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Ladies and gentleman... back by popular demand... the "funniest man in the NBA," according to Best Damn Sports Show Period, we give you... Paul Shirley!
That's right, in spite of his complaints over being censored in his wildy popular "Road Ramblings" on Suns.com, the wildly witty 12th man has heard your heart-felt pleas for more online sarcasm and has agreed to offer up tidbits from time to time throughout the Suns' playoff run. The Suns.com staff, in return, has assured Paul that not one word will be censored without prior consent.
The 27-year-old forward -- who made the club's opening day roster, was cut before the opening game, but then re-signed in January -- originally kept an online diary for Suns.com during the team's five-game road trip in mid-March. A diary that created quite a frenzy in the national media, which was equally surprised and entertained by his unique and honest insight into life in the NBA. Shirley's daily journal (Paul doesn't like the word "blog") was mentioned on ESPN's "Cold Pizza" and on ESPN.com, and was covered in several newspapers around the country, including USA Today.
San Antonio, Texas – I seem to overheat easily. I think my core temperature must be slightly higher than most everyone else’s because it does not take much to push me over the edge to a slight film on the forehead. Considering my present “home” city, this is all great news. I think it was 170 degrees in Phoenix yesterday. Fortunately, my poor cooling system does not manifest itself in some sort of rancid B.O. It does mean that my upper lip and eyebrow regions break into salty droplets with only the slightest prodding. Now, this is not the worst occurrence in the world, except that, once my body’s radiator gets out of balance, it is difficult to correct the problem. A poor wardrobe choice can lead to a night of sleeve-wiping and awkward looks from the people with whom I am conversing.
We are now in San Antonio, hoping to begin climbing out of the 0-2 series hole over which the Spurs are standing, shovel at the ready. I spent the evening here with a college friend of mine and his wife. Because we are staying near it, we set off down the Riverwalk with the hopes of finding a promising restaurant. Along the way, I noticed that I had made a regrettable decision when I had spurned the idea of donning shorts for the evening’s entertainment. Subconsciously, I must have thought that San Antonio would be cool at night. I would guess that my line of thinking was that, since Phoenix is obviously the hottest place in the world, everywhere else must be cool enough for long pants. I forgot that the only truly appropriate clothing choice in Phoenix is complete nudity; I was off by one step—San Antonio is easily shorts-worthy. (On a side note, it is a bit humid here in San Antonio, which reminds me of home, where it is disgusting in the summertime. However, the author finds little solace in the “dry heat” of Arizona. What an absolute load of [feces]. My oven puts out dry heat as well; I am confident that I would not be comfortable in there, either.)
My friends and I were alarmed at the fact that San Antonio has become quite the tourist trap these days. I had never noticed it before—maybe because I have never been here on a holiday weekend—but the Riverwalk is fast becoming its own little version of Bourbon Street. Fewer transvestites, more Mexicans, but otherwise very similar. I was disappointed by the amount of non-native San Antonians walking the roads because I have noticed over the years that, when people go on vacation, they often lose sight of the fact that they are, in fact, quite unattractive. I saw many overweight women wearing clothing they should never have purchased, let alone put on, which cut down on the aesthetics of the area significantly. (Side note, or question. Why do fat girls think that tight clothes are going to somehow enhance their overall appearance? It actually does the exact opposite. Also, do these people buy homes that are not equipped with mirrors? Even a stainless steel toaster would probably do enough of a reflecting job to tell some of the hosses I saw wandering around this evening that it might have been a better idea to leave the not-so-little strapless number in the closet.)
About the time my revulsion at the BMI’s of the passersby had run its course, we found a restaurant that appeared tolerable. I hammered down an overpriced ribeye that was presented covered in barbecue sauce—a concept that offends me greatly as a former caretaker of steaks on the hoof back in Kansas. Our visit was lovely; when we finished, we hiked back to the hotel and said our goodbyes and my friends left for their hotel. The walk home in the muggy evening air had done little to refrigerate my core; consequently, my brow was still damp and I was anxious to get back to my hotel room so that I could crank the thermostat down to about 60 degrees and finally cool down the nuclear power plant that seems to run my body. On the way to the elevators, I noticed the entire brains behind the operation that is the Phoenix Suns closing quickly. Included were Mike D’Antoni, Jerry and Bryan Colangelo, and David Griffin (director of player personnel), with wives and families in tow. They’re good people and I get along relatively well with all of them, so I was not displeased to see them. They are, however, my bosses, on various levels, so such of a collection of power—and me—on an elevator, was a bit of an awkward situation—especially for them. They were forced to make conversation with an interloper when they were looking only to get up to their rooms after a long night of planning the future of basketball. They all knew that I was not going to play in the next day’s game, so that discussion was out. Bryan and I had already talked about the bad beat I took in the poker game on the plane (Joe Johnson caught one of two nines that would help him on the river and I was sunk). David Griffin was in said poker game, so we had already spent some time together on the day. Coach D’Antoni is funnier than me, so any remark he would make would probably go over my head, and Jerry Colangelo has seen about 8,000 basketball players in his day and certainly doesn’t need a 12-second conversation with the likes of me. It was all very Seinfeld-esque, mostly to me—and made more so because my face was by then very much wipe-of-the-brow worthy. Which means that the entire front office now thinks I have either a very hard time dealing with normal social situations, or a rampant drug problem. I am really going to give my wardrobe more careful consideration the next time I leave the room.
