The powers-that-be at ESPN.com did some brainstorming regarding what this column/journal/blog/mess should be called. It turned out to be more difficult than they, or I, thought.
How does one describe his life in a four-word phrase -- especially when the life is as convoluted as mine is?
Here are the facts:
About six months ago, I was a bona fide member of the Phoenix Suns basketball team (that's the one in the NBA). I barely played, but I was on the active roster and so had something of a unique perspective on life in the NBA. I was living it, but not really. I was like my hometown Kansas City Royals -- in the league, but only barely.
At some point during the year, the Web site guys from the Suns approached me about jotting down some of my thoughts during a long road trip on which we were about to embark. I accepted their assignment, thinking I could probably find time to come up with some thoughts while on the bench, in between scanning the crowd for attractive members of the opposite sex and making it look like I was paying attention to the game.
What followed was Paul Shirley's Road Ramblings. A few people found it on their own (I think my mother told all of them), Bill Simmons recommended it to his small army of readers, and Suns.com was subject to a little more traffic than usual.
When the regular season was finished, I reprised my role as an embedded journalist of sorts during the playoffs. I jotted down some more random thoughts, managed to get myself in a little bit of trouble, and rode off into the sunset after the year with a book deal from Random House in hand.
When the year ended, the Suns had an "option" on my contract for this season (the 2005-06 campaign). The management in Phoenix made it clear that, while they had appreciated my literary efforts, I was not going to be returning to the team.
(This was due in large part, they said, to the fact that they had not actually seen me play much in games. Curious, since they had been the only people with the power to make that happen last year. But I digress.)
I went from being, if not on top of the world, at least somewhat near the summit, to unemployed and wondering where my basketball career would take me next.
I have played for 11 professional basketball teams in the four years since I graduated from Iowa State University. The stint with the Suns was my longest in the NBA; I also played (was injured for) about one-third of the season with the Chicago Bulls the year before. In addition, I had a massive 10-day contract with the Atlanta Hawks during the previous season.
I have also played in Greece, Spain and Russia, and have spent some time in both the CBA and ABA (American minor leagues). The cornucopia of basketball experiences I have had has left me (a) slightly more worldly than most and (b) slightly more jaded than most.
After the limited success of my blog (short for "web log"; also synonymous, it would seem, with either the wicked end result of massive constipation or the ill-conceived name of an alien race from a bad science-fiction sequel), ESPN contacted me about the prospect of perhaps writing for its Web site.
Thus, here I am -- on something of a trial basis. I have no real training as a writer and have never lusted for a deadline, so I don't really know how I will react to the situation. I could very well cave in to the pressure and may someday be found muttering incoherent phrases between the Argosy Casino and the Missouri River here in Kansas City.
Some of my hesitation is due to the fact that I do not have a job. As is often the case about this time of year, I have not the foggiest idea where I will play this year. I could go to Europe, an NBA team could call with a desperate need for a 6-10 white guy (which seems to happen constantly) or I might have to, once again, play in a minor league. It is conceivable that I could spend the entire year waiting around, whiling my days away between the gym and the weight room, a seemingly washed-up 27-year old professional basketball player who cannot let go of his dream. I just do not know.
Whether I play this year in Seattle, Split or Sioux Falls, it will likely be an interesting season. If it is not, I will relegate myself to reviewing Nine Inch Nails shows and Chuck Palahniuk novels and ESPN will kick me out of its lineup. But until they do, check back from time to time. I might have an interesting story to tell about my so-called career.
Paul Shirley has played for 11 pro basketball teams, including three NBA teams -- the Chicago Bulls, the Atlanta Hawks and the Phoenix Suns. His journal will appear regularly at ESPN.com. To e-mail Paul, click here.