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House of the rising sun: How Devin Booker has morphed into an NBA superstar

Aug 8, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker (1) goes to the basket over Miami Heat’s Andre Iguodala, left, and Tyler Herro, right, during the second half of an NBA basketball game at Visa Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: Ashley Landis/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

It was more than three years ago that the NBA world got a glimpse of what those in Kentucky and Mississippi already knew. A young man by the name of Devin Armani Booker, not even old enough to legally consume adult beverages, dropped 70 points in a game against the Boston Celtics.

Despite his status as a lottery pick and with an upside few could scarcely imagine, Booker remained an afterthought. He was on the back burner, primarily because of the Phoenix Suns’ lack of relevance on the broader NBA stage.

With his Suns now 7-0 in the Orlando bubble after resuming their season, Booker has changed that in a big way.

Devin Booker taking NBA by storm in Orlando

  • Our first glimpse of the new and improved Booker came against the championship-contending Los Angeles Clippers earlier in August. Booker took multiple Clippers players into the proverbial ringer before hitting the game-winning shot over Paul George.
  • George and reigning NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard looked on in disbelief. The star guard was as cocky as ever while falling to the hardwood, knowing full well that the shot was going to go in. The Suns went full NBA of petty, proclaiming everyone fair game after Booker nailed that shot.

This was not the start of Booker’s ascension to superstardom.

  • In reality, it took a smaller league landscape with 22 teams resuming the season in Orlando for a national audience to learn just how amazing Booker is. The first team sport to resume following the suspension of multiple leagues due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All eyes on Walt Disney World. The perfect platform for this Sun to shine.
  • Those in Phoenix, and others who follow the game like a religion, knew full well just how special this still-23-year-old Michigan native is.
  • In his first season as the Suns’ head coach, the respected Monty Williams saw something special from Booker even before the campaign started.

“He reminds me so much of Brandon Roy,” Williams said a year ago July, via NBA.com. “But I think Devin can eclipse that because he’s durable. He’s big and strong. Even though Brandon was [big and strong], Brandon wasn’t healthy.”

For those of you who have not followed the NBA over the years, Brandon Roy’s may not ring a bell. A top-six pick back in 2006, the Washington product earned All-Star appearances in three of his first four seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Roy was seen as the next great back-court talent in the Association before knee injuries derailed his career. The comparison of Booker to Roy is nothing but a testament to how Williams feels about his new guard.

Devin Booker, coming up magic in Orlando

One game after hitting that winning shot against the Clippers, Booker put up 29 points in a victory over the Indiana Pacers. Immediately after that game, he was seen wearing a Los Angeles Lakers shirt as a way to pay homage to childhood hero Kobe Bryant.

That’s where this story almost comes full circle.

“The biggest thing for me was earning his respect,” Booker said of Bryant following Kobe’s tragic passing in January, via AZ Central. “To even be the guy in the room after we play them that he wanted to talk to or share advice with. Then our relationship had grown from there. Just figuring out what type of person he was outside of the Mamba mentality. How he raised his daughters and how much of a family man he was something that was just incredible.”

Given what we’ve been through since, it might seem like eons ago when news broke on Jan. 26 that Bryant tragically passed away at the age of 41 in a Southern California helicopter accident.

The NBA world mourned, Booker a long with other young stars who grew up with Bryant acting the part of my generation’s Michael Jordan. Less than two weeks until Kobe would have turned 42, Booker is out here doing his best Bryant impersonation. He’s doing so while paying homage to a man who helped jump start his interest in basketball.

When I say Booker is looking every bit the part of Mr. Bryant, I am not exaggerating.

From a pure statistical standpoint, Booker has been on absolute fire en route to leading his Suns into shocking playoff contention. He’s averaging 31.0 points, 4.6 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game while shooting 50% from the field in Orlando. That included a 35-point outing in a must win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday.

All of this has Phoenix on the verge of potentially taking part in a play-in-tournament for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference and the right to take on the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs.

Imagine the optics here. Booker going up against this generation’s version of Kobe Bryant and his former team. The potential passing of the torch from Los Angeles to a growing Phoenix market.

Another opportunity for Booker to prove that he’s now a superstar and ready to lead the long-downtrodden Suns back to relevance in the NBA.

Other stars have taken note. Booker is in the radar of big-market teams. But for now, he leads the house of the rising Suns. Let’s enjoy this ride.