Tim Floyd, who is one of the people I respect most in all the world, once told me that the reason he likes basketball the most as a spectator sport is because an observer can tell a lot about a person’s character by watching him play. In baseball and football, the fans are too removed from the action, and the players’ faces are physically covered by either a helmet or the brim of a hat. A player, he noted, can hide a lot behind those impedances (probably my word, not his). In a game of basketball, the athlete’s emotions are on display for all to see. That’s what made Steve Nash’s effort in Game 4 of our series with Dallas so breathtaking.
I went to the game in something of a malaise. I will admit that our games begin to run together for me as I have not played in so long that I have begun to consider neglecting to wear a uniform beneath my warm-up gear. Consequently, I was not all that excited to watch yet another basketball game, especially after the emotional high that was our Game 3 win in Dallas. I spent the first few minutes of the game putting forth a lackluster effort in my job as associate cheerleader, but my interest picked up as we struggled through the second quarter. The Mavericks’ fans were beginning to get boisterous, which roused me from my stupor enough that I began to take a real interest in the proceedings. Dallas was playing inspired basketball and we…well, inspired would not be the word to describe the way we were playing — I think "disinterested" does the job nicely. We* made it into the locker room down only 16, which seemed much more surmountable than the twenty-one-point deficit we had faced moments earlier.
* I use the term "we" loosely and to mean, "my team," and only because it is the direct opposite of "they," which I use as a stand-in for "the other team."
At the half, Coach D’Antoni did his best to stoke the fires and it seemed to work as we began the second half with a higher level of focus on the task at hand. (I was trying to put as many clichés in one sentence as I could. How did I do?) Unfortunately, our efforts failed to dent the deficit; in fact, the Mavericks staved off my teammates with made shots that found their mark from all over the court. It was frustrating to watch.
There comes a point in every semi-blowout basketball game that, if it has been held off long enough, the team sucking the proverbial rear mammary begins to fold. After Dallas managed to effortlessly keep the lead between twelve and fifteen points for much of the third quarter, my team unconsciously said to itself, “[Feces]. What the hell are we going to do? They just won’t miss.” Inner shoulders began to sag and theoretical faces started to fall.
Then, a magical thing happened. Steve Nash absolutely took over the basketball game.
Now, we did not win Game 4 against the Mavericks. In fact, we lost by about 10. I doubt that many people will remember what happened in the second half of that game. I know, though, that I will never forget it. Steve put on what was unquestionably the single-most impressive display of basketball skill that I have ever seen in person. He was absolutely unstoppable. There were times throughout the last fifth of the game that I literally had Goosebumps as I stood by the baseline watching him carry my team. He made big shot after big shot, at times when a miss would have been absolutely disastrous because Dallas was certainly not acquiescing to Steve’s plan of a stirring comeback and was making nearly everything they threw in the direction of the backboard. I think that is what made the experience so astounding—that each shot was under such pressure. It is never easy to find such a rhythm, but I have to think that it is a more facile task when the chips are falling in place, when the game is flowing and one’s team is actually making progress. Steve could have hung his head and resigned himself and his team to a losing fate at any time during his zoning-in, but he never did. As I mentioned, though, we never could close the gap. Our fearless point guard kept us within striking distance for almost the entire second half; his floor mates and he just could not come up with the defensive stands needed to surmount the Mavericks' lead.
The greatest part of Steve’s 48-point performance came late in the game. He had not really forced a shot all night and had taken what Dallas had given him throughout the game. (In fact, some will say that this was the Mavericks’ game plan. I doubt, though, that allowing anyone to score 48 was mentioned in the pre-game briefing.) I would love to say that I can recall the plays exactly, but as I noted earlier, I have been watching way too much basketball these days. Suffice it to say that on two consecutive possessions near the end of the game, he had what looked for an instant like an open shot, only to have the window of opportunity closed by a fast-charging member of the opposition. In both cases, he found an open teammate who, both times, made a shot. Those two passes drove home what Coach Floyd once said. Anyone watching the game could tell just what sort of person Steve Nash is. They could tell that after the game he would deflect any talk of his own performance and instead concentrate on the fact that his effort, as Herculean as it was, was not enough to win the game. They could see that he never gave up on his team as he huddled them after bad breaks. They watched him shrug off, as best he could, some [adjectives deleted for author’s protection] calls by the referees. In all, anyone who watched Game 4 of the Phoenix-Dallas series now knows exactly what kind of person Steve Nash is. And I don’t think that is a bad thing.
