Ex-Cyclone writes about zany career
Shirley's book No. 65 on Amazon
By RICK BROWN
Register Staff Writer
May 24, 2007
Baseball and reading were Paul Shirley's passions growing up in rural Kansas.
"I admired the people who could churn out meaningful passages, but I never thought about becoming one,'' said Shirley, who played basketball at Iowa State from 1996 to 2001.
"Can I Keep My Jersey?'' published by Random House and released last week, is Shirley's humorous, sarcastic and revealing tale of life as a basketball vagabond.
The book takes readers on a four-season, five-country journey with 11 teams, and touches on some of his Iowa State experiences.
"The book came about because of the journal entries I would send home from the various stops in my career,'' Shirley said. "After a while, I realized that people weren't responding with 'You should write a book' just to be nice. People were actually interested in what I had to write.''
Instead of poring over box scores, Shirley now charts book sales.
"It's really easy to get caught up in my Amazon sales ranking (No. 65 on Wednesday),'' Shirley said in an e-mail interview. "It's important that I remember that when all the hullabaloo dies down, I'll still have a book on my shelf until the day I die. And that's pretty cool.''
Shirley's fluid career is best defined by his change of ZIP codes in 2004. The Chicago Bulls signed him when he was playing for Kansas City of the American Basketball Association. Shirley went from playing in Hale Arena, also a rodeo venue, to the United Center.
"That transition will never be topped,'' Shirley said. "I had flashbacks to Hale Arena while playing an away game in Bruesa, Spain, this spring. We tussled in a 12,000-seat indoor bullfighting arena. The two places smelled strikingly similar.''
Living on a yo-yo - the NBA to overseas - has been taxing but rewarding.
"My itinerant lifestyle has been hell on my emotional stability (and my bankbook),'' Shirley said. "But at 29 I've experienced more highs and lows than most people will in their lives.''
Shirley said he wouldn't trade his career for a six-year, $2 million deal.
"The latter would have been more comfortable, but the life I've led has given me many more stories to tell to girls at the bar,'' he said.
Shirley writes with a self-deprecating humor that is the result of the fragile nature of his career.
"I haven't always been this way, or at least not to this degree,'' Shirley said. "But then I was released, fired or otherwise rejected many times. I think psychologists would classify my behavior as a defense mechanism.''
Shirley's distaste for many NBA players is a recurring theme in the book.
"I really do think they'll laugh (if they read it, which seems unlikely. I predict the participation rate to be around 4 percent),'' Shirley said. "People are afraid that there might be some backlash, but NBA players generally understand that they're participating in a circus.''
Shirley labels one of his former Iowa State teammates, first-round NBA draft pick Marcus Fizer, "a genuine nut job'' in his book, but says that Fizer has grown up some.
Shirley also writes: "Teammates I had in college were not afraid to come to practice drunk or to kick the odd policeman in the teeth from time to time.''
He wouldn't name names.
"I don't think specific identities matter,'' he said. "What matters is that it happened at all.''
Shirley came to Iowa State from Meriden, Kan., on a National Merit Scholarship. He begged coach Tim Floyd not to let anyone know he was there for his brain.
"I was definitely insecure about the stigma attached to being, technically, a walk-on,'' Shirley said. "I don't know that Kenny Pratt would have taken me very seriously if he had known that I was there on a National Merit Scholarship.''