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Can I Keep My Jersey?: 11 Teams, 5 Countries, and 4 Years in My Life as a Basketball Vagabond Hardcover – May 15, 2007

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*Starred Review* Paul Shirley is 6 feet 10 inches tall, can play basketball well enough to hang around the fringes of the NBA, and has written one of the best three or four pro-basketball books ever, ranking right up there with Bill Bradley's Life on the Runand Bill Russell's Go Up for Glory. It takes the form of a hoopster's travelogue, as Shirley recounts tales of his gypsylike career, playing the game in such hot spots as Yakima, Washington. At each stop across five countries, he reflects on the peculiar basketball ambience of these not-always-sports-savvy locales, and he offers insight into his own sometimes eccentric but always self-aware state of mind as well as the befuddling behavior of his fellow travelers. His triumphs are relatively few but exhilarating, his disappointments frequent and potentially devastating, but he perseveres through humor and the cathartic exercise of writing about his experiences. Shirley's blog, from which much of this book is derived, is well known among hoop junkies, but this print incarnation should reach a much larger audience. Displaying deep reverence for the game and remarkable insight into those who make it their vocation, it's destined to become a classic of sports literature. Wes Lukowsky
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

About the Author

Paul Shirley has played for eleven professional basketball teams in the six years since he graduated from Iowa State University, where he was an engineering major and an academic All-American. While with the Phoenix Suns in 2005, he blogged about his experiences with the team on When not trying to catch on with yet another pro club, Shirley authors a column for called “My So-Called Career,” and he has even co-written and produced a television pilot based on his life in basketball.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Villard; 1 edition (May 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 034549136X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345491367
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #870,994 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Vallejo Reader on December 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
A reasonably intelligent young man gets paid a more than decent wage to play a game he sometimes loves. Along the way he travels the world, deals with uncertainty and illness, and lives and works with people from profoundly different backgrounds than his own. In the hands of someone with an open mind, a curious nature and a willingness to learn, the result might have been an insightful and fascinating book. Bill Bradley's Life on the Run, or Ken Dryden's The Game are two classic examples of how a sports memoir can be about much more than a game.

Paul Shirley had the chance for such a book, especially given his position of the far edge of his profession, where he had to fight hard to keep his professional career alive. Instead, what emerged was a book that, while periodically clever, grows increasingly tiresome as the pages turn.

Almost everyone Shirley meets is, for him, somehow lacking. Yet when Paul Shirley makes so few friends on so many teams in so many countries, the obvious question is whether it might just be the author who is at fault.
A subtitle for the book might have been "My deep contempt for just about everyone I ever met and most countries, too." Contempt isn't witty and it isn't smart. It's just boring, isolating and, in the end, a little sad.

The basic plot repeats with each chapter: A) anxiety about getting a job, B) getting a job, C) how the new job proved boring/stupid/unworthy, D) how the location of the job proved dreadful, E) how the people with whom the author worked proved too dumb or too religious to be worth the author's time, conversation or interest and F) how it all fell apart, causing him to return to A) above.
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31 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Josh Hummert on May 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
As a Jayhawk, I would never in a million years have thought that I'd be writing in praise of Paul Shirley when he played for Iowa State. However, starting with his blogs as a member of the Phoenix Suns, I really came to appreciate Shirley's talent as a writer and the insight he gives into the world of professional basketball. Shirley looks at the world of basketball through the eyes of somebody who has grown up loving the game (he is, after all, from Kansas) and who happened to have the ability to play (or sit on the bench) professionally.

While Shirley's humor sometimes misses its mark, the writing is engaging and much more interesting than your typical basketball player's memoir. The effort and dedication required to become even an average division I basketball player results in a lot of sentences in basketball memoirs like, "on Tuesday I went to the gym and shot 10 thousand three pointers." Not exactly the ideal grist to create a memorable book, but Shirley has succeeded in writing a book that addresses the reality of a life in basketball while maintaining a refreshing sense of humor about it.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful By T. Snyder VINE VOICE on August 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Chances are the readers of "Can I Keep My Jersey?" are one of two types:

1) People who are basketball fans in general and have never read Paul Shirley before.

2) Readers who got hooked on Paul Shirley via his NBA Blog, or via Bill Simmons' columns on ESPN's Page 2. If you found this book by way of either of these methods, I'm sure you'll love it.

If you're in group 1 and you have a smart-a&#, sarcastic, dry, witty, smart sense of humor, I think you'll like Paul's writing.

I loved hearing about his experiences in foreign countries most of all. Paul gives you a look at being a complete fish out of water in places most tourists never go. If you've traveled outside the US, you'll definitely relate to some of his uncomfortable, awkward stories.

You also get a first-hand tour of the dredges of professional basketball in the USA - the CBA and the ABA. Personally, having been to the wonderful world of Yakima, Washington, I found his CBA stories about his time there to be particularly entertaining.

Again, this book isn't so much about the NBA or famous basketball players, it's about Paul's travels across the world while doing his job. I get the idea that while Paul loves playing basketball, he may not enjoy the rigmarole of playing in 3rd-world countries; it sort of seems like a paycheck for him in some points. Also, after making it into the NBA, he really brought an everyman-view to the NBA lifestyle too.

I breezed through this book. If you're in his target demographic (I am) and would enjoy reading things like blogs, I would recommend it. If you're not though, I'm not so sure...
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Amazonie on June 15, 2009
Format: Paperback
I'm pretty sure Paul Shirley will never play in the NBA again. This has nothing to do with his basketball skill, but more of his no-holds barred recap throughout the book of his experiences in the league. It's obvious no team or management will want their choices second-guessed or laughed at in any other future book Shirley might have. This insight is the most interesting factor about this book. You get these tales and a sneak peak behind the scenes of the NBA. That's kinda neat.

However, Shirley's view on traveling, fans, and anything foreign (i.e. not from his hometown of 600 people in Kansas) is just aggravating. A little appreciation of his life and experiences could have really made this an exciting story to read, instead it's a woe-is-me view that is frustrating to a well-read or well-traveled reader.

The writing has it's moments. The quality is there, and as another reviewer noted - the editor could have gone a long way to curb some of the unnecessary banter. Shirley's second and third-guessing of his own phrasing, writing, and stories are distracting and drags interesting stories into self-indulgent and unnecessary debates (that he has with himself.) As a fan of Shirley's blog and articles, I found myself disappointed with this book.
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