This journal has received more attention than I could have ever thought possible. Stories have been done on the “blog” by wide-ranging outlets such as Fox Sports, ESPNews, the Wall Street Journal (Online edition—this has not quite been enough of a phenomenon to rate mention in the traditional version), Sports Illustrated, Newsweek and, strangely enough, the BBC. (I will clarify—BBC stands for British Broadcasting Corporation. Someone to whom I was speaking recently was confused by the acronym, leading to another drop in my estimate of the general intelligence level of the average human.) All of this has made me realize I had forgotten how intoxicating, yet frustrating media attention can be.
I am a huge proponent of the concept that is “The Media.” Without the watchdog attitude that is taken by many journalistic outlets, our personal freedoms would be in serious jeopardy. Because of the inherent corrupting nature of power wielded, government would slowly take total control of many aspects of the average person’s life if not for the checks and balances provided by the damned liberal media. Historically, the creation of any totalitarian regime worth its salt was marked by some sort of media takeover or, at the very least, heavy censorship. (Side note: As I have mentioned before, I spent two months in Russia earlier this season. Scary developments are afoot in that country. Of course, no one here knows about them because we are all entirely too concerned with the latest celebrity gossip to care that the Russian government has gained control of most of the television stations there. Without independent voices to raise a questioning eyebrow, the push to find a way to make Vladimir Putin the country’s permanent leader should be an easier one. I am not making this up.) The press has always been one of the few entities that held influence over the heavy hand that is big government. It is an overused example, but it still rings true: What if no one had uncovered the evidence that brought the Watergate scandal to the public’s eye? Our lives would not be the same, methinks. One does not need to be a conspiracy theorist to realize that those in charge want to stay that way and will do most anything to accomplish that goal. More recently, I could point to Bush’s own Patriot Act as an example of a piece of legislation that, had it been enacted… Wait. Oh, that’s right, that fine idea came to fruition. I forgot about the fact that scare tactics override all else as a motivator. And that the general public is inherently stupid. And that even though the Act severely restricts individual rights and puts the US on a fast-track to an Orwellian destiny, the Joe Rednecks of the world stood up and said, “Rights? I’m willing to give up my own personal rights, if it means more freedom around the world.” (Think about the blasphemy found in such a statement.)
I have digressed. I write the above as background only to impress upon the reader that I realize that the media is very necessary to our survival. Well, not to our survival, I suppose, but at least the survival of our way of living — that is, in a “free” country. I think some journalists do great work. That being said, there is always room at the bottom.
I did an interview on “The Best Damn Sports Show” about a month ago. I vowed not to watch my own performance, but the participants at the poker game that went down at my apartment that night overrode my veto. I was reminded of why I don’t like to see or hear myself. Ever. First of all, seeing oneself on television is surreal because everything is backwards. We do not think about it much, but most of the views a person sees of himself are reflections in the mirror—meaning that, when I see myself on TV, it looks kind of what I think I look like, but not really. It is very unsettling. Second, it turns out that I talk out of the side of my mouth. It is not a pretty sight. I will be accepting applications for the position of “Instructor in How Not to Look Like a Complete Jackass When Speaking on Camera” starting next week. It would be okay if I had just had a stroke; since I haven’t, it is inexcusable to appear so retarded while speaking. Last, I know of a few people whose faces should ever be subjected to a close-up. I am not one of those people.
The interview was moderately entertaining, I suppose. It was somewhat strange in that my only contact with the hosts of the show was through an earpiece. The interview was done via satellite; my location was a darkened room with a camera, and so I had no view of the proceedings — another very odd feeling. For all I knew, the studio audience was openly mocking my presence and the hosts not actively participating in the interview were making obscene gestures in my direction. (Maybe it is better I didn’t see them, actually. I can pretend they were entranced by my droll observations on the state of professional basketball and no one will be the wiser.) As usual, when my 2.5 minutes was up, I spoke briefly to a producer who thanked me for my time and sent me on my way.
