Friday, May 18 at 1 p.m. ET

Books -- 'Can I Keep My Jersey?'

Paul Shirley
Pro basketball player, blogger, author
Friday, May 18, 2007; 1:00 PM

Paul Shirley will be the first to admit that he has garnered much more attention for his blogs and columns about playing pro basketball than for anything he's done on the court. While on the bench for the Suns in 2005, he began his Road Ramblings blog about life in the NBA. That carried over to a series of posts on

Now, Shirley has a book out, "Can I Keep My Jersey?: 11 Teams, 5 Countries, and 4 Years in My Life as a Basketball Vagabond." He discusses pro basketball, the playoffs and his new book, about his life playing basketball from Phoenix to Siberia and everywhere in between, Friday, May 18 at 1 p.m. ET.

A transcript follows.

Shirley also has been exchanging comments about the NBA playoffs with author Neal Pollack over on Slate.


What's the consensus on Nash's cut man?: The trainer said it was the location of the cut in a particularly capillary-intense area that made it so hard to stop.

But Kornheiser and others have asserted that a boxing cut man would have fixed it up right in no time.

What have other trainers had to say?

Paul Shirley: That was a slightly more in-depth question that I'm used to answering in my chats on Since I'm not attached to the athletic trainer's union, I haven't had a chance to take the pulse of the group's feeling on Aaron Nelson's work.

I happened to be watching the game from Spain -- looked like a blood-borne pathogen's dream.


Columbus, Ohio: Hi Paul,

After your most recent stint playing in Menorca (or is it "on Menorca" as it's an island?) and considering that you were likely one of the higher profile Americans there, (Uh, you are 6-10 and paler than Matt Barnes after all) did people in Spain express there opinions about U.S. foreign policy with you? If so, what does the prevailing attitude seem to be? What is your take on how differently the war is being covered in Europe compared to the U.S. ? There, now you have at least one legitimate non-sports question

Paul Shirley: When I'm overseas I'm always amazed at how the people there attach US foreign policy to their impressions of Americans. I've never felt particularly welcomed because of this. For whatever reason, they think that I -- a random basketball mercenary -- have the ear of the president.

So, a big thank you to GWB for ruining the first impression I might make on any girl in Europe.


Backwoods, Ga.: Aside from gawking people, obvious questions, and overhead obstacles, what's challenging about being 6 foot 10 that a person of average height not realize?

Paul Shirley: I live in constant fear that my hearing is going bad. If I'm in a bar, say, the people forget that I don't have ears in my nipples. They speak to my chest and I spend half my time trying to interpret the few sound waves that are funneled by my sternum toward my head. I need several T-shirts, but one should definitely read, "My ears are way up here" with two arrows pointing NNE and NNW.


Washington, D.C.: Paul - Many people in show business attempt to create cache by having two first names (Meg Ryan, Al Michaels, etc.) Was this your reasoning when you named yourself?

Paul Shirley: Yes, and I'm a masochist and enjoyed the snickers in seventh grade. "Shirley's a girl's name. Ha ha." Which was cutting when I was 13.


Brooklyn, N.Y.: What are some of the prime, most memorable hangouts post game in NBA cities, such as Portland and NY?

PS -- If the Suns had designated you as one to physically retaliate against SA for all the Bowen and Horry dirty play, would you have done it and how?

Paul Shirley: A common misconception about the NBA is that any postgame hanging out goes on. Without fail, after road games NBA teams take a bus to the airport where the chartered plane waits to take everyone to the next city. (Or home.) So the concept of the team-wide trampling of the city's nightlife remains just that -- a concept.


MJ, Washington, D.C.: Hey Paul,

I enjoy your candor about the NBA. We hear a lot about international players being superior to U.S. guys in shooting and other fundamentals. I'm wondering if you thought that stereotype held up after having played internationally as well as state-side?

Paul Shirley: Thanks. Generally, it is true that the Euros have a better grasp of the fundamentals. Players in Europe know that to succeed in Europe, they'll have to be able to make basketball plays. European teams don't hire guys who can't shoot or can't pass.

NBA teams, on the other hand, believe in specialization. One guy is a shooter, the next a rebounder, the other a shot-blocker. Dikembe Mutombo should be thankful that the NBA ever existed. He'd make about $12 a year in Europe.


