Journal 35: Why I'm the least cool basketball player

Updated: July 24, 2006, 1:26 AM ET
By Paul Shirley | Special to

I have played in the NBA's summer league only twice prior to this edition. I had forgotten how much I dislike the experience.

My other two go-rounds were with the Cleveland Cavaliers -- before I had ever actually played in the NBA. Summer No. 1 was highlighted by the discovery that Anthony "Pig" Miller keeps a toothpick in his mouth at all times -- even when he plays.

John Lucas
Rocky Widner/Getty ImagesIf Lucas is your coach, missing several free throws means you better have cab fare handy.
I spent most of that summer league dreading practices run by John Lucas, who once took the keys to the vans meant to transport us back to the hotel after practice -- punishment for our inability to make 18 free throws in a row as a team. As in, each player had to make one without a break in the sequence. It's not possible. We were left to our own devices to find carriage back to our hotel in downtown Salt Lake City.

I think someone finally decided to call cabs and we all pitched in for the 30-minute ride back. At least, those of us who had brought a wallet to practice did. I think I probably owe Trajan Langdon $30.

Most players on a summer league team are younger than I am. In fact, the concept came about as a way for teams to work with their draft picks and first- or second-year players. Jackasses like me -- players hoping to catch the eye of anyone in the stands -- usually round out the roster.

I try not to worry about my encounters with other basketball players at this point in my career; I've learned that many of them are either bad human beings or are completely disinterested in talking to a white guy from Kansas who likes Nine Inch Nails approximately 100 times more than he does the latest offering from [insert terrible rapper here].

But I do still think about the camaraderie that could be provided by a basketball team. While my hope of a cohesive unit of guys with the same sense of humor regarding basketball and life crashed and burned around the time of my third day of college, I do like to believe that it remains a possibility. Each time I come to an event like the NBA's summer league, I am reminded of just how farfetched my hope is.

I have decided over the years that most basketball players are as antisocial as most musicians. Just like it is folly for us to expect Kurt Cobain to handle well the pressures of media attention and public adulation, it is not smart to expect the same out of Joe Basketball Player.

Kurt Cobain
James Crump/ Cobain and summer league ballers do have something in common.

Cobain was preternaturally talented with music and, as such, was probably the creepy kid in the back of the room who had no real ability to interface with other human beings. Basketball players are no different. They are really, really good at one thing.

People assume that because they are big and strong and appear very confident on the court, they are the same off the court. I would submit that such is not the case. I think that many of us feel at peace only while playing, which explains why, when I showed up for practice here in Las Vegas with the Minnesota Timberwolves, it seemed as if everyone was trying to out-cool one another. In actuality, they were all frightened and wanted nothing more than to return to their rooms to write a follow-up to "In Utero."

I will press on. As usual, I have pledged to myself to be the least cool basketball player. I will continue to ask my teammates about their lives outside of the sports world. Most likely, my questions will be met with stone-faced stares and unintelligible responses. But, if I can keep anyone from putting a shotgun in his mouth, I will have contributed something.

Paul Shirley has played for 12 pro basketball teams, including three NBA teams -- the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns. His journal appears regularly at To e-mail Paul, click here.