DAN BICKLEY

Suns G Devin Booker’s maniacal ambition shaped him for limelight

May 11, 2022, 1:42 PM | Updated: May 12, 2022, 10:54 am

Playing dead?

The Phoenix Suns have been doing it far too often on their self-proclaimed Revenge Tour, where erratic performances have raised questions and anxiety levels in the Valley.

Playing dead?

That’s certainly what Devin Booker was doing under the basket on Tuesday, feigning injury after a flagrant foul in the second half of Game 5. Just so he could troll Mavericks star Luka Doncic.

After appearing to be knocked out cold, Booker raised his head, smiled at a nearby camera and called his performative agony “The Luka Special.”

If he were a Suns fan, Jack Nicholson would’ve been proud.

There are many things to say about Booker at this juncture of the playoffs. With Chris Paul marginalized by something unspoken, it’s clear that Booker must be the engine that powers this team to a championship. He can no longer be a co-MVP. He must be that dude. The alpha. Consistently awesome every night, making all the big shots when necessary, settling nerves and deciding games when spit hits the fan.

He seems more than ready for the moment.

I was blessed to work courtside for Michael Jordan’s ascent into American history. By happenstance, my radio partner, Vince Marotta, is currently doing the same for the trajectory of Booker. There are more similarities than most people think.

Jordan was fueled by maniacal ambition. Every year in his prime, he came back a better player. His hunger knew no bounds and had no rivals. He was the world’s most famous athlete, and he did his most important work in the hot shadows of summer.

Booker has done the same thing, consistently growing his repertoire of offensive moves. After Tuesday’s victory, Suns head coach Monty Williams said Booker has “shot-making ability that’s unique to very few people.” High praise, indeed.

Booker came to the NBA with a polished jump-shot and a scorer’s mentality. He’s learned to attack the basket with fury and power. He never strays from peak physical condition. He has underrated endurance. He’s worked hard to get to the free throw line in the NBA. He’s become an impact defender at his position. And just like Jordan, the latter says everything about Booker’s elite hunger.

After Tuesday’s victory, he also ranks second in Suns history on most points scored through 30 playoff games, behind Charles Barkley but ahead of Amar’e Stoudemire.

Booker has also had extremely long summers to perfect his craft. He won fewer than 25 games in each of his first four seasons as a professional. He had to get creative. He found himself burning so hot in the summer that he was famously double-teamed in pickup games. He deserves credit for staying focused through all the darkness.

“This is just what I’ve been preparing for,” Booker said after Game 5. “Even those seasons that we didn’t make it, I sat there and I took that anger to the gym and just imagined myself just being in those situations. And you know imagination is a big part of this.

“So I had to use some imagination on playing in playoff games in my workouts. I guess it’s working out a little bit. But we’ve some room to (grow).”

Booker has also raised the stakes entering Game 6 in Dallas. The video of Booker playing dead to mock Doncic has enraged the Dallas fan base. Luka isn’t exactly thrilled, either. Especially since Booker and Paul are just as guilty of the insidious flopping and foul-hunting currently permeating the NBA.

If Luka was the bad guy in Phoenix on Tuesday, Booker will be the villain on Thursday night in Dallas. He asked for it. He deserves it. He wants it. Best of all, he’s trained for it.

It’s his time. And the only way the Suns win a championship.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta mornings from 6-10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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