The interview process, when done badly (which is most of the time), is extremely degrading. In my experience, whether it is for TV or newsprint, the interviewer pretends to be extraordinarily interested in the subject’s life…for anywhere between two and ten minutes. Then like a john leaving a cheap motel room, he goes on his merry way without a second thought to the proceedings.
Tom Arnold, who I gather works for the aforementioned Best Damn Sports Show, was at Game Two in our series against Dallas. I suppose he was on-hand to further his career as a…(Why exactly is Tom Arnold famous? I’ve never been clear on this.) After doing a few pre-game interviews, he took a seat courtside and watched as we lost to the Mavericks in a thriller that nearly resulted in serious damage to the arena floor due to impact with Joe Johnson’s cheekbone. (I don’t mean to be so glib. Joe’s fall was a doozy and it will be an impressive feat when he is willing to put his face back in harm’s way, which I am sure will be sooner for him than it would be for the rest of us.) One of Arnold’s pre-game interviews was with me, which was disappointing news for this author. I have grown rather tired of talking about the “blog,” mainly because the questions asked are usually repetitive to the point of making me want to commit acts of violence upon the interviewer. I tried to hide behind a pillar when I saw the cameras, but I had to pass by Arnold and one of his handlers to get to the locker room. As soon as I came around the corner, my hopes of a quick walk-by were dashed. His sidekick recognized me, and quickly whispered something in Crazy Tom’s ear. A microphone was shoved into my face and the camera turned my way.
(I should note that my distaste for the attention caused by all this is not modesty. My ego is as big as anyone’s. I just don’t see the point, really. I haven’t DONE anything. As I mentioned in a previous missive, there are already way too many people talking or writing about the things other people are doing — and I am one of those. To have people talking about what I am writing about takes the process to a new level of absurdity and pointlessness.)
Tom, in what I learned is his normal, rather high-strung way, began berating me with near-questions that were of absolutely no substance at all. In fact, the only thing I gleaned from the experience was a new way to envision what a person who had just snorted twenty five... Pixie Stix must look like — he is that hyperactive. The poor guy didn’t have a clue why he was interviewing me — and I had been on his show. I even tried to lob something his way, mentioning that I had seen him in my Cyclone days at pre-Iowa caucus rally for Al Gore. (Perhaps he wiped the compelling performance that the ever-captivating Gore put on from his memory. I pretty much have.) He said something like, “I liked Al Gore,” and then trailed off into a frantic butchering of the English language. All in all, it was an awful interview.
I don’t blame Tom Arnold for the fact that he is a half-crazed reporter for the BDSS. I blame the people that watch. Maybe, instead of tuning in to some guy who used to get it done with Roseanne on a regular basis talk about the journal, a body should read it for himself. Arnold’s viewpoint cannot be superior; he is still addled from those years in bed with a less-than-attractive mate. Better yet, watch the game and then stowaway in my bag, stalk the players, and come up with even stranger impressions than the ones I have. (On second thought, maybe just read the journal.) Think for yourself. Question authority. The media is around for a reason, but Tom Arnold isn’t it.
Most of my colleagues are quite tall. I am no exception at 6’10”. When in captivity, on the basketball court, I am able to easily forget the fact that my bones are stretched to an extraordinary length because I am surrounded by other members of the freak show. Not so when I am released into the wild. Then, I am forced to remember… by stupid people.
After one of a recent session of the basketball camp that serves as practice while we await an opponent for our next playoff series, I headed to my neighborhood Safeway. I picked up my staples (cereal and yogurt figuring prominently among my selections), and headed out the door. As I was leaving, a man searching for a nearby accountant’s office accosted me when he observed my heightful frame and said, “Hey man, you should have played basketball. You’re really tall.”
What, basketball? You’re kidding. Why didn’t I think of this sooner? It’s a good thing you came along, man.
He continued, “Just how tall are you?” I replied with my correct height, which was quite the Herculean effort, considering the retorts that occurred to me. Back to his original line of questioning, he asked, “So, did you ever play ball?” Now, he was obviously baiting me into giving something away. The smart thing to do was to keep walking and admit nothing. Instead, I said, “Actually, I play for the Suns.” As soon as it came out of my mouth, I wished I had a DeLorean. Option 1: no conversation with strange, middle-aged man. Option 2: lengthy encounter with strange, middle-aged man. Option 1 was the logical choice; I must have sucked in too many air-conditioning fumes while inside the grocery store.
My newfound friend immediately interjected that he was a veteran of the Korean War; it was great that he told me since that was exactly the question I was going to ask. He then proceeded to tell me about his children, which again was fun because I had been wondering. He apologized for not being enough of a Suns fan to know who I was; I assured him that there were only about 200 people in Phoenix that did, so it was okay. Then, he helped load my goods into the trunk of my car despite my protests to the contrary. (Aren’t young people supposed to assist their elders, not the other way around?) Finally, I signed a piece of paper for his wife. (Harold, what the hell is this? I send you out to deliver some tax papers and you bring me some guy’s autograph.) The whole encounter got me thinking about the problem that is the old height question.
