Paul Shirley encapsulated our interests because he told it like it was. He was just another guy, but one who happened to be at the end of an NBA bench, observing all the craziness that is the league, then having the forum and willingness to write about it. Sure, he happened to have decent enough basketball skills that most of us don’t, but it was that extra insight outside of the game that intrigued a growing readership.
From his first diaries for Suns.com to his book “Can I Keep My Jersey?” to his ESPN blog My So-Called Career, Shirley brought the average dude into the NBA. Despite a cold shoulder from ESPN following his comments about the Haitian relief efforts in early 2010, Shirley has been working on writing for his website, FlipCollective, as well as contributing to Yahoo!’s ThePostGame.com blog and Spanish newspaper El PaÃs.
I caught up with Shirley to chat about just about everything, including a failed TV pilot based on his life, playing with Steve Nash and how he’s doing after calling it a basketball career.
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Dime: What have you been doing? Obviously you’ve been writing a lot, and basketball is kind of in the past, I guess?
Paul Shirley: What I tell people is that I thought of myself as a basketball player as recently as a year ago. I accepted a job in Italy. It was going to be what I had always thought would be the dream end-of-career job; it was in Verona, Italy, second division, so the pressure would be a little bit less. I thought it was going to work out well for a sort of cap of the career. As is often the case in basketball careers, it fell apart at the last second, which was probably OK. I had to have surgery on my ankle. I’m not sure playing another year on a bad ankle was a good idea.
Most people have sort of lost track of my career. I played another couple of years in Spain, got injured in a fairly catastrophic ankle break that led to three surgeries on that ankle that came after a surgery on each knee. My career went the way lots of basketball careers went. My body just started to decide that it had enough.
Dime: Do you miss it? What’s it like, just being able to look at it like, “I can’t play anymore?” That type of deal.
PS: I don’t miss it at all actually. It’s strange for me in that I don’t know that it’d feel this way if my career had ended solely because I had chosen to end it. Now I associate basketball with a lot of pain. It just makes me think of being in agony. It’s not that hard to walk away from it when the only thing that comes to mind is my body hurting.
Dime: Are you living in Kansas right now?
PS: I split my time between Kansas City and L.A. As you said, I hesitate to say I’m writing for a living and that’s a lot of fun. I don’t know that will be the way forward. I am coming to terms with the fact that I had this really sometimes positive, sometimes destructive relationship with basketball for fifteen years. It’s a lot like getting out of a divorce, a marriage that consumes your life. It takes a while to come down from that. I’m fine to all the time say to people, I don’t know what’s next or who I am just yet. I spent so much time wrapped up in basketball.
Dime: I saw the Flip Collective (website). And is it Yahoo you’re writing for?
PS: I’m writing for The Post Game which is a Yahoo!Sports online magazine.
Dime: Any other jobs or do you have any projects going on?
PS: I actually write for El PaÃs, which is a Spanish newspaper, for the NBA, which is a really cool job because I have so many contacts in Spain and have something of a following there. That’s cool, helps pays the bills a little bit. I’ve been at work on a second book, which I won’t say is done but a draft of it is in the hands of my literary agent. So we’ll see where that goes.
Dime: The first book, I read it a long time ago. How’d that process come up and how’d you get that gig? That was (when you were) relatively still kind of on the rise as far as your writing wasn’t it?
PS: I signed that book deal when I was probably 26 or 27 I guess. I was still in the midst of my career. I didn’t realize I’d be done as quickly as I was. It came about because of the Suns blog and Random House calling my basketball agent and saying, “Does this guy want to write a book, ever?” I’d always planned to do that but thought it’d come after my career. It’d be a folly to turn down Random House calling you.
I moved to LA and made a television show, a pilot based on all of this, which failed. But it was quite the learning experience. And then I launched back into the basketball career and went to camp with the Timberwolves and went to play in Spain. I had that weird little interim stage in my career where I worked hard on the book, which was a compilation really of old stuff. A lot of that stuff was written when I was 23, 24, 25. As with basketball, it’s fun to see the progression.
Dime: The forward (for Can I Keep My Jersey?) was written by (Chuck) Klosterman. Even Bill Simmons, when you were writing for the Suns, he said he checks this out.
PS: That was really the tipping point, when he linked from his column to the stuff I was writing. That was when it really caught the national attention that led to whatever stories in the Wall Street Journal and this book deal and everything.
Dime: Have you thought about reaching out to those guys and maybe writing for Grantland or anything?
PS: I think I’ve been blackballed by ESPN.
Dime: Even if Simmons put in a good word for you?
PS: I dunno, maybe. We get along OK. I’ve hung out with him a couple of times. There’s a sense, I think, that I’m trying to like … with writers a lot of the time, there’s a certain insecurity that this guy is going to take my shtick. I think with Bill Simmons, he was happy to help me out when I sort of knew my place. Now that I’m trying to write as a job, he doesn’t seem to stay in touch.