“We are a team of poor losers.”
Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams says it. So does the first-ballot Hall of Fame point guard. And after five years of losing on the scoreboard, young All-Star Devin Booker couldn’t be more at home when he says it too.
Booker hasn’t always been able to talk about rebounding from a loss to a blowout win. In fact, he’s only recently been able to talk about something other than yet another loss in a string of losses that the media wanted explanation on.
“It’s been hard to win here.”
For five years, Devin Booker said some form of these words year after year, game after game, loss after loss, with a sullen expression and matter-of-fact delivery. I should know (and trust me this is not a humble brag) because I was present along with half-dozen other media folk in almost every post-game locker room media session those five years.
Let me digress a bit. I have been a Suns fan for a long long time. Probably longer than most of you dear readers have been alive. I consumed Suns news like a junkie for decades, reveled in their early 90s success, longed for Backcourt 2000 to take flight, lamented the kidnapping of Antonio McDyess, the broken knee of Tom Gugliotta, the french fries at Jason Kidd’s kitchen table, soaked in the birth of SSOL, patiently explained to my 8-year-old daughter why Shawn Marion shouldn’t get a max extension, tried to embrace Seven-Seconds-or-Shaq, loved the ICMF and hated on Metta World Peace.
So you can see why an aspiring writer would want to start blogging about his beloved team for a site with media credentials that could someday get him access to All-Stars like Nash, Marion and Amare. Unfortunately, I didn’t get those credentials till after the All-Stars left.
My intro to media coverage began with Lon Babby, the barely-more-visible-than-Jeff-Bower Lance Blanks and Michael Beasley, followed by short renaissance that morphed into the Timeline of Self-Destruction and finally sunk into a long-term tank job.
During my nine year tenure as a media professional covering the Suns, starting with the 2012-13 season, they’ve lost more games than just about any team in the league. I’ve had the chance to watch Goran Dragic devolve from happy kid to angry star, a dozen former cornerstones (deserved or not) get ushered out the door with middle fingers wagging each way and a half dozen coaches tell me how things are going to change this time.
The last 5+ of those seasons, I’ve had the privilege of listening to Devin Booker take every single post-game press conference (we were in the locker room by his clothes and keys, so sometimes he had no choice no matter how bad the game went) and talk about what went wrong.
He never once expressed satisfaction with what we fans tried occasionally to call a ‘moral victory’, which is still a loss no matter how close the score was.
He never once crowed over an unexpected win (they were all unexpected for a few years there) as if they’d arrived or could appreciate it. He always talked about needing to win the next game too, or that win wouldn’t matter.
Devin Booker was technically a loser. Yes. For three years there, his team had a 27% winning percentage!
But Devin Booker was never ‘fine’ with losing. And that’s a big reason first-ballot Hall of Famer Chris Paul worked his way to the Suns this past off-season.
“You find me someone that’s fine with losing, I’ll show you a loser,” Paul said after the Suns rebounding from a Saturday loss to the Pacers with a blowout win over the Grizzlies.
In Chris Paul’s world, he didn’t see Booker as a loser because losers accept their lot in life. Other NBA players agree with Paul’s assessment, consistently ranking Booker higher on their All-Star ballots than fans or media or coaches ever did. LeBron James calls Booker the most disrespected player in the league three years after calling him a future All-Star. Book is now a two-time All-Star not because of fan and media finally taking notice, but thanks in part to power-player support lobbying to the Commissioner’s office when injury replacements need to be named.
“When I was a kid, they called you a sore loser if you couldn’t handle it correctly. We have a bunch of guys like that,” Monty Williams said of his team, specifically citing Paul and Booker among others.
The Suns have not lost two games in a row since January and have now won 18 of their last 22 games. At 26-12 they are off to their best start in 13 years and have the league’s third best record. Are they set up to win in the playoffs? Well, they are 13-5 against teams with a winning record and 12-4 against the top 10 seeded teams in the West, as of today.
Through it all, Booker remains the team’s leader with a remarkably consistent profile as one of the league’s most efficient scorers and secondary playmakers.
Devin Booker never has been a loser in the figurative sense, and now — FINALLY — he’s not a loser in the literal sense either.
Booker’s team over the last 18 months is:
- 60-50, a 55% winning percentage, over his last two seasons — 14th best in NBA
- 34-12, a 74% winning percentage, since the restart last summer — BEST in the NBA
- 26-12, a 68% winning percentage, this current season — 3rd best in the NBA
Their 26 wins this year in only 38 games is already more wins than Booker experienced in four of his first five WHOLE seasons. And they’ve still got 34 more games to go.
Devin Booker is a winner in every sense of the word, and he does not intend to let that ever go again.
“It’s good to know that everybody is on the same page and everybody has the common goal of wanting to win,” Booker said, when told of Williams’ and Paul’s comments. “So yeah, we are sore losers.”