A book released Tuesday is funny, raw, self-deprecating, sweet, honest, and a pleasure to read.
It’s called “Stories I Tell on Dates.” The author is former Iowa State basketball player Paul Shirley. It’s available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Here’s a link to the Amazon page with a more-detailed description of the book and some readers’ reviews.
Shirley spent parts of three seasons in the NBA and played in several other countries. In 2007, he put out the book “Can I Keep My Jersey?” about his experiences with 11 pro basketball teams. His new book is a collection of stories about his life from his boyhood in northeast Kansas to the present, stories he told about himself … on dates.
“We all have stories that explain who we are,” Shirley said by phone Monday from his Los Angeles home. “I noticed this was happening on dates, and thus the snappy title. But in reality, we do it all the time.”
This book isn’t about basketball. Some of his stories are about the teacher in his seventh-grade sex-education class being his mother, about his spelling bee successes and failures, about a middle-school crush he didn’t act on to his regret. There are stories about insecurities and awkwardness.
But naturally, some of the stories involve Shirley’s time in his sport. Since this is a sports column that appears on a newspaper’s sports page, I’ll focus on two big Iowa State moments he addressed in the book.
Shirley grew up a big Kansas Jayhawks basketball fan. His original recruitment was to Division II schools and small D-I programs. But then-North Dakota assistant coach Steve Krafcisin told then-Iowa State head coach Tim Floyd he thought Shirley could play at the Big 12 level, and Floyd listened.
Shirley was torn between Davidson and Iowa State. Until, that is, he got an invitation to Lawrence to meet with Kansas Coach Roy Williams. But it didn’t turn out to be an offer to join the Jayhawks. Rather, it was to tell Shirley he wasn’t a Big 12 player and should go to Davidson.
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A few years later, Shirley had 12 points, 7 rebounds, and a big late free throw in the Cyclones’ 64-62 win at Kansas.
In the book, Shirley said “because I was 21 years old and because I was fueled more than rage than by reason, it was only the greatest feeling I ever had.”
This week, the 39-year-old said “Maybe I wouldn’t have been as good if he hadn’t said that. Maybe I owe a lot to Roy Williams for saying what he said.”
The second moment had no happy ending. That ISU team lost to Michigan State in an NCAA tournament regional final in Auburn Hills, Mich. With 3:43 left, Shirley collided with MSU’s Charlie Bell as Shirley flipped the ball in the basket for an apparent 3-point Cyclones lead.
One official called Shirley for a charge, another whistled Bell for a block. The refs huddled and decided it was a double foul, a cop-out call. The basket was waved off, it was Shirley’s fifth foul, and the Spartans pulled away to win after that.
Shirley wept quite noticeably on the bench. He had played with a broken foot that kept him out of eight games including ISU’s first two NCAA contests, and a Final Four berth had slipped away.
Two days later, the top half of the front page of Iowa State’s student newspaper was a photo of Shirley crying. In a student cafeteria, a female ISU student asked him to sign her copy of the paper.
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“She didn’t want to know about the stories and emotions and complex feelings that were rolling down my cheeks in the photo she was holding,” Shirley wrote.
“It was important to her that I maintained the illusion — that I pretended my tears were entirely about her and her fandom, and not something more nuanced, like personal battles and familial history.”
This week, he said “Some Iowa State people still tell me about the double foul. They remember it a certain way, the crazy picture in the newspaper. Those people don’t see me as a human, but as an avatar for their emotions.
“That always caused me a little bit of friction with fans. I’m so thankful for them, but I have to be protective a little bit because they’re bringing whatever they want into your experience.”
Most players never publicly articulate those experiences, what drives them and what made them who they are. Shirley has. If you like to read good, entertaining writing and feel something, get his book.
Here is a piece Shirley wrote for the Ames Tribune about a reunion of Cyclone basketball players at Iowa State earlier this year.
Shirley will read from the book at the Cedar Rapids Barnes & Noble at 7 p.m. on Dec. 8.