Iola Family Reading Festival — Pro basketball tale informs, entertains



September 16, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Reading was as much a part of Paul Shirley’s life growing up as was basketball  in the small Kansas community of Meriden, northeast of Topeka.
Shirley began his basketball career on a gravel driveway and high school courts. He played basketball for Jefferson West High School then went on to Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.
“Can I Keep My Jersey?” is a look at his professional basketball career with 11 teams in five countries over four years.
Shirley is one of 17 authors and illustrators featured in this Saturday’s Iola Family Reading Festival. Shirley will speak about his book at 11 a.m. and have time to sign copies of it.
The reading festival is  at Allen County Community College and sponsored by  Iola Public Library.
Being a voracious reader (insatiable appetite) (just following in Shirley’s style), Shirley found that reading leads to better writing even though writing wasn’t in his life plan.
“I was a basketball player and good at it, so I went with that. That’s my profession. The writing came as a way to deal with the situations I found myself in as a professional basketball player,” Shirley told the Register in a telephone interview Tuesday.
“Can I Keep My Jersey?” grew out of Shirley’s first year of pro basketball spent on a team in Greece.
“Playing in Greece, my internet access time was limited. I found myself writing updates to send to family and friends. I just kept writing while I worked  and people kept reading it,” Shirley said.
“Everyone has a job. My job as a professional basketball also takes me to places people want to ready about.”
Shirley’s book, which was released in 2007, is about his life as “a basketball vagabond.” He said he wrote the book for anyone who has ever had a job or for those looking for a job.
“I was really good at basketball and through the sport other opportunities opened up for me. One big misconception out there is that if you grow up in a small town — my hometown was 700 people — that you can’t do anything that’s cool. My message through the book to the younger people is you can do something cool coming from a small town,” Shirley said.
Of course Shirley, who is a 6-10 power forward, was aiming at a full-time career in the NBA. He has played on three NBA teams — Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls and the Phoenix Suns — but most of his professional career has been spent on teams in Greece, Spain, Russia, China and on teams in the minor leagues in the U.S.
 He played for the Kansas City Knights for the 2003-2004 season. In 2009, he played for Unicaja Malaga, a professional Spanish team.
His writing came to national attention when he wrote an online journal during the Phoenix Suns’  playoff run. Then he began writing “My So-Called Career” for
“The book and my other writings deal with my everyday life as a professional basketball player. It’s what I observe about the business, people I meet along the way and the places I’ve been,” Shirley said.
Shirley uses self-deprecating humor “my schtick” throughout the book as he takes readers on his travels through his first three years as a pro basketball player. Readers learn what it is like to play a pro basketball game in Yakima, Wash., or the “subtle” differences playing overseas to playing in the United States, which includes the fans, the dance teams, living and traveling conditions.
It’s all there.
“I love playing basketball. Although I don’t think I’ll be playing this year,” Shirley said. “I’m getting old (33 in December). I can’t say for certain my professional career is over but I’ll  continue to write. I just finished taping some online guest teaching spots on writing.
“When I told my brother what I was doing he said, ‘what, you’re going to tell them to read for 30 years.’ My response was ‘yes.’
“Reading is key to good writing. It’s important to read to explore words, sentences and ideas.”
Shirley said he has a website for writers. He writes not just about sports for but also about music. He has written for Esquire and other publications including a Spanish newspaper about the NBA.
Shirley graduated from Jefferson West High in 1996. When he played for Iowa State, he led the Cyclones in rebounds in 2001.

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