Paul Shirley mailbag: Why Steve Nash is so good


I apologize for the long break. There are reasons, but I'm not going to discuss them here. I am now firmly entrenched in Los Angeles, working on approximately 19 things at once -- the most of important of which is a television pilot based on my experiences in professional basketball.

Before I get to the stories of my foray into the world of non-athletic entertainment, I thought it would be fun to answer some questions. I've been meaning to do this for a while, but I am lazy and self-involved and it is difficult for me to deal with outside influences, so I put it off. My mail is not as interesting as Señor Simmons'; I'm like the early Sub Pop version of him.

Andy (Orange County): Paul, love your columns. I have a question that I've wanted to know the answer to. I work a "regular" day job, get paid every two weeks. When you're making athlete money, do you still get paid every two weeks? It's just hard for me to imagine making a bazillion dollars a year and getting $300K deposited into my B of A account every two weeks (maybe a little less for you). Thanks.

Paul: Oddly enough, yes. The absurdity of the biweekly checks is exacerbated by the fact that NBA players are paid only during the season. So, the $14.7 million is compacted into a six-month period. And, while my salaries have always been at the minimum possible level (I think the Bulls actually asked for some money back), the minimum in the NBA is hardly pauper-worthy and the checks are still surprising.

The math, though, on the aforementioned $14.7 million is fun. Off the top of my head (engage correction instinct, any and all nitpickers), that comes out to about $1.2 million gross every two weeks. Even after taxes and all the other nonsense, the take-home is still around $600,000. Every 14 days. Not bad.

(It should be noted that our hero -- the guy making the $14.7 million -- is also buying a whole bunch of port-a-potties in Iraq with his tax dollars. Oh, and missiles used to kill people for no reason.)

Joe (Cleveland): Do you use an alias at the team hotel when you are on the road? Would you let me pick your next alias? I know that defeats the purpose -- in fact, never mind. Did any of the Suns ever use "Paul Shirley" as their alias?

Paul: Some players do use aliases. (Seems like that word should be aliai, except that word would be impossible to say; this is why I am not given complete control of the English language.) I am not one of those players because that would be pretentious and asinine. However, I am all for Joe picking the one that I would use if the situation should ever arise.

Most of the pseudonyms I see used are very predictable: Tupac Shakur, Bugs Bunny, and the like. If I had to pick one to use for myself, I would go with either Harry Manback or Patrick Bateman.

(Also, I like Joe's stream of consciousness e-mail. He thinks like I do -- that is, disorganizedly.)

(I know.)

Alex (Detroit): From watching games on TV, I have obviously heard Bill Walton's perspective on what makes Steve Nash so good, but from someone who played (at least in practice) alongside him, what do you think it is that makes him so effective? Thanks a lot.

Paul: He's good because he's Canadian. For two reasons.

First, Canadians, along with Australians and people from New Zealand, are awesome. I strongly believe that I will at some point live in one of those countries. It is simply a question of when. (My exodus will likely coincide with the creation of a cabinet-level position in the U.S. government called "Director of Religion/Mind Control." I give myself two more years.)

Second, Steve plays basketball like a soccer player. Canadians are much more in touch with the soccer-is-the-best-sport opinion that the rest of the world seems to share and it seems to have rubbed off on Steve N. I actually came upon this revolutionary theory while talking to a reporter one time: Steve plays the game in S's and curves instead of in Z's and sharp cuts. No one is used to the smoother lines of attack, the constant probing of the defense and the general mentality, so it works. See also: E. Ginobili.

And no, I am not drunk right now.

Roy (Johannesburg, South Africa): I have just watched, on one of your hunting programmes, a dumb "bimbo" shoot a hippo here on our beautiful continent of Africa. Now, why anyone wants to shoot a hippo and then smile and say "Wow! That was soooo much fun!" is quite beyond me. Sure, sometimes rogue bulls have to be shot, but no one thinks that it is fun! Otherwise hippos are left alone. You can't eat them, so why shoot them? What a disgusting and barbaric programme your company was responsible for screening. In future give us all a break and confine it to the good old USA! I am sorry to bother you with this but it was the only e-mail address that I could find. Please be so kind as to pass it on to those responsible.

Paul: Mission accomplished, Roy.

Also, I would like to know why hippos are not edible. It seems that they would be very pork-like.

John (Mesa): The Suns cannot win without you. Call Bryan and talk him into taking you back. Then call me and I'll let you date my daughter. She'll be 21 in two weeks, real pretty, very funny and very short. By the way, I'm usually the shortest guy in the bar.

