DAN BICKLEY

Devin Booker’s ejection shows what young star still has to learn

Mar 3, 2021, 7:05 PM

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns gets control of the ball in front of Jared Dudley #10 of the Lo...

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns gets control of the ball in front of Jared Dudley #10 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first quarter at Staples Center on March 02, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Devin Booker plays with fury. He plays with fire. Sometimes, he’s the one who gets burned.

It happened Tuesday night in Los Angeles, where Booker was ejected in a brutish display of vulgar officiating. The Suns star was only complaining vehemently and doing nothing to show up the official.

Boom.

He responded to his first technical foul by using profanity toward that official. He did so in earshot of a second official.

Boom. Done for the evening.

Luckily, the shorthanded Suns ended up beating the shorthanded Lakers, otherwise Booker’s comportment and on-court demeanor would be a huge story in the Valley. It is still an issue that Booker must address internally, with himself.

He can’t be all buttons, not a time when the opponents are all fingers.

His mood has been suspect for a while. He has acted like a martyr, assuming the role given to him by LeBron James, who called him the “most disrespected player in the league!!!”

The All-Star Game snub was only partly pacified by his installment as injury replacement, which he made clear during a post-game press conference. He even showed uncharacteristic contempt to a foreign-born reporter who mistakenly said Booker was playing much better this season.

In a game against the Hornets, he engaged in animated discussions with the Charlotte bench. He incurred a technical after a dunk led him to chirp in their direction. It was immature and stupid and the Suns lost that game.

In a game against the Clippers, Booker engaged in a NSFW exchange with Paul George, nearly leading to something of a scrum. And it happened against the Lakers, in a game TNT hyped up as a battle of Booker vs. LeBron.

Tellingly, Suns head coach Monty Williams chose not to stick up for Booker during his post-game Zoom conference.

It also happened to Booker in the Orlando bubble near the end of the 2020 season, in a must-win, highly-anticipated individual matchup against Pacers star T.J. Warren. Almost recklessly, Booker picked up four fouls in the first five minutes of the second half, bringing his total to five and placing him on the bench for most of the second half.

There was once a belief that Booker was indomitable on big stages. He dropped 70 on the Celtics in Boston Garden. He shined on oversized platforms in Mexico City. He always elevated his game to meet the moment, like during his final matchup with his hero, Kobe Bryant.

But in recent times, his inner storm becomes a maelstrom, and it turns on Booker.

No one is asking for silence or deference or good manners. As one of the NBA’s most blush-worthy trash talkers, Booker will always use noise as fuel. But he must also learn when to close the kitchen, when nobody else gets in his space.

Booker must rise above this narrative before it begins to shadow him. Before baiting and dirty tactics become common strategy deployed against Booker in marquee games. Ejections can also lead to suspensions, and you can’t have that in the NBA playoffs.

There are no other viable solutions. Booker can wait for the NBA to fix its officiating problem and hope he gets the respect he craves sometime in the near future. Good luck with that.

Or he can become a true stoic in the face of adversity, showing no cracks or weaknesses in his psyche. Especially when it comes to his grudge with officials. The sharp edges and sharp words that make up his game must never again draw his own blood.

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