First, let’s start with the obvious. Telling me I am really tall is not a great conversation starter. It’s like walking up to a well-endowed girl in a bar and telling her she has nice breasts — it’s, A) creepy, and B) obvious. She’s heard it before. It is not a new tactic and is not going to lead to a conversation that ends well. The same (sort of) is true for me. The only possible response available to me is, “And you’re really smart.” The encounter basically marks the asker as an idiot and me as a *******.
Next comes the obligatory, “Hey, how tall are you?” Now, I have had some time to consider this question and have decided that it is only necessary in two situations. Either the inquisitor is in some way unable to judge the height of the subject (perhaps due to the fact the conversation is taking place via telephone or perhaps due to blindness) or the askee is sitting down. Those are the only two possible scenarios for which it is a valid inquiry. It does not make any sense for someone to walk up to me on the street and ask me my height. He can see how tall I am. Feet and inches are merely arbitrary measurements set up by some English king—they are meaningless without some kind of standard. Basically, to judge a person’s height, one of two things is needed—a number value or a visual representation. Not both. Unless, of course, there is some sort of underground tall-person collecting going on. Maybe, much like bird-watching, finding someone of each available height is a goal people have.
I really enjoy when people say things like, “Did you know that you are really tall?” Holy [feces]! Are you serious? I’m tall! I can’t believe it. This must have happened overnight. Thanks for pointing it out, though… Again, asking this question is not a way to convey intelligence. I don’t think I have pulled them out yet, but someday soon, I will respond… with questions regarding the physical appearance of my foil, choosing from “Did you know that you are morbidly obese?” and “Has anyone ever told you how unbelievably ugly you are?” It’s going to happen. After all, much like height, they are only observations regarding a person’s appearance.
One byproduct of the height conversation is often a comparison to someone the questioner knows and thinks is tall. “Six-ten, huh? Wow. My cousin is 6’2” and I thought he was tall.” Invariably, the person to whom I am compared is not really tall at all and the conversation usually ends, unless I am about to be told how big his feet are and how tall the doctors think he will eventually be because, again, I apparently look like I need to know.
My all-time favorite encounter is the guessing game. In it, a person approaches and says, unprompted, “I’d say you are about X feet, Y inches.” Even better is the guess without any preceding statement; the guesser just starts throwing out heights from a distance, apropos of nothing. The truly fun aspect of this little pastime is that the person is almost never close. “You’re about 6’2”, right?” (I’m serious; it has been said multiple times. I think 6’1” is the record low.) No. Not even in the ballpark. And let me guess, the neighbor kid is really tall.
These are all more tolerable, though, than the nearly-out-of-earshot comment. Oftentimes, when I walk by, I will hear whispers: “Wow, look how tall he is,” or “That guy is really tall.” It’s as if, by being tall, I was not blessed with fully functional ears. Were these people not taught how to use their inner monologues? Yes, I am quite tall, but I know that. Any observation to that effect by others should be kept on the inside, unless the participants are willing to bear the consequences. I don’t go around saying everything that is on my mind, but I could. If I did, the airways would be full of, “Well, now that guy is an example of why they made abortion legal,” and, “Why, exactly, were those two people allowed to procreate?” I think we are all better off with my silence so, no more height questions.
I have not played a meaningful minute since I re-joined the Suns in January. My role on this team, with regard to games, is to cheer at the end of the bench, give encouragement to my teammates as they leave the floor during one of the 74 timeouts in an NBA game, and stay prepared enough to play should catastrophe or blowout befall my team. I do not however, play when it counts. I am still trying to wrap my brain around this concept as it is a new role for me. Contrary to popular belief, I am not actually retarded, and can occasionally make a coherent basketball play. This is the first time since, well, ever that I have not been asked to play in parts of the game that will directly influence whether some little kid that is a fan of my team goes to bed with a smile or a whine. A reporter recently asked me if wins were as sweet, and losses as sorrowful because of my stunted participation (his question, actually, was nowhere near so poetic—it’s easier to make things sound good when a backspace key is available). I was impressed by its direct nature. I don’t think he was trying to stir up controversy; he seemed truly curious. Of course, I suppose that is his job. I might have dodged a bullet when I chose a more thoughtful answer over, “Man, this is some [bovine excrement]. I can’t believe I ain’t playin’. I mean, what is coach thinkin’, man? All’s I need is a chance.” Whew.
