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Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker is willing to admit it: His initial NBA All-Star Game snub this season left him salty. So salty, in fact, that he considered turning down the All-Star replacement spot he was offered when Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard had to drop out with an injury.
But Lillard himself—who, back in 2015, wasn't too pleased about being a replacement in the All-Star Game—got on the phone with the Phoenix Suns star, and convinced him to join in. "I appreciate Dame for giving me those words of encouragement," Booker says now. "It ended up being one of those experiences that’s second to none. Probably one of the best experiences of my life."
Booker was busy at the All-Star festivities in Chicago, participating in the Three-Point Contest (he finished a close second to Sacramento's Buddy Hield), before logging 19 minutes for Team LeBron in the game. Then he jetted to the Bahamas for a quick vacation with good friend D'Angelo Russell of the Timberwolves.
And now we're here, in the home stretch of the season. The Suns' playoff hopes, at 24-35, are hanging by a thread. But they've come a long way from last year's 19-63 debacle, with signs of hope: Kelly Oubre Jr. is having a career campaign (plus delivering a steady stream of wavy fits) and after a suspension for banned substances, former No. 1 pick DeAndre Ayton has been on a tear. That's to say nothing of Booker, who weathered criticisms about empty stats in his early pro days and emerged as one of the most consistent all-around players in the NBA, dropping more than 26 points a night while doubling down on D.
Below, Booker details his first All-Star Game experience, getting one game in against Kobe, and pros vs. cons of double-teaming during off-season pickup ball.
GQ: First off, you did a 10 Essentials video with us and defended wired headphones, and I gotta say, I’m right there with you.
Devin Booker: Man, I tried the wireless one and lost over five pairs of AirPods. I finally just got the Master & Dynamic x Louis Vuitton headphones that [Kevin Durant] and Rich Kleiman went in on, and I wear those sometimes. But day-to-day, I'm still using wired headphones. I like the sound quality, and I like talking on the phone with them. When I’m using AirPods I can’t hear people and they can't hear me.
Are you into old-school tech? I saw you carrying a camcorder around at the All-Star Game.
I am. People always say I have an old soul. That’s just the way I was raised, taking after my father and my brother. I’m always listening to older music, '90s R&B. I’m a little vintage mixed with a little modern and fast-paced.
What are you gonna do with that camcorder footage?
I’m in the process of figuring that out. You might’ve seen when D’Angelo Russell got traded, the first thing he did when he got off the plane in Minnesota was record the moment on a camcorder. We’re just gathering footage, and eventually, we’ll see what to make of it. I usually do a recap video of every event that I do, but I’m keeping it in-home for now.
Damian Lillard said recently you’re his favorite player to watch. What went through your mind when you heard that?
That was crazy, man. That was a crazy statement. I have so much respect for Dame. I don’t want to sound like I’m doing a favor for a favor, but you can ask my friends and my family—he’s definitely one of my favorite players to watch, too. Just the demeanor that he brings to the game and how talented he is. When he named me as a suggestion to replace him in the All-Star Game, that was surreal. That’s my main goal in the NBA, is to earn the respect from the people I respect.
Dame mentioned he talked to you after he got hurt, and alluded to convincing you to play in the All-Star Game. Were you hesitant to go at first?
A little bit. Usually I don’t make emotional decisions; I take time to sit back and discuss important topics with the people I respect. Dame was the first person I talked to about it, and he said, “I know how you feel—you don’t want to go and be a replacement. Sometimes you just have to swallow that pride and look at the bigger picture.” And I did. I talked to my coach Monty Williams, and my family, and everybody told me to get my ass there.
How do you think the Suns stack up fashion-wise compared to the rest of the league?
You know what, man? I don’t really get into the judging and comparing. Like Serge Ibaka says, fashion is an art—however a person wants to portray themselves, however comfortable they feel in that outfit, is what makes it. I think half of it is the demeanor people carry. Some things I’ll step out in and my friends will be like, "Only you can wear that." I tell them that they can wear it, too, if they have the confidence to pull it off.
Kelly Oubre is definitely the most influential on our team. Kelly and I give pointers to our younger players, guys like DeAndre. Not saying we know everything about the fashion game, especially since he and I have very different styles. But I give my tips here and there to make sure the young players come correct.
