, as in, the team -- as is almost always the case in Europe -- would pay my income taxes.) They settled on $500,000. To play basketball. For eight months. I told him I would think about it. (This is the beginning of the section of the story wherein calling me a fool* becomes apropos.)

The problem was that, when I left Russia in January, I vowed never to return. When I got home, I was very close to quitting basketball because I was so fed up with the life I was leading and the places it was taking me. To that end, I had some promise-to-self undoing to accomplish.

("Oh, poor baby. Didn't like playing in the cold weather for $40,000 a month and wanted to come home. I feel so sorry for you, sitting here at my desk pulling down a cool $42,000 for the year. That's $42,000 gross, you imbecile." That would be dear reader speaking.)

I agonized over the offer for the rest of the day.

Strangely, the team in question has an American assistant coach, a man named Russ who coached in the CBA for six years, so I was able to call and find out about conditions on the ground. He seemed quite happy with the situation in Moscow and, from my perspective, appeared to be a decent fellow. He spent most of the phone call recruiting me and allaying any fears I had about the team.

He had spoken to Mike D'Antoni, my former head coach with the Suns, and seemingly had received a glowing report, which supposedly was aiding my case. Also, another player Keith represents, Melvin Booker, plays for the team, and Melvin had told Keith nothing but positive things about the team. In fact, I had met Booker when my team at the time, UNICS Kazan, had played Khimki last season. Reportedly, he, along with the assistant coach, was campaigning heartily for my placement on the team.

By Saturday night, I realized I probably would go to Russia, but I continued to ponder the idea. There were several reasons to leave this country: I would finally once again actually get to play basketball; I would, it seemed, be living under at least slightly better conditions than the last time I was in Russia; I would get a chance to get away from the NBA and, instead of always being available to teams' every whim, Keith would be able to say, "No, you can't have Paul. He's in Russia." The more I learn about the business of basketball, the more I understand that being unavailable sometimes can lead to further passion on the part of ones' suitors. (It always seems that sports can be equated effectively with dating.) Also, there was the matter of half a million dollars to consider. But still, Russia? Again?

I am now going to set about defending myself for considering rejecting this particular offer.

First, money does one no good if he is dead. I have never actively considered suicide to be a possible ending to my days, but I was as close as I've ever been in Russia. I don't know why, and maybe it means I'm completely screwed up in the head, but it is the truth. I am not saying I was close to killing myself; it was just more of an option than it had been ever before.

Second, if I were to turn down the Russians, I probably would make some money this year. It is not as if I would be turning down $500,000 for $0.

Generally, though, it is a rather indefensible position. When it comes right down to it, a body ought to be able to survive just about anything for such a payday. At least, that is what I told myself as I went to sleep that evening.

After a restless night, the next morning hit me with one overriding thought: No way am I going back to Russia. I could hardly believe I had seriously considered it the day before. I believe there is a good chance my lifestyle is slowly driving me insane. To leave for Russia would be yet another blow to my hope of a fully functional cerebrum. (I will get into my theory of my own descent into madness at another time. Suffice it to say that changing basketball teams and home cities every three months weighs heavily in my hypothesis.) I just couldn't handle it.

But deep down, I still knew I probably would go.

At the end of a 30-minute conversation toward the conclusion of the day, Keith told me the following: Paul, if my son Tyler, who now works for me, were given the same choice, I would listen to him go back and forth all day, and then all night, and then all of the next day. In the end, though, I wouldn't let him make the wrong decision. Which is code for, "Paul, unless you want me to check you into an asylum, you are going to go to Russia." During the same talk, he noted that the deal had reached a new financial arrangement: $550,000.

By Monday morning, I was on board, with a couple of caveats. Most importantly, I wanted Keith to make a final round of calls to NBA teams so we could make one last-ditch effort at a contract here before I rode off into the sunset. It would not take much to keep me around -- a guarantee of twelve buckets of birdseed to go to training camp with Team X might have been enough.

He agreed, but told me he wanted a written copy of the offer from Khimki in his hands before he made any last stands. He had thought he would receive said hard evidence the day before, but it had never come. This was a source of some distress, but not enough to shake his faith that the deal would go through. He had spoken again both to the agent and to the American assistant coach and had been reassured that the team's interest was still high.

Tuesday found me back in Kansas City, under the assumption that any unpacking I would be doing would be only to free up bag space for the impending trip to Moscow in a few days. But then, no word from Khimki.

Keith found out Wednesday that the team now also was considering former NBA player Samaki Walker. He told me he read the foreign agent the riot act and informed him that we needed to know about my future soon because I was considering another offer. (Always a good ploy -- unless the team doesn't give a damn and waits around, which is the case most of the time.) He was told the team would decide something by Thursday night.

Of course, that Thursday came and went with no word. As did that Friday and Saturday and Sunday.

At this point, I would put my chances of ending up in Russia at around 2 percent. The team still has not signed anyone and is telling the agent with whom Keith was dealing that it will wait a few weeks before it does anything. Meanwhile, I've become fast friends with DeAndre down at the unemployment office.

In some ways, the situation is a win for me either way. I obviously would not be heartbroken if I did not have to go back to Russia. But I am going to have to go somewhere, so I suppose it might as well be to a place with a team that is going to pay me a bunch of money.

The only real pisser is that I wasted about 26 kilowatts of mental energy making the decision, only to find out that it is very possible there was no decision to be made in the first place. Right now, I'm like an on-call doctor who just received an urgent page from two days ago ... and it turned out to be indigestion. I'm tense, but at the same time slightly apathetic. I really love my life.

*Note: To borrow from the immortal Mitch Hedberg, I am not the type of guy who uses the word fool. I will leave that to others. But I am constrained by the circumstances. The reader should feel free to substitute more entertaining, Big Lebowski-level vernacular whenever necessary and (in)appropriate.

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For not having any writing experience at all, I thoroughly enjoyed reading these. :shrug:

He gives players more of a personality to me, eventhough I think he would laugh at me calling him a player right now.

I, for one, can't wait to read his next column.

10-21-2005, 09:26 AM
Paul Shirley is great. For some reason, I feel bad for him. I do hope he finds something.