Now that I have given the take-everything-out-of-context weevils something with which to work I should note that I still believe I might have the best job in the world. I do not play because my team does not need me to play. I am an okay basketball player, but I am not better than the players in front of me in the rotation. Even if I were, we have the best record in the best league in the world, so it would seem that someone pulling the strings might just know what he is doing.
That being said, it is sometimes difficult to surf the far end of the bench. I do miss having an influence on the result of the game. It is not playing, exactly, for which I am wistful; it is more the visceral feeling of having helped my team to a win or, absent the victory, knowing that I gave it my all but lost out anyway. (If we were playing Grand Theft Auto, the cliché police would have lit one of my stars. I am glad that only about three people get that.)
So far, I have deviated almost none from my job and everyone seems to be happy. With my limited role, though, comes a somewhat detached relationship to my teammates. Now, I don’t want to be too exaggerative—I am a part of this team and do behave as such—but I would be lying if I said I have the same claim to the results as does Quentin Richardson. It would be folly for me to intimate that he and I are experiencing the same emotions now that we have closed out the Memphis Grizzlies; it just is not true. To me, it goes something like this:
If X is the magnitude of the emotional result of one game (either negative or positive), the following would be some of the multipliers which would result in an aggregate emotional impact for people with different investments in a particular game:
Bench player who sees significant time: 1.8X
Head coach: 1.7X
Assistant coach: 1.6X
Security guy at arena: 1.2X
Steve Nash stalker: 1.1X
Standard fan: 1.0X
Drunken homeless guy outside arena: 0.5X
To explain, for those who were not fans of the word problems at the end of the math book chapters, it is pretty simple. We shall use Shawn Marion as an example. After our latest win at Memphis, which did close out the series, but was also relatively ugly, the emotional result (X) was, say, a 7. So Shawn felt an emotional impact of around 14 (2.0 x 7). I felt an emotional impact of around 10.5 (1.5 x 7), and the homeless guy sustained one of about 3.5 (0.5 x 7). This is all slightly changeable based on how seriously the particular player took the game and how attractive the girls he gave his tickets were, but I think it gives a rough guide.
In words, since this isn’t high school algebra class, any feelings I have about a win or loss are going to be slightly dampened compared to Shawn Marion’s. If we win the NBA Finals, it is not going to be because of something I did; to take such credit would be extraordinarily self-serving. Now, I may have had some influence; perhaps a play I made back in training camp or an esteem-boosting poker loss I absorbed on the plane helped in some small way. But, let’s be honest, any impact I have is much smaller than the impact Jimmy Jackson, or Alvin Gentry (assistant coach), will have. The potential range of emotions because of a win or loss is bounded, as I showed in the absolute masterpiece that is the above table, and I think that is the way it should be.
Memphis, Tenn. — I have decided that there are way too many television channels available to the general public. I, like everyone else in our dumbed-down society, spent much of my youth in front of the idiot box. Fortunately for the growth of my brain, my father did his doctoral thesis on the effects of television (mostly the public variety, i.e. Sesame Street) on the intellectual development of children. (I think; I have yet to sit down and crack open his work. Such the devoted son I am.) Because of this, my brothers and I were not allowed to watch much TV in our childhood. This is not to say our lives were entirely barren of entertainment—we loved Alf and Quantum Leap as much as anyone—but we did not spend hours upon end staring at the screen.
My first post-college employment opportunity started in November of 2001 and came in response to the following ad:
Professional basketball player needed. No experience necessary. Willingness to put up with language barrier, shoddy travel conditions and lack of an on-time, or even complete, monthly payment a must. Suckers only, please.
Because I spent most of that year in Athens worrying more about tracking down a paycheck from two months previous and placating a Greek landlord who could not understand why the team was three months behind on its rent payments, getting the requisite satellite installed at my apartment was not high on the priority list. Consequently, my contact with the outside world was limited to the internet and some very shaky phone service. The upshot of this entertainment moonscape was that I learned just how much of a time-waster television is. It was an amazing revelation. Suddenly, I had hours to fritter away sitting by the sea with teammates who didn’t even speak the same language as me. (Wait, how was that good again?) At any rate, I learned how to live without it quite well and, upon my return to the US that summer, found that I had not really missed any regularly scheduled programming.
To this day, I still do not watch much television. I catch the occasional episode of Arrested Development when I can, and the World Poker Tour gives me the sports-related fix that was once filled by basketball. (I get quite enough of that particular game in my current job as assistant cheerleader for the Phoenix Suns.) I do see a fair amount of TV when I go to ‘work’, though. Our practice days involve a certain amount of dead time, be it dressing in the locker room, rehab or strength work in the weight room, or random wandering through the training room area. Because most athletes are apparently chronic sufferers of ADD, there are televisions everywhere. Since we are all dumb jocks, most of these are tuned to some sports channel or another. (I will be non-specific, since the attacks are forthcoming.)
