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Dan Bickley

Suns’ Devin Booker continues to take on harsh, unfair criticism

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns reacts during the second half of the NBA game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Talking Stick Resort Arena on March 04, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Bucks 114-105. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

You’ve read it here before: Devin Booker and Kyler Murray are the twin pillars of Arizona’s sporting future, narcissistic and daring enough to wear the loneliest of numbers. Numero Uno. Thing 1 and Thing 1.

They are also proof of a double standard in professional sports.

Have you felt the anti-Booker crowd this summer? How he was vilified for his reaction to being double-teamed during a pickup game over the summer?

“We not doubling in open gym,” Booker chirped on video. “I get that (expletive) all season. Let’s work on our game, bro.”

Critics carved him into bite-sized chunks. For complaining about the hyperbolic level of an opponent’s defensive commitment during an exhibition game.

Murray wouldn’t know that feeling. After getting ambushed by the Raiders in the second preseason game, exposed to far more blitzing defenders than normal, Murray was caught on film complaining to Oakland star Antonio Brown:

“Why they gotta bring the house on me, bro?” Murray asked.

Just like Booker, Murray was complaining about the hyperbolic level of an opponent’s defensive commitment during an exhibition game. And nobody had a problem with that. Even though Murray hasn’t accomplished a thing in the NFL, and will be lucky to post Booker-comparable statistics at age 22.

This much is certain:

Murray has been handed heaping portions of respect because paranoid NFL coaches legitimately fear his foot speed, arm strength, quick release and his resolve. They don’t want their defensive players overlooking Murray based on size or bias. They want their players to treat Murray with malice and not empathy.

And yet there is something about Murray’s struggles that peers innately understand and respect. Murray has been an undersized quarterback all of his life. He’s been judged between the lines for his diminutive stature, even though it could never confine him. And he beat the system, bankrolling a $23,589,924 signing bonus for becoming the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL draft.

As for Booker?

He has been the hot new thing and the king of empty statistics. He was the sixth man in college, content to support a great starting lineup at Kentucky. And he’s spent his entire NBA career as a rising star in a city that can’t find him comparable teammates.

He has 5,820 points at age 22, or nearly 3,000 more than Michael Jordan. He dropped 70 on the Celtics in Boston and is the youngest player to score 50 or more points in successive games. He’s also lost 241 of 328 games. He’s been a martyr and a loser, the scourge of Bostonians and basketball nerds alike.

But Booker’s failures are not his own. Few major professional sports franchises have served a young star less than the Suns have Booker, marginalizing the image and the brand of their young superstar. They have paid him handsomely, only to feed him instability, dysfunction and inferior talent. They have ignored opportunities to pair him with elite teammates, from Kyrie Irving to D’Angelo Russell. He remains an easy target, a piñata for NBA observers. It’s a garbage narrative.

No matter what you think of Booker, he works to expand his game. He always rises to the biggest challenge and the highest platforms. He has been unfairly judged by the company he’s kept in the NBA, namely a Suns franchise that has been a blight on the NBA.

Let’s hope that has finally changed for the better. Forever. And that Booker is taking names and compiling grudges along the way.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier