Q&A with former Phoenix Suns 12th man Paul Shirley -- Part I

Paul Shirley was part of the special 2004-05 Phoenix Suns team.


That’s one word often used to describe the 2004-05 Phoenix Suns. Seven Seconds or Less made its debut and Steve Nash quickly became the face of the franchise that drafted him, while leading them to an NBA-best 62-20 record and capturing his first MVP along the way.

Amare Stoudemire transformed from a raw talent to a polished offensive force that year. His knees were still surgery-free as he dunked over anyone and everyone as ferociously as humanly possible and averaged a cool 37.0 points per game against the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.

Shawn Marion was still The Matrix, providing a unique and never-ending energy, and still shooting threes that made you cringe. Then there was Joe Johnson, who emerged as one of the better shooting guards in the Western Conference before becoming the odd man out in Phoenix.

Mike D’Antoni (2005 Coach of the Year) had endless talent at his disposal, and created an unconventional yet exciting style that has yet to be duplicated. The Suns fell short in the playoffs, losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals in five games, but although they didn’t win a championship, this team created a style and culture that’s characterized the Phoenix Suns ever since.

Although he wasn’t a staple on one of Phoenix’s most memorable teams, 12th man and basketball journeyman Paul Shirley was along for the ride. The 6-foot-10 power forward chronicled the Suns’ playoff run and went on to start a blog for ESPN called “My So-Called Career.”

Shirley didn’t return to the Suns after the 2004-05 season and went on to play for 13 different professional teams over the course of his basketball career that came to an end two-and-a-half years ago.

We’ll get into Shirley’s life, newest book and take on the NBA lockout tomorrow in Part II of the Q&A, but before that, the opinionated NBA journeyman shared his take on what made that Suns team special, the ‘should Steve Nash chase a championship somewhere else’ debate, Amare Stoudemire’s innocence and more.

Shirley on how he would describe his experience with the 2004-05 Suns: Comfortable is the word that comes to mind. It was the only time in my basketball life where I felt comfortable because the environment around the team, the coaching staff, all the players. Everyone was secure with themselves. Obviously you had individual personalities that weren’t necessarily secure human beings but within roles on the team and how everyone got along was a very comfortable situation.

On what that stemmed from: I think it comes a lot from the relationship Steve Nash had with D’Antoni and at the time Jerry Colangelo was still around. There was a sense of continuity to it all and the fact that people trusted each other. Everyone felt like they were together for the right reasons, to win games but also to treat people well. It was a great experience for me because I never had that and it was what I always dreamed of in basketball. It’s a thing that’s very hard to find.

On whether he thought that team should have won a championship: People really forget how much luck has to do with winning a championship. People say, ‘Well Karl Malone wasn’t a great player because he didn’t win an NBA championship.’ You obviously have to give yourself a chance to win it and from there the top four or five or six teams are probably all good enough to win it. Were the Dallas Mavericks really the best team in the NBA this year? The Lakers could have beaten them and we never would be having this conversation about the Mavericks in general. I know it’s frustrating for me to hear analysts talking about the Suns saying, ‘Well they’re not built for the playoffs, blah, blah, blah, blah.’ If you can win all of those games over the course of all those years, you’re certainly good enough to compete for an NBA championship.

On if he thinks Nash is really content without a ring: If it bothers him I feel for him because he’s a good person and I enjoy being around him and would consider him a peripheral friend. We’re not like the best of pals but he’s a really good human being. I think he might be the odd personality who knows the truth about life, which is that as long as you’re happy with how hard you work and how much effort you put into something, there’s not much more you can do, especially in a team sport where he doesn’t have total control of the situation. He didn’t really put his career together until pretty late so maybe his basketball prowess didn’t really connect with when he was at his physical prime. From what I know of Steve Nash from being around him for six months is that he’s that rare bird who may be fine with it and he’s probably better off because of it.

On what Stoudemire was like as a teammate and if he’s surprised he left for the Knicks: I’ve seen him a couple of times at NBA games just saying hello and it’s interesting to me how much he’s matured. He was really, really a kid in those days just about everything. He didn’t really understand how to play basketball or what the concept of defense was in any way. Am I surprised he left for NY? Not really. Professional athletics is a weird world because it’s really hard to see the forest with all the trees and you can get caught up in making a name for yourself instead of being excited about what you have and the place you are. I can imagine that some of that affected him where he just thought, I need to go prove that I can do this by myself. And he’s wrong, he’s just fundamentally incorrect about that. But it’s understandable given the personality that comes along with being a high-level athlete.

On what he means when he calls Stoudemire raw on and off the court: (Laughs) Well there’s the story, I don’t know if I ever wrote about this but — he was not only raw and young on the court but he spent a lot of time asking really dumb questions. They were kind of sweet, they were actually very endearing because he just didn’t know things about how the game of basketball was played. Off the court he was pretty naive as well. One time we were in the locker room, this was around the election of 2004. Jimmy Jackson comes in one day and he’s talking to the guys about, well you should vote for this guy or whatever. Of course at the time it was George W. Bush against John Kerry and Amare stands up and says, ‘I don’t know what the Hell you guys are talking about because I’m going to vote for Kerry Edwards and I’m not interested in any more of this. I’m not interested in who these other people are.’ He thought that there was a man named Kerry Edwards. But again a lot of the time it was very cute because he was like this big puppy dog who could probably tear your head off. He just didn’t know much about the world and basketball in general.

