LOS ANGELES – Melvin Booker has offered countless words of wisdom to his son, Devin, about basketball and life. So it’s no surprise that, before the playoffs started, he visited his son’s suburban Phoenix home to give him more advice:
This was the moment the Phoenix Suns star needed to prove he was an elite superstar.
“We had a really good conversation before the playoffs,” Melvin Booker told from a suite in Staples Center late Thursday night. “I told him that this was a really good opportunity to show everybody you one of these stars.
“It’s unfortunate for us to be the 2-seed in the playoffs and we cross someone like the Lakers. But what better team could you battle against to show people you are part of it? All of America is going to be watching the Lakers and LeBron play. This is your first time in the playoffs. That’s a great time to show everybody.”
Booker showed everybody.
The two-time All-Star led the Suns to a first-round victory on Thursday, knocking LeBron James and the defending champs out of the playoffs. Booker scored 47 points and nailed eight 3-pointers in the Suns’ 113-100 Game 6 win over the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center that clinched the series. He landed a signature playoff moment in the house that his late mentor Kobe Bryant made famous.
At just 24 years old, Booker averaged 29.7 points per game in the first playoff series of his six-year NBA career.
“He’s one of those guys that wants to move himself into an elite class,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “He believes he is one of the best players in the league. He believes he is the best at his position for sure and that he is one of the top players. And this is one of the moments you show it.”
“When you want to be legendary in this game, you’ve got to continue to improve not only your game, but also as a man,” said James after losing in the opening round of the playoffs for the first time in his career. “All the conversations we’ve had, I can tell he’s soaked them up and is using them to his advantage.”
Booker has averaged 23 points per game during his career, but his father believes he hasn’t received the respect he deserves because the Suns had not made the postseason during his career before this season. The 13th overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft has been an All-Star twice, but both times as a replacement player.
“Devin always puts up big numbers, and people respected him in the game. But people were saying he had empty stats,” Melvin Booker said. “But Devin has been working hard and he has been waiting on these opportunities in the playoffs to show that he is one of those guys in the league.”
Melvin Booker, a former NBA player who once suited up for the Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors in 32 career games from 1996 to 1997, understood the moment for his son. Before Game 6, he sent his son a long text message in hopes of helping him focus.
“I said, ‘This is your chance to close it out. Don’t try to wait to Game 7. Do it in six while you have the opportunity.’ I also told him he needed to shoot the trey ball more,” Melvin Booker said.
Booker took his dad’s advice, hitting all six of his 3-pointers on his way to scoring 22 points in the first quarter as the Suns jumped to a 36-14 lead in the opening frame. The Suns held the lead the entire game and took advantage of a Lakers team that lost Anthony Davis in the first quarter after he aggravated his groin injury.
Booker finished 8-of-10 from beyond the arc, grabbed 11 rebounds and was 15-for-22 from the field.
“He made six 3-pointers in the first quarter. It’s crazy,” Melvin Booker said. “It was just surprising that less than 24 hours of telling him that he came out and used that. He did listen to Dad on that one.”
Melvin Booker said he watched the game at Staples Center in a suite that Suns All-Star Chris Paul purchased for his family. After the buzzer sounded, a proud Booker spoke of his father.
“My dad has helped me through a lot since a very young age,” Booker said. “He is probably the only person that wanted this more than me. He told me to have a short memory and to go out there and compete.”
Thoughts of Phoenix advancing to the NBA Finals aren’t far-fetched after ending James and the Lakers’ season. Booker and the Suns will have home-court advantage in a second-round series against the Nuggets.
It took six years, but Booker’s father believes his son finally became “one of those guys.”
“Unbelievable to see my son on this stage for the first time and battling against the NBA champions and come out victorious,” Melvin Booker said. “Devin is a very mature kid. He understands what these moments are. He just wanted to show everybody he was one of those guys.”