You wore a special hoodie honoring Kobe and Gigi Bryant before the All-Star Game. What was the story behind that?
It was a Warren Lotas collab. He’s a good friend of mine out of L.A. I’ve been wearing a couple of his pieces throughout the season, and I love the materials that he works with. I went to his workshop in L.A., and it’s a tight-knit group with his close friends. I like the way they go about things.
When Kobe passed, I thought about how I could honor him and Gigi, and I reached out to Warren Lotas—it was something I thought I could wear at the All-Star Game. Then I got snubbed, but he finished making it anyway. It was a one-of-one piece I was just going to hold onto. And then I ended up making it and having that platform where I could put it on, and give Kobe and Gigi the respect they deserve. The hoodie is something I’ll probably get framed.
You went to the Kobe memorial in L.A., right?
I did. We played Toronto and Chicago back-to-back, then I left after our Chicago game to go to L.A. The memorial was at 10 a.m., and then I flew out right after to play Utah, and ended up beating them. It was a really good day.
How was the memorial in-person?
It’s hard to put into words. It was much-needed for everybody in the building, and we were able to grieve together, cry together, laugh together. It was a celebration of Kobe’s and Gigi’s impact on this generation and this world. Having so many people come together for that man and that young girl’s legacy was an unbelievable experience. It’s going to stick with me for the rest of my life.
You and Kobe overlapped during your rookie season, which was his last season. Did he ever start talking trash to you?
Actually, there were no trash-talking moments. We play the Lakers four times a year, but he didn’t play in three of those games. He played his last of those four games in Phoenix—we won, and afterwards he and I spoke for a brief time. He told me to meet him in the back, and as I mentioned, it’s important to me to earn the respect of people I respect. That’s always been my goal. For him to ask me to talk to him after the game was a crazy moment, and he left me with some words to live by. He signed a pair of shoes to me with a message, “be legendary.” I want to do something with that message soon—maybe a tattoo.
I know how close you are with Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell. Have you gotten a chance to catch up with them since they teamed up?
Me and D’Angelo actually took a trip straight from Chicago to the Bahamas together after the All-Star Game. We caught up a little bit then. I’m excited to see them healthy on the court together. I’m happy D’Angelo is in a situation now where I feel like he’s wanted. Minnesota has been trying to get him for a very long time.
Be honest, how many times have you heard “wet like I’m Book” in “Sicko Mode” and sung along to it?
If I’m in the shower, or at the house chilling, I can go crazy to it. But If I’m out, it kinda takes away from how much I’d otherwise get to enjoy the whole “Sicko Mode” song. You can feel the buildup and people start looking at me when the time is coming. I’ve heard it from sooooo many people. But definitely another mark in my career I didn’t see coming.
One of my favorite off-season NBA subplots was seeing you playing pickup with Joakim Noah, and y’all getting into a little back-and-forth over whether it’s appropriate to double team during off-season runs. What did you think when you saw a conversation about that popping off on social media?
Nowadays, it’s kind of unpredictable what’s going to go viral and what’s not. Sometimes it can be complete nonsense. I’ve never taken social media stuff too seriously, so it was a good discussion. You could tell that people were raised in different gyms and had different mindsets. I’m not saying one way is better than the other. Some people say, “Go score on two or three people.” That’s not how I was raised to play the game.
You even had Kevin Durant tweeting about it!
Believe it or not, I was in a pickup game with KD where they doubled him, and he said the same exact thing.
Okay, that makes sense. He was defending you on Twitter.
Exactly. That video was just an in-the-moment reaction, where there wasn’t really a thought behind it, and people were like, D-Book doesn’t have the Mamba Mentality because he said “stop doubling.” But that’s social media today. Take it with a grain of salt, use it for entertainment, and have fun with it. That’s what I tried to do.
You’ve got 20-something games to go, so I know it’s technically incomplete, but what letter grade would you give the Suns this season?
I’d say a C. There’s always room for improvement. I think we’ve already surpassed our win total from last year by five wins already, and we have a whole new roster with the addition of Ricky Rubio, plus Kelly Oubre was only with us for two months last year. I knew it’d take a little bit of time. I still feel like we have a shot at the playoffs. We’re just going to have to go on a really good run.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Originally Appeared on GQ