Paul: I just had to include this. I'd like to take bets on whether this guy is serious. If not, why take the time? If so, wow.

Troy (Montrose): Paul Shirley, your journal is pretty good. You were a great player in the NBA and I still believe you could be a great one. Along with this comment I would like to ask you what is the easiest way to get into basketball shape for the season upcoming. I'm in varsity now and the people are stronger and bigger than me. Faster and more athletic, I would like to become that. Could you give me some hints or tips on how to become a better basketball player, mentally and physically? Thanks.

Paul: I'm going to disregard the fact that the "great player in the NBA" comment pretty well delegitimizes anything Troy could write. I will forge ahead and actually answer this question straight, because want to I do.

I have had many, many basketball coaches over the years. Most of them have no idea how to teach individual skills, which is tragic -- and is why European players generally have a broader skill set than do American players.

So, here's my advice to any young player:

1. Learn to shoot. No coach will keep the kid who can make a shot on the bench. A basketball coach will scream until he is apoplectic about how he is going to "put the five best defensive players out there." This is a lie. He is going to say that in the hopes that he will find one kid who will buy in and play defense. Then he is going to find some kids who can score and teach them how to play defense, because defense is much easier to learn.

2. Learn to dribble. In games, bring the ball up the court from time to time. Stand in the driveway and do figure-eights and ball circles and all those other seemingly ridiculous drills we all learned at basketball camp when we were 12. They work, it turns out. Coaches hate turnovers (and rightfully so -- they are the death of a team) and don't want to see them. Additionally, ballhandling drills increase general coordination greatly and will actually improve one's shooting ability, as well.

3. Watch the game on TV. Analysts love to come up with reasons for why today's college and professional players look so lost on the court. Many of the players with whom I spend time in the professional ranks have almost no grasp of the game's big picture. They understand what to do if they have the ball, but they can't anticipate what might happen next in a particular situation; they don't see the big picture, as it were. This "feel" for the game of basketball comes only from watching the game. Think about it. Basketball is shown from a bird's-eye view. It takes some level of abstract thought to envision oneself playing while watching. It takes only a reversal of that abstract thought to, while on the court, see the game unfold conceptually from overhead.

Jonathan (Falls Church): Paul, personally I would say I am a music addict, as well. I, like you, am always looking for new music but am unable to devote the time needed, or money for that matter, to seek them out. I am also not aware of all the places to find this new music you speak of. There is almost too much information on the Internet. I guess I am looking for some direction in this regard, and if you could give me some of your favorite new finds that I might enjoy, that would be great. Actually, if you want to take it one step further, how about giving me a top 10 or 25 albums list, then follow that up with a top 10/25 artist list. I have enjoyed everything you have written for the Suns, the Sports Guy and ESPN so far. Keep up the good work.

Paul: I have come up with my Top 50 list on a few different occasions, the most notable being a very long Aeroflot (still with hammer and sickle in insignia, thanks for scaring me, Russians) flight from Moscow to New York. I don't like to half-ass such things, so it pains me to admit that I came up with the following list rather haphazardly. This list was going to be a Top 10, but that is too difficult, so it became a Top 21, for no other reason than that I came up with 21 albums while searching through my iTunes in a cursory manner.

One note about my musical lists: I usually end up putting more faith in older albums because I know they have stood the test of time with me. I try not to include anything too current; I can't know if Wolf Parade is going to resonate over the long term. Also, attempting to include albums that came out before one is born is a folly proposition. There are few things as annoying as hearing a person my age list "Houses of the Holy" as his or her favorite album. It is my humble opinion that one needs to be alive to judge the impact of something new.

1. "Achtung Baby," U2
2. "Lateralus," Tool
3. "Siamese Dream," Smashing Pumpkins
4. "Turn on the Bright Lights," Interpol
5. "The Downward Spiral," Nine Inch Nails
6. "Automatic for the People," REM
7. "Mer de Noms," A Perfect Circle
8. "Pack Up the Cats," Local H
9. "Decoration Day," Drive-By Truckers
10. "13 Tales From Urban Bohemia," The Dandy Warhols
11. "Spiritual Machines," Our Lady Peace
12. "Vs," Pearl Jam
13. "It Still Moves, " My Morning Jacket
14. "Purple," Stone Temple Pilots
15. "Superunknown," Soundgarden
16. "Chutes Too Narrow," The Shins
17. "The Battle of Los Angeles," Rage Against the Machine
18. "Ten," Pearl Jam
19. "Musicforthemorningafter," Pete Yorn
20. "Breathing Tornadoes," Ben Lee
21. "De-Loused in the Comatorium," The Mars Volta