For a certain type of sports fan, a constant frustration is the apparent inability of those caught up in amazing sporting moments to describe said moments. Far too often, athletes writing their memoirs fall back on clichés or throw their hands up and recount the feelings of soaring highs and outrageous, public lows as indescribable. In a way, it’s understandable – it’s hard to imagine two things more removed from each other than, say, crafting sentences and guarding Lebron James.
Paul Shirley, a journeyman NBA and international league player, is something of an outlier then, part of a small portion of the Venn diagram combining ‘entertaining writer’ and ‘actual professional athlete’ and his first collection, ‘Can I Keep My Jersey?’, was a memorably sardonic look at life on the fringes of the big time, including stints with the D’Antoni/Nash Phoenix Suns and several other less game-changing outfits.
Stories I Tell On Dates sets the lens wider, using the title as a loose device, but stretching back through unfailingly entertaining diversions like a childhood squabble about school points cards, a tear-streaked first night at a sleepaway camp and a nightclub mix-up involving MC Hammer, amongst other misadventures. Those who loved Jersey and Short Corner, the caustically hilarious podcast he co-hosted (guilty on both counts) will find a warmer, more bittersweet tone here, though thankfully the penchant for self-deprecating humour remains a feature of his work.
Through relationships gone astray, some truly agonizing injuries, the fallout of a controversial, soul-crushing NCAA tournament loss and an improbable chance at revenge against a college teammate, it emerges as not just a collection of individually strong tales but an ultimately satisfying reflection on why certain stories become part of our repertoire and the choices we make in retelling them.