Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Can I Keep My Jersey

There's a spot I sit in at the local library which, coincidentally, overlooks a cemetery. There are some easy chairs there and low tables on which you can toss your bag and a (covered) cup of coffee.  Also there is a ledge in front by the window where you can kick up your feet. It is a good spot. I must have sat thereabouts for ten years when I visit this library.  When I decide to take a bit of a stroll I am in the Music and Performing Arts section of the stacks. Anything you want to know about musicians, television stars, acting, broadway shows.  Right there in the stacks.

The secret must be out as the last two times I went into the library some nogoodniks had taken the chairs in the section. So I moved down about thirty feet and found a few more chairs. These did not face the cemetery--faced more of a construction area--still there were the low tables for paraphernalia and the ledge for my legs.  So, I parked myself there.

When I got up to stroll and saw what was in the stacks near my new perch, I realized that this was a particularly appropriate neighborhood for me.  No music and acting books, but every sports book one can imagine. Baseball, basketball, football, biographies, memoirs, stats--I even was delighted to see that the Madness of March was in the stacks. (Less delighted to check the back of the book and see that the last person to take the book out did so before Obama's second term).

I spent some time glancing at the titles on the shelves and for some reason my eyes settled on a book by a man I'd never heard of named Paul Shirley.  Shirley was a 6 10 former basketball player who was not quite good enough to play in the NBA, but desired to be in the league. So to stay relevant (or maybe just to continue to get paid for playing an enjoyable game) he signed up to play for several professional leagues. He played in Russia, Spain, Greece, two minor league teams in the United States and intermittently got called up for a cup of coffee for three NBA teams.  The book, Can I Keep My Jersey, is his memoir about the experience of playing at all of these venues.

Shirley describes the experiences and weighs in on issues related to the general character of basketball players.  He writes well and in parts is very funny. His rants against hypocritical religious sorts are especially terrific and laugh out loud funny.

While he talks about his playing skills with appropriate self-criticism, he is critical and condescending when writing about the intelligence and the degree of commitment of his basketball playing colleagues. I can see how some people might take offense at the jabs he takes at his teammates and less brainy others. He must mention a half dozen times that he has a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Iowa State and often suggests that the average basketball player is only a notch up from illiterate.

After I finished the book I was surprised when reading the Amazon comments that so many readers did not like the book.  I really liked it. It kept me engaged, made me reconsider the life of a professional athlete--certainly one who plays outside the country-- and made me laugh which is a good thing.

If you like basketball and are curious about the life of professional athletes you will probably enjoy Can I Keep My Jersey.  I am glad I stumbled across it.

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