Eau Claire, Wisc.: If you could play for any team right now, which team would you pick? Which Brand New cd is your favorite (mine is "deja entendu")? Who was your favorite player growing up?

Paul Shirley: The Raptors -- best NBA city...agreed, although the latest effort is making a strong push...Larry Bird, which is sickeningly stereotypical, isn't it?


Arlington, Va.: Could you expound on the differences with referees in the various leagues that you've played in? How are they in Europe as compared to here?

Paul Shirley: The refs in Spain are even more egotistical than over here. I'd compare them with Mediterranean drivers. Their pride is their most important possession and the slightest injury to it will result in a drive-long (or game-long) grudge.


Shameless plug opportunity: Paul -- Will you be in the .D.C area to sign books?

Paul Shirley: No book tour, sadly. Random House doesn't think I rate one. Boo. Maybe if I make it to No. 10 or lower on Amazon.

So don't plan on it.

I am doing a couple in Kansas City (where I live) this week. I'm hoping they'll pay for my gas.


Tulsa, Okla.: Paul,

First, halfway through the book and it is great.

I know that you have said that your writing has caused some concern as far as further employment in the NBA. Yet, if you give up writing the way you do, as a rational person, who happens to be a good basketball player, you journalistic career would not have happened. Considering this Catch-22, have you considered writing about something other than basketball? Or will you continue as is, and take your chances with NBA GM's?

Paul Shirley: 'Tis a quandary. I do want to branch out; I think everyone will quickly get tired of my self-obsessed rants. The experience has been fun just because I've been able to push away from my own life a little.


Baltimore: Do NBA guys spend money like it's going out of style, What's the biggest waste of money you've seen?

Paul Shirley: I once asked Shawn Marion how much the earrings he was wearing cost.

$20,000. Each.


Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Paul - Is the groupie situation in the NBA as bad (or good!) as I imagine? Are they simply lurking about arenas and hotels, aggressively looking for a millionaire player to bag?

Paul Shirley: Nope. I've never seen girls waiting at the hotel, or outside the arena. For one thing, the NBA isn't nearly as relevant as, say, movies or music. (I gather that's where the true groupies aim their work.) And when it does happen, it's more likely to occur out a bar or club. The girl might recognize a player and approach him. But it's not nearly as blatant as people might think.

Which certainly made me sad.


Baltimore: How do the European league teams stack up to NBA teams? How would a typical European league team fare in the NBA?

Paul Shirley: Some of the best would beat NBA teams. Others already have. Of course, the "typical European team" would be somewhere between the best team in Europe (Panathaikos of Athens this year, budget probably upward of $16 million) and the worst team in Europe (some team in, say, Iceland; budget of $25,000). So the typical team wouldn't have a chance.

But, the five best teams in Europe would consistently beat up on the five worst teams in the NBA.


Springfield, Mass.: What's the over/under for your book at Amazon? Currently No. 83.

Paul Shirley: There's a lot of misuse of the term "over/under" these days. You have to say, "The over/under is X, now do you pick the over or the under."


Nashville, Tenn.: Who's the nicest guy in the NBA?

Paul Shirley: Shaquille O'Neal


Boerne, Tex.: Is there a better better actor in the NBA than Steve Nash? I doubt it ...

Paul Shirley: Steve is one of my all-time favorites. I loved it when I got to play with him. (In practice, about four times all year.) He's really smart and really funny.

But I think there was some soccerishness to his dive into the scorer's table. Just a little.


Baltimore: What do you think of the book "Ball Four"? You and Jim Bouton seem to have a similar sense of humor and outlook on the world (and I mean that as a compliment).

Paul Shirley: Thanks. I haven't read it: I actively avoided doing so because of the obvious parallels. I didn't want to compare what I was writing to what he had already written. But I'll read it now.


DC: What is the average players' opinion of David Stern? Evil, controlling genius with a Napoleon complex? Or benevolent uncle who is helping make everyone rich and take professional hoops to the next level?

Paul Shirley: Since I still hold out hope that I might again have a job in the NBA, I can't answer that. I love him and wish he had more feet so I could bathe them all.


Petoskey, Mich.: Well, no late night parties but NBA players do have a lot of afternoon time available. What do the players do when they are on the road?

Paul Shirley: Honestly? Most of them stay in the hotel rooms, eat room service, and watch TV.