On STAT and D’Antoni’s relationship: It seemed fine to me. I think D’Antoni lost patience with him a few times but I think he also understood that he was trying the best way that he knew how but his way of trying was maybe different than the way that you and I would try.

On if the Seven Seconds or Less style can return to the NBA and be successful: Yes, definitely. I think people who are quick to condemn it don’t actually understand how the game of basketball works. When Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith are sitting in the studio maligning it, that for some reason carries a ton of weight with people when it shouldn’t. People really forget how successful those teams were and how close they were to winning it all. There’s nothing magical about trying to score more points than your opponent.

Tags: Paul Shirley

  • Mac

    It’s great to hear from Paul Shirley again, I have no idea why there are like 10,000 writers with jobs on ESPN.com and peripheral websites and he isn’t one of them. No idea. It’s like if Steve Jobs was out of work and people were like “well, I mean there are only so many CEO gigs to go around.” Yeah, except that’s stupid.

    Anyway, I loves me some Paul Shirley. It seems to me that a dude who can write with 90% of the skill of Chuck Klosterman and play basketball with 90% of the skill of Nick Collison should be more rich and famous than Shirley seems to me, but this world is messed up like that.

  • john marzan

    why are you still interviewing this guy? he’s mr irrelevant. he’s been out of the suns since 2004-05. his views of the suns are stale, ignorant and dated.

  • Dmitry

    Love me some Paul Shirley! Excited to read part 2! Good job getting him in for a chat.

  • steve

    @john marzan

    … because he’s one of the better player/bloggers of all time and he has specific insight into the past of the Suns (the team whom this site is dedicated to)?

    Was that a serious question, or were you joking?

  • http://brightsideofthesun.com jason

    I like Shirley, I think he’s so educated and sharp that it throws a lot of fans off. Fans that don’t think or care about details. I love hearing from Shirley, I think it sheds a lot of light on just how incredibly uneducated many pro athletes are. Some are like 6th graders, and not the type on tv shows that are sharp. Great to hear how Amare has matured so much, I wish him the best in NY!

  • http://facebook.com/wealwayswin Hersey

    Shirley’s racist rant on Haiti cost him his ties with ESPN. I enjoyed his hoops writing but that cost him my respect as well.


  • steve

    I remember reading that when it came out, and I knew right then that Shirley was gone (at least from ESPN). However, just because it’s insanely near-sighted, foolish, hateful, and wrong doesn’t make it “racist.” I don’t remember thinking “Shirley is a racist” when I read his Haiti article. Even the article you linked to has nothing to do with race. Was it stupid? Absolutely. Insensitive? You bet. Did he deserve to get fired for it? Yessir. But I don’t think it was racist. I think it was just a case of a white guy saying a bunch of hateful things about a group of people who happen to be mostly black.

  • Janice

    “I think it was just a case of a white guy saying a bunch of hateful things about a group of people who happen to be mostly black.”

    Ummm sounds kinda racist to me. And in this interview he sounds very condescending when he talks about Amar’e.

  • http://facebook.com/wealwayswin Hersey

    I’m not trolling on whether or not Shirley is a racist. I posted the link for context on why he’s not writing at ESPN anymore. Having been a professional athlete, I doubt he could have survived in any locker room being an active racist or worse yet a supremacist, which suggests a lifestyle of hate. But what he said was hateful and it was directed at a predominantly black population. He’s chosen to make his reputation on words and racist is the best word to describe that rant whether its a reflection of lifelong values or not. For me, even reading his critique of HS-to-NBA Amar’e Stoudemire youth ignorance is colored by his other writing. This blog is associated with ESPN and I hope the authors address this in their Q&A or in these comments. I’m not aware of any public apology from Shirley.

  • Steve

    @Janice – a white guy saying hateful things to other white people isn’t racism, and neither is a white guy saying hateful things about black people if it has nothing to do with the color of their skin. Racism is demeaning others BECAUSE of their race. Shirley is an elitist. He criticized Haitians for failing to create a society that met his standards. I agree he is detestable for that, but it is NOT racism.

    And Hersey, why would this blog need to address anything? There’s no need to bring any PC crap here.

  • http://facebook.com/wealwayswin Hersey

    @Steve it’s significant because that’s the last anyone ever heard of the guy. He built up a rep with his writing and then used that platform to spew racist commentary. Now this blog is bringing him back and promoting his writing.

    Steve, I’m not sure why you feel the need to differentiate if Shirley is an elitist or racist. Whatever criteria inspires hateful speech is irrelevant to me. What he did angered a lot of people including readers of this site. The authors saw fit to bring this guy’s opinions onto their blog and wanting them to address that is important feedback. They allude to talking about his life in Part 2 and that’s an event that has to be addressed. Ignoring it would be poor journalism and to me, just plain irresponsible.

  • Steve

    You keep saying “racist” as if he said anything racist at all. HE DIDN’T.

    Being hateful and being racist are two WILDLY different things. Paul Shirley NEVER ONCE brought up the COLOR of their SKIN. He bashed the island of Haiti as a slum (slam on their wealth), insulted their stance on human rights, took a shot at their infrastructure system, and insinuated that they’re in a lot of their mess because they’re too dumb not to use birth control (all his words, not mine). That had NOTHING to do with their skin color.

    Racism: “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race”

    You can call Shirley a lot of things, but you CAN’T call him a racist based on that article. It is not true that insulting someone of another race automatically qualifies you as a racist. Can a white man not call Michael Jackson a pedo? Can an Asian man not call OJ a murderer? Can a black man not call Hitler a fascist pig? Can an Indian not call Stalin a scumbag? Do you not get what I’m saying? There are a plethora of insults that would be fitting for Shirley, but you’re DEAD WRONG to call him a racist.

    You can argue that it’s important for the writers of this site to be apologetic on behalf of Paul Shirley for his idiotic remarks, but why? Really, will it make you feel better if the Mikes and Tylers say they don’t agree with Paul Shirley’s comments on Haiti? It won’t me feel any better if they apologized for posting Prof. Berri’s opinions on the site just because I don’t agree with his opinions (or am offended by the fact that he thinks anyone who isn’t a stat nerd is getting left behind, or whatever else you could possibly find offense in from him). It wouldn’t make me feel better if VotS apologized for Charles Barkley’s DUI after they post a quote from him. It wouldn’t make me feel better if VotS apologized on behalf of Steve Nash for the dissolution of his marriage.

    One last thing. Google “Paul Shirley Racist.” The first result you find will be an article by Paul Shirley denouncing the notion that anyone can be inferior to another human being based on the color of their skin. The second result is about the article you brought up, titled “Paul Shirley hates poor people.” POOR PEOPLE, not black people. The author of the article itself says Shirley’s comments were NOT racist. The third result calls him “borderline” racist for his comments on Haiti. Next result is an article about how he got fired for his comments about Haiti (never calls him racist), instead calling him tasteless, heartess, clueless, hateful… never racist. The next result is this article. You won’t find a lot of people calling Paul Shirley a racist. Why? Because he hasn’t done anything yet to prove that he is a racist.

  • Wilson

    … Although… if you step back and leave the emotional side alone and ignore the WAY he chose to get his message across, how much do you really disagree with pumping more money and resources into a country that has basically proven it cannot take care of itself and whose government doesn’t care about its people.

  • Wilson

    About the actual Q&A though… it’s funny to me how he just can’t stop taking jabs at Amare. He tries to make it sound all lighthearted and friendly, but I do agree with the comment(s) that called him an elitist. He’s a smart guy that seemingly can’t tolerate guys that aren’t reasonably close to his own standards.

  • http://www.valleyofthesuns.com Michael Schwartz

    I think it goes without saying that we here at ValleyoftheSuns don’t endorse Paul Shirley’s views on Haiti as that is not at all what this feature is about. This piece was just meant to check in with a guy who had a front row view of one of the most exciting teams in Suns history.

  • john marzan

    yeah, front row. 6 years ago. his views are dated.

  • Steve

    @john marzan – “front row view of one of the most exciting teams in Suns history” means the 04-05 team.

    The INTENTION was to talk about the team from seven years ago. Seriously, people, do you really have to try to take issue with EVERYTHING in an unjustifiable manner? If you don’t want to read about the glory days of seven years ago (which again, is the intention of this article), then take a break from this one. Go read up on all your other bunches of current Suns news and happenings… Since you appear to be extremely thick-headed and stubborn, I’ll just spell out what I meant right there. WE’RE IN A LOCKOUT! This is an NBA blog, and there is nothing going on in the NBA currently.

    Or you can just write back with another rude comment about how you don’t appreciate that the writers of this site have chosen to stay busy even though there is nothing going on with the NBA. You choose.

  • http://facebook.com/wealwayswin Hersey

    @Michael I appreciate you taking the time to weigh in. As I mentioned, this is not about trolling on Shirley’s views on race or class or whatever. My point is that the last we heard from this guy he was saying some offensive stuff and he lost a lot of the credibility he built up. To use Steve’s term he came off as an elitist and it leads one to speculate on why he bounced from team to team and whether he actually respects the people he played with. While I’m disappointed you didn’t ask him about Haiti, I don’t run your site. You’re trying to bring us compelling content during a lockout. Suns fans got to see Amar’e grow up from the person depicted in Shirley’s stories. For this reader hearing whether Shirley has grown up at all was a key part of the story too. For me, his opinions are still colored by the disrespect he showed with his Haiti comments. Not that I’m losing sleep over it but for a day it made for an interesting conversation.

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