Hey there Suns fans! Remember Paul Shirley, deep bench power forward for the 2004-05 Phoenix Suns?
Now he’s back!
Paul will be in town reading from and signing copies of his new book, Stories I Tell On Dates this Saturday at the Barnes & Noble in Scottsdale at 1 pm.
Here's an excerpt from Chapter Two of the book, a story about his first-ever job as a professional basketball player, which he told to a girl in the Memphis airport while on his way to join the Phoenix Suns.
On the day appointed for the first payment of my professional basketball career, my new team’s manager showed up before practice with envelopes for everyone—envelopes stuffed with cash.
This was mildly inconvenient, largely because the manager, Stelios, gave us the cash before practice and it wasn’t like we had lockers where we could stow our money. Our locker room was a 15’ x 15’ bunker with two long wooden benches that sat in a stew of used shower water, sweat, and toe fungus.
Only two weeks before this, I’d been in training camp with the defending World Champion Los Angeles Lakers. We’d flown to training camp in a chartered jet. In training camp, I’d had an entire time-share apartment to myself. Oh, and training camp was in Hawaii.
This was a long way from Hawaii.
I jammed the puffy envelope into one of the shoes I’d worn to practice and was pleasantly surprised afterward when I found that neither my shoes nor my money was gone. The next day, I duly deposited the money in my new Greek bank account and fired up Microsoft Money, where a little bar graph told me that I was basically a member of the nouveau riche.
And, officially, a professional basketball player.
I’d had my doubts. After my release by the Lakers, I’d decamped to my parents’ basement, making mid-morning trips to my old high school gym where I worked out under the watchful eye of my middle school PE teacher. I could see the doubt in my other former teachers’ eyes as they peeked through the gym doors.
Professional basketball player? Riiiiight.
My teachers hadn’t been the only ones who were worried. My parents didn’t say anything, but I could sense their impatience blooming like the thistles that grew in our pasture. Basketball had been cute in college, but wasn’t it time to start thinking about My Future?
Then my agent called. A team in Greece wanted to sign me. But, like, immediately. I was supposed to fly to Athens the day after they made the offer. When I’d imagined playing basketball in Europe, I’d imagined something more measured—a leisurely flight to the city in question, where over an upscale dinner the coaches would try to convince me that I was just the player they needed. They’d show me where I’d live. I’d ask pointed questions about playing time. My agent and I would weigh the pros and cons of the contract and then I would decide. I mean, I’d never even been to Europe, and now a team was asking me to come spend the rest of the year there, sight unseen?
There was one other problem. The team from Greece had called exactly five days before Darin Densmore’s wedding, and I was supposed to be Darin’s best man.
I called Darin, and Darin told me I was going to miss his wedding. He said it was time for me to go see some of the places we’d told the audience about back in third grade, when he’d been the narrator and I’d been Pablo in Jefferson West Elementary School’s production of Pablo the Reindeer.
Darin had one condition: I had to promise to do my best to make him proud with the female population of Greece.
I told him I’d try, even though girls were just about the furthest thing from my mind. I was far more concerned with proving I wasn’t crazy for thinking I could make it as a professional athlete.
My first games under the employ of Panionios Basketball Club were marked by three- or four-minute bursts, during which I would invariably do something my coaches loved before invariably doing something they hated, at which point I was yanked in favor of one of my teammates. We had two Greek stars—a power forward who favored fadeaway jumpshots and a guard who drove a Porsche and played like it. At center was a friendly American who would die following a suspicious heart attack a few years after his career ended. Our shooting guard was a 34-year-old Bosnian with a nose like a tomahawk and a temper like a Tomahawk missile. And our point guard was a Frenchman who, if you watch the video of Vince Carter dunking over Frederic Weis in the 2004 Olympics, can be seen trying to take the ball out of bounds with a very surprised look on his face.
When I arrived, the team was still trying to justify the big contract that tethered it to the Greek big man who was three years and ten kilos past his prime. I was the scissors, waiting in the junk drawer. The big Greek knew his days were (potentially) numbered and showed occasional signs that he might be turning a corner, participating in such uncharacteristic activities as passing the ball and showing up to practice on time. But then, in a game on the home court of perennial Greek basketball powerhouse Olympiacos, our first-year coach lit into him for failing to run back on defense. His pride hurt, the big Greek stormed past the bench and straight into the locker room.
Our coach grabbed me by the shoulder and pushed me toward the scorer’s table.
Get the book!
Go to the signing on Saturday. 1:00 PM. Barnes and Noble. On Shea and the 101.
Paul Shirley can be found on twitter under the handle @PaulthenShirley.
He played for the Phoenix Suns during the 2004-05 season, his last in the NBA. During that season, he famously gave us all insights into that crazy first SSOL season through chats on ESPN and later a blog, which turned into his first book “Can I Keep My Jersey?”.
Paul’s second book, “Stories I Tell On Dates” was just released on October 17, 2017.