Oak Creek, Wisc.: What do you think your former team Chicago needs to get to the next level in the playoffs?

Paul Shirley: Not give $12 million a year to guys who can't make 8-footers.


Annapolis, Md.: Hi-

The national anthem is played before every game in the NBA. Do any NBA players sing along to the national anthem as it is being played?

I know it's an odd question, but I'm curious. From a fan's perspective, it appears that most NBA players respectfully stand and honor the anthem, but I've always wondered if any players sing along.

My singing stinks so I usually just stand.


Paul Shirley: I don't think there are any jingoistic rednecks in the NBA, so no.


Washington, D.C.: Boy, the Suns sure could have used you to eat up a few minutes in that last game, huh? Kurt Thomas looked like he was about to die.

Paul Shirley: It does seem like there's no cartilage left between his bones, doesn't it? He's one of those guys who make me wince when he runs.

Also a really good dude, by the way. Just not a fluid runner.


Rockville, Md.: Hey Paul, love your journals on ESPN, extremely creative!! by the way, I have been in Spain, Madrid and Sevilla to be precise, and woman there are amazing, I think you are on the wrong city my friend, honestly!!!!!

So is the Real Madrid basketball team as good as the soccer team over there?

Paul Shirley: You could be right.

Real Madrid's basketball team finished either first or second this year. So they're at least as good, if not better. And without the $800 billion budget.


Washington, D.C.: Paul,

As the GM of the Wizards, I just signed you to a 7-year contract on NBA 2K7. Why should I start you over Jamison? I am willing to overlook your 55 rating if the proper intangibles are there...

Paul Shirley: Think about how satisfied you'll feel when you win a championship after bringing out my true potential through careful coaching and well-researched personnel moves.


Arlington, Va.: Have any other players ever called you out for anything you said about them in your blog or elsewhere? Anybody that scared (or scares) you?

Paul Shirley: Not yet. Although, to be honest, I don't really throw people under the bus that much. I don't think Kurt Thomas would take offense that I said he's not a world-class sprinter.

If I really need to tell a tale, it suffices to leave out the name. Most of the time, it doesn't matter who it is as much as it matters that the person exists in the NBA at all.


Watch your Back-ville: If you do get back into the NBA, I think Mutombo and Ben Wallace (nice anonymous jab, by the way) will have a couple nice elbows waiting for you.... On a related note, who is the dirtiest player in the NBA?

Paul Shirley: See, that's the exact reaction that makes me laugh. These guys don't care that much. The media and the fans think they do, but they don't. Ben Wallace is a really smart guy. He knows he can't shoot. He certainly doesn't care that I think he can't shoot. And he's not going to elbow me in the jaw because I said so. He might try to dunk on me, but he tries to dunk on everyone.

I enjoyed the reaction to the Spurs-Suns brouhaha because the people watching were more outraged than the players. Of course guys get knocked to the ground, but this isn't boxing -- nor is it 1930 -- guys aren't trying to settle grudges. They're trying to win basketball games. More importantly, they're getting paid lots and lots of money to do so. Their long-term careers are much more important to them than is the protection of some guy who may or may not even be a teammate next year.


D.C.: Are you amazed at how soccer-crazy people, especially men, are in Spain? I'd heard about it, but when I lived there it was far beyond what one would expect.

Paul Shirley: Yes. And to be honest, I've tried to like soccer. I even went to a Champions League Semi-Final between Juventus and FC Barcelona a few years ago. But I can't do it. Soccer is the worst spectator sport available. It is. So. Boring.


Indianapolis: Be honest: while at ESPN's offices/studio, did it feel like you were roaming through the Death Star?

Paul Shirley: There's a great 5-part piece on that tracks the demise of SportsCenter over the years.


Crofton, Md.: Sounds like Dubya is putting quite the crimp on your nightlife in Europe. How do you pass the time during the season, especially if you're in a country that isn't particularly enthralled with Americans?

Paul Shirley: My most recent gig in Spain involved consistent two-a-days, so I didn't have time to get into much trouble. Get up, eat, go to practice, take a nap, eat, go to practice, eat, sleep, repeat. It was thrilling.


Paul Shirley: That's all for me. Thanks for the remarkably astute questions. For more, check later today. And I can always be found at Thanks for reading.


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