Being the best player on an NBA team comes with a lot of perks.
You’re the starlet headliner of your squad’s enterprises — the celebrated face and namesake behind its most glorious feats.
You’re generally a well-protected commodity between the lines, and referees are oftentimes quicker to blow their whistle in your favor.
And more often than not, your on-court production will reap beneficial off-court dividends in the form of gaudy financial lump sums.
It’s quite the fanciful life.
But it doesn’t come without a tremendous amount of hard work — including carrying the brunt of your team’s praises or criticisms on your shoulders.
In the case of the latter, it’s superstar players who usually get the short end of the stick, and negative lambasts increase tenfold in magnitude when the so-called “best of the best” are involved.
Nonetheless, it’s all part of the alpha-dog territory. Few have what it takes to ascend to such status, and those who do must be fully aware of both the triumphs, and pitfalls of such a glorious title.
Enter Devin Booker.
The Phoenix Suns guard has been torching opposing offenses since he stepped foot in the association, and his cerebral mindset, coupled with an incredibly deep skillset has leapfrogged his name to the top of the league’s young stars list.
A two-time All-Star, Book’s had his run-ins with national notoriety, including his prodigious 70-point performance at just 20 years of age, as well as his guidance behind a miraculous 8-0 “Bubble” run for Phoenix at the 2020 season’s resume.
But for the most part, his talent has remain hidden behind some of the West’s more visible stalwarts — you know, the ones who’ve chewed up most of the mainstream television spotlight during his own team’s woes.
Phoenix’s consistent losing, coupled with its small-town market made it nearly impossible for Booker to break into the Conference’s upper crust of celebrated ball-savants, and Suns fans were left with dashed hopes of his meteoric rise to true stardom on a yearly basis as they meddled in mediocrity.
Enter Chris Paul.
The Suns improved astronomically after CP3’s arrival, and notched the 2nd seed in the West due in large part to his infectious winning drive, and insatiable dogged attitude.
But more wins weren’t the only benefits that resulted from Paul’s addition.
The Suns received more nationally televised primetime slots than they ever had since Book was drafted back in 2015.
And Booker reveled in the spotlight, turning his MVP-esque bubble showcase into a season-long display of predatory scoring prowess, and dominant offensive play.
He averaged 25.6 points per game, 4.3 assists and 4.2 rebounds while posting the highest field goals made mark (9.3) of his career. His resume earned him an All-Star nod, an ESPN cover story, and undeniable respect from his compatriots league-wide.
To receive the utmost of reverence though, Booker would have to perform on the biggest of the game’s stages — the postseason.
And that he certainly did — at least, in its initial stages.
He was unstoppable in his first career playoff outing, torching LeBron James’ Lakers with 34 points on 13-26 from the floor, adding eight assists and seven boards to complement what was a wondrous scoring outburst.
He looked poised and calculated in his motions, getting to his spots with a repeated fervor, and preventing defenders from speeding up his progressions.
Book was marvelous again in the second of the seven-game series, this time recording 31 points with a 7-17 conversion rate, and sinking all of his 17 free throws. His Suns troupe would fall despite his heroics though, 109-102.
Game Three is where it absolutely hit the fan for the young gun.
The Suns looked jumbled and discombobulated throughout the shootout, showing noticeable inklings of anxiety as the pressure of the Staples Center mounted.
Their leader meanwhile, looked as if he couldn't buy an ounce of comfort on the floor. He underwent a complete drop-off from one game to the next: finishing with 19 points, six assists and an abysmal 6-19 shooting ratio.
His woes clearly flustered him — and no moment was a better encapsulation of that than his hard foul on Dennis Schroder in the game’s closing minute.
Devin Booker was given a flagrant 2 and was ejected for this push of Dennis Schröder. pic.twitter.com/dJBseyJGkW— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 28, 2021
It’s now become the talk of the series: the shove heard round the world that saw Booker reach full extension as he pushed an airborne Schroder to the ground in frustration.
He would receive a flagrant two for the infraction, and be sent off for an early exit in a matchup that was already decided. But while the ejection didn’t effect the game’s outcome, it can have a rippling one on the remainder of the series.
The Lakers sure hope it does. And right now, they’re a leg up in the battle of the minds.
“Can’t do that, I mean it’s playoff basketball, but you don’t push a guy out of the air like that with two hands. It’s a dirty play,” Anthony Davis said after the game.
“Can’t happen… that’s a dirty play”— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 28, 2021
Anthony Davis on Devin Booker getting ejected for pushing Dennis Schroder pic.twitter.com/daRLhLD91Q
“Dennis could’ve really gotten hurt right there … Hard fouls, things like that, playoff basketball, we accept those, but to blatantly push a guy with two hands out of the air, it’s a scary play. Good thing he’s OK, but plays like that are unacceptable.”
LeBron’s thoughts on the skirmish were short and sweet: “I thought the play wasn’t a basketball play.”
The Lakers’ comments were clearly ploys for the league’s office to take action on Booker. Their efforts saw no avail though — the NBA announced Friday that Book would not be suspended for Game 4.
Nonetheless, the pressure is mounting on Phoenix, and notably, sir Book himself.
With CP3 injured, he’s the catalyst behind the Suns’ fares, and whatever they do — good or bad, will be heavily attributed to him.
Which means that when the going gets rough, he’s got to mentally toughen up.
That means no technical fouls like the one he received earlier in the affair for jawing at the ref. That means riding out every possession like its his last, and giving every ounce of his heart no matter what the score may be. And of course, that means NO flagrant fouls.
The competition you've been waiting for your entire life is here, Devin Booker. Now, you’ve had your slight wiggle room for ill-tempered decisions, but that’s shrinking expeditiously. It’s time to clean up shop.
Playoff basketball is a game of chess, and when you’re going up against the King, you can’t play like a rook.
Your move, Book.