DAN BICKLEY

Devin Booker is delivering a refined brand of fury this season

Nov 11, 2022, 8:56 AM
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, middle, goes between Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert (27...

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, middle, goes between Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert (27) and guard D'Angelo Russell during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, in Minneapolis. The Suns won 129-117. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

(AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

Obstacles come in many shapes, sizes and colors.

Devin Booker made that clear after Wednesday’s shorthanded win in Minnesota after the Suns star improved his record to 10-3 without Chris Paul over the last three seasons.

“I had a light skinned reputation coming into the league, and I had to change that,” Booker told reporters after the game. “So I just do everything aggressive. I try not to lose sight of it. I try not to be the NBA too-cool guy. I’m not scared to get dirty.”

The quote is fascinating and brutally honest, starting with the “light skinned reputation.” Because the words sound jarring in a league striving for diversity and inclusion. And because I’ve heard a similar story in the past.

Former Cardinals star Tyrann Mathieu said this in our 2015 interview:

“Growing up in New Orleans, being the smallest guy, even being the only light skinned guy at the park, people … they pick on you. And they make you tough. It’s just something I learned playing park ball and playing in the streets. I just try to take that approach and play with reckless abandon.”

Picked on because he wasn’t Black enough?

“Yeah, I was light skinned and I went to a private school,” Mathieu said. “And I was good at sports on top of that, so people kind of hated that.”

Mathieu and Booker share a common element to their upbringing.

Booker’s father famously moved him from suburban Michigan to South Mississippi, to toughen him up for the competition awaiting in college and beyond. That light skinned reputation came with him, and to this day, Booker houses and employs one of his best friends from that Deep South finishing school, a friend who helped him fight many of those battles.

In the alpha culture of American basketball, a light skinned reputation is code for pampered and soft. It’s a stereotype that has obviously driven Booker to great heights.

The last part of the quote is also enlightening, where Booker shows his disdain for the “NBA too-cool guy.” We’ve all seen those guys, the ones who won’t try hard in regular season games for fear of failure and embarrassment. Who think it’s below their status to play defense before Christmas.

To the contrary, Booker is delivering a refined brand of fury. He is playing without fear, even though his reputation was dragged again in the offseason, turned into a meme following a shameful playoff exit.

His response: Booker is coming harder. Attacking even more. Savaging opponents (Klay Thompson, the Timberwolves’ bench) with on-court verbiage.

An NBA too-cool guy might slow his roll, fly under the radar for a while. Booker is doing the opposite. He’s raising the stakes and the heat for everybody. And he’s getting closer and closer to perennial MVP candidate, the apex of his journey.

From Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant. From Bryant to Devin Booker. Could we be so lucky?

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. on Arizona Sports.

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Devin Booker is delivering a refined brand of fury this season