Can I Keep My Jersey?: 11Teams, 5 Countries and 4 Years in My Life as a Basketball Vagabond
By Paul Shirley
Shirley, who grew up on a farm near Meriden, had a standout basketball career at Iowa State but was not drafted by the NBA. Told frankly by his agent that “life as a white professional basketball player would be a constant struggle,” Shirley decided to struggle.
For four years he bounced around the world, playing in low-rent minor leagues in the U.S. as well as Spain, Greece and a part of Russia where Stalin used to send the condemned. All the while, Shirley dreamed of getting that fabled NBA contract — and he wrote down his cynical, self-deprecating and often hilarious observations in a journal, sharing entries with friends and family. Ultimately, he would sign a one-season deal with the Phoenix Suns and go public, writing about life as a bench warmer for a blog on NBA.com.
Can I Keep My Jersey? is more than a brilliant travelogue of travel nightmares and cultural observations seen through the eyes of a mercenary hoopster. As Chuck Klosterman, who wrote the foreword notes, stated, “this is a unique report from an ‘embed’ placed deep inside the ranks of professional athletes.” Shirley is one of them and yet, not one of them, and without fear or favor, he tells us what he sees. His impressions recorded during brief stints with NBA clubs are especially valuable, as they show a universe of overpaid stars completely out of touch with reality. Also compelling are the gut-checks Shirley routinely performs on himself, as he struggles to make sense of a surreal world of pro ball that both attracts and repulses him.
The result is a memoir that The Kansas City Star called “one of the most important insider books about pro sports” ever written. The Onion said it belonged on the shelf of sports classics alongside Ball Four.