I vividly remember summers when my brothers and I, not quite old enough to have jobs, would spend entire mornings watching SportsCenter over and over (with intermittent channel flips to the Price is Right, of course). Because we spent a lot of time studying it, I think I am qualified to say that the format then consisted almost entirely of highlights and scores. In those days, back when the anchors were not trying so hard to be funny (and consequently, could actually slide in a humorous remark now and then), the viewer was left to his own devices regarding his thoughts on the events he was watching. Not so today. Now, on every sports channel I see, the issues are analyzed to death. Well, actually past death. More like analyzed to decomposition…via writhing piles of maggots.
So now, instead of showing the facts and letting the people decide for themselves as to their conclusions, presenters on shows turn it over to people whose only qualification is that they look vaguely presentable on camera and can out-yell all comers. I really don’t think this is a good thing for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is that, when it gets down to it, sports just are not that important. There is a reason the sports page has been historically found on section D or E of the newspaper.
Of course, I could make the same argument about the news. There was a time when a person could be presented with the facts regarding any old issue and not be subjected to some random “expert’s” opinion on gay marriage, abortion, or the Surreal Life.
(I should note that, by taking this course of argument I am, in fact, railing against myself because really, who the hell am I and why should anyone put any stock in what I write? The good news is that I have not been told that I am an expert on, well, anything, so I have not been given carte blanch to begin yelling about why I think the Chiefs got a steal in the fourth round with the drafting of Craphonso Thorpe [New feature--in-parenthetical parenthetical expressions. How about Craphonso for a name? One would have to become a football player just to take out the aggression that would build up from having that for a moniker. I doubt he ever heard, “Hey, Crap-Honzo, catch the damn ball,” back in school. Seriously, though, who approved that on the birth certificate? There needs to be some sort of watch-dog organization for these things.] Basically, I write what is the direct channeling of a very strange brain, and should be treated as such.)
Now that I have shot down my own credibility, I want to talk about our point guard. There has been a lot of debate this year regarding who should be the MVP of the NBA. I honestly care only slightly who wins the award; my concern is weighted more heavily toward hoping I will have to deal with an awkward smattering of applause after my name is announced at the post-championship rally. Steve is a hell of a good dude and an amazing basketball player, but the same could be said about Shaquille O’Neal—the other theoretical frontrunner for the award. (Quick story, since I have totally wrecked the flow of this anyway. When I was first out of college and reported to training camp with the Lakers, with whom I had no chance of making the team as an undrafted, non-guaranteed camp invitee, I was determined to not betray the fact that I had no idea what I was doing. To that end, upon entry into the locker room prior to the media day that goes on the day before training camp begins, I marched right up to Shaq and said, “Hi. My name is Paul Shirley.” He smiled and said, “Yeah, I know who you are.” I nearly fell onto the floor. Instead, though, I said, “Nice to meet you,” and walked back to my locker to get dressed so that I could be asked exactly zero questions by the reporters in attendance. Throughout camp, Shaq was unbelievable. He was completely down-to-earth, funny, and approachable. When I was released at the first available opportunity, I was left with a lasting impression of a very cool individual.)
Steve Nash absolutely changes the entire feel of games in which he is involved. I recently spent some time speaking with a Canadian reporter who was doing a story about Steve. He was waiting for the floppy-haired one to finish with the beat writers and, while killing time, had come to talk to me because of his reading of the nonsense found here. In our time together, we developed the theory that Steve’s game is like it is because of his soccer background. To watch a Suns game is to watch a free-flowing exercise in extemporaneous basketball. There is a rough guide to be followed, but generally the decisions are left to the participants. The same could be said about the game of soccer. When observed from above, a soccer match seems amorphous and ever-changing. The game flows in S-curves and smooth shapes, as opposed to bad basketball, which is all Z’s and sharp turns. I think Steve brings this soccer mentality to the court. He never stops moving during the game and seems to flow up and down the floor throughout. Consequently, his teammates, and even the opposition, move in a similar manner.
Whether Steve is the most valuable player in the entire NBA is really not for me to say. I will say, though, that our team would not be what it is—maybe the most fun basketball team to watch in ten years—without his influence. Amaré Stoudemire is ridiculously good, Shawn Marion makes plays on any given night that make me wonder why the rest of us even try, and Joe Johnson is as good a shooter as I have ever seen, but without a director, the rest of the group, I think, would be lost. Steve guides the game in ways that are unseen to the casual observer. He plays the game the way it should be—in constant motion and with a grasp for the several dimensions on which a basketball game unfolds that is preternatural. For that, I think he is certainly our MVP.
