Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Benchwarmer Blog

In this case, the hat tip to Crabwalk comes first because I'm so happy I was turned on to this little throw-away-that-isn't.

Paul Shirley's blog, in its gentle, articulate self-effacing tone, is wonderful and hilarious. Who is Paul Shirley, you ask? He's the 12th (and thus last) man on the NBA's Phoenix Suns. He's played professional basketball for 11 teams in the past four years. Beyond that, I'll let the Sun's marketing team answer:

You know Paul Shirley. He's that tall, thin-looking lad you see in the lay-up line during pre-game warm-ups at AWA. The one that sits at the end of the bench cheering on all your favorite Suns and doling out high-fives during timeouts. Yes, he's got the best seat in the house, but Shirley's much more than your typical 12th man. He's now an up-and-coming author.

In Shirley's own words:

I play for (I use the term loosely; play for/cheer for—same thing) arguably the best basketball team in the world. My responsibilities include: 1. Showing up for buses, practices, games, etc. on time. 2. Refraining from causing undue stress to anyone by misbehaving on road trips or wading into the stands to attack fans. 3. Practicing hard when given the opportunity. 4. Entering games when my team is up by an insurmountable margin and attempting to break the shots-per-minute record. It is not a difficult job, really . . . .

I'm just going to dedicate the balance of this post to my favorite passages, since most of you are too lazy, or have real lives and thus lack the time, to read this whole hilarious blog.


The [Atlanta] Hawks are really, really bad. Such a collection of mismatched players has rarely been foisted upon the NBA in recent years, methinks. It is almost as if someone picked the group completely at random. There were balls being bounced off teammates’ faces, passes thrown to no one in particular and, in general, very little coherent basketball at all. At one point, the Hawks actually entered an airball as their shot of choice on three straight possessions.


Charlotte was nearly as inept as the Hawks were the night before. Jason Kapono started off on about a 1 for 10 tear and it appeared that the rout was on. I began considering the possibility that there could very well be a bit of playing time in the offing and started paying at least cursory attention to what was going on in timeouts, in case Coach D’Antoni said something like, “From now on tonight, everyone will be shooting with his left hand. Deviation from this plan of attack will result in castration immediately following the game.” I would really hate to miss one of those instructions, come out firing, and because of my own mental lapse, ruin the rest of my life. (That was an example of some unneeded verbosity. When I sign my book deal, someone will have to teach me how to actually write.)

A man after my own heart.


This is my first trip to Miami. Neither of my partial-season stints prior to this one had brought me here, so my opinion of the place was a blank canvas this morning. After the trip to the beach, the frame was looking rather bright and colorful; by the end of the day, it was filled with grays and browns. Miami has the same problem as many cities famous for their nightlife — it is chock full of people trying way too hard to have a good time. Like New Orleans and Las Vegas, it is place that would be worth visiting once in a while, but I cannot imagine living here. I am sure that some would disagree, but the place, at least near the beach, has a very false feel to it. Almost everyone I saw today, be they muscle-bound [morons] with bad tattoos, or bleached-out, implanted girls, looked like their entire goal in life was to impress those watching them. (As an aside, I will now declare the tattoo trend dead. Not just over — that happened a couple of years ago. Dead. Is there anything more passé than the arm or shoulder tattoo on the male of our species or the symmetrical lower back tattoo on the female? On a further tangent, because this is how my brain works, Tom Gugliotta has the worst tattoo in the NBA. The barbed wire on the bicep is bad enough to put him in the running; the fact that it is the dreaded “I thought I could get away with not having it complete the circumference of my arm” type puts him over the top. It is like wearing a tie that is not only ugly, but is a clip-on to boot. Ugly is at least forgivable; the clip-on aspect makes it reprehensible.)


So, we lost to Miami tonight. For coverage, see another source.

Before our game against the Heat, I had a wave of, well, something melodramatic and hokey, wash over me. It happened during our warm-up, immediately prior to the game. We had finished our half-assed lay-up line. (By the way, I gather that readership of this nonsense must have cracked double figures, because the censors are on the case. I don’t know that that last adjective will get through. Yesterday a whole chunk of my writing came up missing. It seems that references to the fact that Miami has a bit of a reputation as a narcotics haven are found to be offensive to the children and old people who might read this and get…none of what I am talking about anyway. And yes, I realize that I need to learn to collect my thoughts and use fewer parenthetical expressions.) I was sitting at half-court, stretching while the players who would actually be participating in the game in the near future took some shots. I looked around at all of the beautiful people filing in to the seats. I saw the ESPN guys preparing for their broadcast of the game. I looked down and saw my own warm-ups. Then, I panicked a little. I wondered if everyone around me was going to realize the fraud that I was. It does not seem all that long ago that my father was teaching me how to play the game on our gravel driveway, or that I was playing high school basketball in a town of 700 in Kansas. I thought to myself, “What am I doing? Who am I kidding? I could be about to play in this game between arguably the two best basketball teams in the world. I don’t belong here.” And then it passed. I got up, marched over to the basket, grabbed a bouncing ball, took a shot and melted right back in with my team. Identity crisis over.

And my favorite, a nice summary of the state of basketball, and why I and so many people I know vastly prefer watching college basketball to NBA basketball, I conclude with ATLANTA:

I am afraid Memphis may get kicked out of the league. I could be mistaken, but I think they started three white guys— three American white guys at that. I am pretty sure there is a rule against that somewhere—some kind of quota, I think. Maybe I am wrong. I guess we will find out soon, when they have to bring back the Cincinnati Royals to fill the void the Grizzlies leave behind.

As I watched our game today, I realized that I was observing a Good vs. Evil match-up of sorts. I grew up watching the Boston Celtics and Larry Bird. (Not surprising, given the fact that my first basketball experiences came while honing my skills on a gravel driveway in rural Kansas.) When my father and I could watch an NBA game, we would watch the Celtics. Without knowing why, I loved the way Bird and his teammates played the game. At the time, I only knew that they were fun to watch. Now I understand why I was drawn to them. The Celtics, along with other teams of the era, played the game the right way. They played with reckless abandon, not caring whether they looked cool doing it. Unfortunately, that style of play quickly faded.

We are something of a test-case for a return to the 1980’s-Celtics-and-Lakers style of basketball. A test case because no one knows if that kind of game can still be played or, more importantly, succeed. At some point after the Bird-Johnson era, something changed in NBA basketball. Whatever it was alienated most of the people I know. No one in Kansas watches professional basketball. They first grew disillusioned with the me-first, style-before-substance attitude, but that was not really the reason they stopped watching. They stopped watching because the game itself was no fun. Coaches had tightened their grip, and basketball had become a slugfest. The emphasis switched to defense as the powers-that-be realized that anyone, no matter how limited in ability, could win if they stopped the other team from scoring. Consequently, players were taught that it was more important to learn how to play defense than to learn how to shoot a basketball. By the late 1990’s I, and most everyone I know, could hardly sit through an entire NBA game.

Almost makes me want to watch the Phoenix Suns. While this seems like a lot, these are just snippets. There's much more (though it's finite; the blog was designed to last only one road trip). And if it seems a bit indulgent of me to occupy so much of my space with someone else's writing, you're right, but that's what happens when the poem I've been messing with in my head all day just refuses to behave.


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