Because we can't get enough of Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, I've decided to share a non-local media's really good article on the development of Booker into a star.
There’s some really good writing in here from Rob Mahoney for si.com, including lots of quotes from Booker and Suns coach Earl Watson on Booker’s present and future.
While everyone wants to write interesting articles during the heat check of summer, the Phoenix Suns have not been anyone's go-to move in recent years unless it's been a body-slam of how not to run a franchise.
But now the Phoenix Suns have what may be a budding star, and it's the national media, front offices and players from other NBA teams who are staking their claims on recognizing it first.
Forgive Phoenix Suns fans if we are a bit more reticent with the accolades.
It’s been years since the Suns had a superstar. Fans don't know what an "NBA superstar" looks like in these new uniforms introduced in 2013. With all due respect (and I have a LOT of it) to Eric Bledsoe, who also gets a ton more accolades across the country than he does from local fans, the potential for Devin Booker to take over the NBA while representing the Suns is a lot more provocative.
But more importantly, from the Suns perspective, they have a much better chance at raising their local and national profile back into the upper realm of NBA franchises with Devin Booker leading the way.
Not since Steve Nash was licking his fingers and tucking his flowing locks back behind his ears at the free throw line have the Suns propped up a lovable star who could sell jerseys by the truckload, raise ticket prices and attendance on home and road games and increase the Suns national TV game slate.
Devin Booker isn't there yet. But it's easy to see him becoming that next star for the Suns.
The 19-year old is already getting shown on the national stage, including the Three-Point Shootout and Rising Stars on All-Star Weekend, a national TV commercial, a seat at the ESPYs last week (was any other Phoenix Sun at the ESPYs in recent seasons?), and now the USA Select Team.
Here’s an interview he did this week while working with the Select Team.
On becoming one of the best two-guards in the NBA:
I think I belong up there. Obviously a lot of people might not have me up there because I’m not proven yet, I’m still a rookie in this league and still have a lot to prove, but I know one day I’ll be named with the best of them.
On his ‘welcome to the NBA moment’:
Matching up against Dwyane Wade. At home, first time. Obviously D-Wade’s an unbelievable player. I think I created a lot of space on him one time and thought I was going to get a jumper off and he still blocked it. Much respect for Flash, that’s one of the best two guards to do it so I have much respect for him but that’s definitely one of my ‘welcome to the NBA’ moments.
Booker scored 16 points in his first matchup against Wade in Phoenix, missing 11 of 17 shots including that Wade block I can remember so clearly.
But in their second matchup, down in Miami, Booker pumped in 34 points and got some high praise from Wade after the game.
"I was impressed with him the first time we played him, and I'm very impressed tonight," Wade said of his message to Booker, who averaged 25 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists in two games against Miami. "When you've got a young guy going through a tough season like that, he's just out there having fun. He's out there getting better, and he's one of the future [top] two-guards in this league."
"If he continues taking steps, he's going to be very, very good," Wade said. "I like him. I like him a lot."
Just last week, Wade tweeted about Booker again at the ESPYs.
Dwyane Wade showing Devin Booker some love via his Instagram account - game recognize game. pic.twitter.com/URobiUdnBl— Suns Nation (@SunsNation_NBA) July 14, 2016
While most of those appearances are limited to the context of being a young up-and-comer, the Three Point Shootout and invitation to the ESPYs are evidence that Booker is already being considered on the fringes of the bigger "senior" stage.
It's a drop in the bucket, to be sure. But it's a start.
If Booker can continue his rise to stardom on the court, he's tailor-made to be a star in our hearts and the hearts of even the most casual fans across the nation and the globe.
Fans love players they can relate to.
While Booker is taller than the average fan at 6'7", his game looks a lot like that of any diehard basketball weekend warrior. He shoots, he passes, he trash talks and does it all without having to be the most athletically gifted guy on the floor.
Fans love players who deliver the payoff.
Even in his first season, Booker showed a natural penchant for finishing off the big play just as fans are begging to let out oohs and
. Too often, NBA players get the crowd halfway onto their feet only to miss the wide open shot they'd created for themselves. I remember more than once last year, Booker got the defender to lose his footing, creating several feet of separation for an open 12-footer or three pointer. As fans were already rising and gasping at the move he made to get separation, he rewarded their excitement by actually draining the shot to finish the play.
Fans love players who smile.
Booker smiles on the court. He smiles off the court. He loves the game, and he knows it's okay to let everyone know how much. We love that. We don't react as well to mean-mugging on big shots. We don't like mumbly interviews, or claims of superpowers regardless of shooting percentages, or refusal to even talk to the media after a big game. And we really don't like players who grab and open mic and talk down to the fans and call us out for not being loud enough after a beat down.
Devin Booker doesn't have to wave his arms to rile up the fans. They are already ready to cheer him when he gets the ball, because they know he's going to do something fun to watch. And when he finishes a big play, they react on cue. Because fans like Devin Booker. They like everything about him.
Fans love players they see on TV.
This is the next step for Booker and the Suns. The Suns are ready to make Booker the face of the franchise. The NBA, TNT and ESPN are ready too. Booker has spent more time on national television this past year than any other Suns player, via the commercial, the All-Star Weekend, the ESPYs, USA Select Team and summer league.
Now he just needs to lead the Suns to enough wins, or at least enough oohs and ahhs, to give the networks reason to show the Suns in prime time again.
Dominating in that Suns/Boston matchup last week on ESPN2 can only help. Booker wasn't supposed to play in that game, but he insisted on playing once he knew it was on national TV. And he dominated. The storylines after that game were that Booker was too good for Summer League, which was already true. But now the whole nation agreed.
The other storyline was that a Booker-led team was the most fun team to watch in all of Summer League. Booker's Suns were passionate, exciting and driven to succeed. They won both games easily, and the other players on the team looked better with Booker at the helm. Alan Williams, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and Tyler Ulis all looked better with Booker on the court. Booker's success doesn't shut anyone else out. On the contrary, the better he plays the better everyone else plays.
In the stands for those games, I saw a lot of throwback Suns jerseys among the fans. I even saw a black retro #11 Morris jersey.
Got us a vintage Markieff Morris jersey in the crowd tonight! pic.twitter.com/Fpenbv6thZ— Dave King (@DaveKingNBA) July 11, 2016
By this time next year, most of those jerseys will be Booker's. The Suns haven't had a hot-selling jersey since Nash left.
Fans love players who love the fans.
Even if Booker doesn't deliver on his stardom, even if he just becomes the good rotation player he was predicted to become a year ago, he has already become a fan favorite.
You'll be surprised how many retro Dudley #3 jerseys you'll see at the arena next year. And how many #10 Barbosa retros as well. Fans want a reason to invest emotionally in a player, and they ideally want that player to continue to play well in a Suns uni as long as possible so their jersey has relevance.
Booker jerseys will be all over Talking Stick Resort Arena next year.
Even if he doesn't improve on the player he already is, Booker will be a Phoenix Sun for at least the next seven years (three more on his rookie deal, and at minimum a "match" on a restricted free agent offer for four more). Players like Booker are rare, and the Phoenix Suns will use all their CBA-controlled ways to keep him donning the Suns jersey for as long as possible.
For the first time in a long time though, I can truly hope for a complete 10-15 year career for a young player in a Suns uni. And a rise back onto the national stage for the Phoenix Suns, with Booker as the lead dog.