The playoffs have begun. I have to admit that I am a bit excited. I am generally unfazed by most anything concerning a particular sporting event — I have seen way too many basketball games to be easily impressed by the addition of another to my list — but I can say that I was a little more juiced than usual by the prospect of yesterday’s trip to the arena.
I am constantly amazed by the ability of others to get excited about sports. I understand being a fan — I grew up living and dying by the nightly fate of the Kansas City Royals. I do not, however, grasp the existence of the überfan. This is a touchy subject, though, as the fans are the people who pay my salary. I would re-iterate that I understand the idea of rooting for a team. We all need something we can get behind. But, enthusiasm seems to be easily overdone; I cannot help but wonder what makes the crazies tick.
During warm-ups last night, I noticed a couple of fans directly behind our bench. (For once neither was female.) One had painted a basketball on his nearly shaven pate; the other had dyed his longish hair orange. They were in their seats approximately four hours before the game, so I had plenty of time to analyze their behavior while assistant coach Phil Weber and I played our traditional pre-game HORSE match. (At some point in the year, Phil and I grew tired of drills and began playing the aforementioned equine-named contest at the conclusion of my pre-game workout. Strangely enough, our little game is quite the indicator for my team’s fate. When he wins, the Suns win. When I win, we lose. Our regular season record was 62-20, which should indicate that I am just a fantastic HORSE competitor.) The two gentlemen with the creative hues on their heads kept calm throughout our match — perhaps they were just that enthralled by the thrashing Phil gave me. Little did they know how important that game was. (Nor how accurate a prediction it would provide.) When the game began, though, the two die-hards stood up and unfurled their trump card, a hand-written sign that said something along the lines of:
Hair Dye: $8
Missing my first day of work to watch the Suns in the playoffs: Priceless
Their placard inspired a few thoughts. First, who is more of an [word for donkey], the guy who is three years behind the times and thought of the “joke,” or the guy who, back at the apartment, said, “Now that’s funny, dude. You totally have to take that to the game”?
Next, if one of our heroes is starting a job that would have theoretically had him working on a Sunday night at 7:30, was $500 for tickets to a basketball game really a wise fiscal maneuver? I understand that it is the playoffs and all, but was the abandonment of any potential cash flow worth the sacrifice? Maybe for the Finals, but even then I would be willing to bet the Texaco has a TV behind the counter.
Last, is missing said crappy job really worth the "Priceless" tag? I’m thinking "Priceless" should be reserved for: "Bailing on the birth of my first-born to watch the Suns in the playoffs," or perhaps for, "Breaking out of the county jail to watch the Suns in the playoffs." Let’s keep things in perspective.
Fortunately for my own self-respect, I am missing whatever gene is required to do things like paint my head orange for a basketball game. I think the same set of DNA is responsible for those people who at Pearl Jam concerts scream out totally inappropriate [feces] like, “Eddie, you kick [gluteus maximus]!” (In other news, I hate exclamation points, and only used the preceding one because it was absolutely necessary. Therefore, I have used up my quota of one per month. I would like to see others adopt my rule concerning this form of punctuation.)
As I mentioned in an answer to a question lobbed my way by a reader of Bill Simmons, writer on ESPN.com’s Page 2, I recently attended a Local H concert. (Anyone not reading Simmons should be. His stuff is like mine, only funny and well-written.) The band played one of their crowd favorites at some point — a song called “High-Fiving [person who copulates with the matriarch of a family]." The tune is basically a fast-paced romp aimed at skewering the jockish types who think nothing of raising their collective hand and expecting a slap on the palm in return. Now, there is nothing wrong with a "five," high or low, if it is given in response to a well-performed athletic feat on the part of one of the participants in said "five." It is not, however, appropriate if neither party was remotely involved in the sporting contest. The enjoyable part of the song, for me, is that because it is a jaunty little number, some of the audience invariably will begin moshing (for those out of the loop, moshing is the random running into fellow concert-goers that often occurs directly in front of the stage). These idiots, of course, are exactly the personality types the band is making fun of. The irony there is very decent.
I feel like Local H at times. I want the crowd to thrill in the action and enjoy our games, but I do not want them to make fools of themselves. I like to see some dignity out there, and I do not think I am alone. I am not asking for a moratorium on signs or enthusiasm; I am only asking for the signs to be humorous (because, really, my personal enjoyment is the main goal here) and for the high-fiving on the part of crowd members to be reserved only for circumstances of the utmost basketball intensity, with notable exceptions given in cases of extreme drunkenness. I really don’t think it is much to ask.