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Devin Booker’s dad pushed him to go farther, go further, go harder

Playing in his first NBA Finals, the Suns star is taking it to the next level

NORTH SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker recently texted a picture to his father of the song “Mr. Carter” playing on his car’s satellite radio. When Melvin Booker II saw the text, the former NBA player reminisced about 2008 when he and his then-12-year-old son rapped a verse on the song that holds special meaning.

“As I share mic time with my heir Young Carter, go farther, go further, go harder / Is that not why we came? / And if not, then why bother,” Jay-Z raps in the song as a challenge to Lil Wayne.

Like Jay-Z to Lil Wayne, Melvin Booker challenged his son to go farther, go further and go harder.

“He was listening to it on the way to a game, and he screenshot it to me and then I responded by putting those quotes in there, ‘Go further, go farther,’ ” Melvin Booker told The Undefeated recently. “ ‘Go further, go farther … if not, why bother.’ That’s what I used to say to him all the time.

“He was like, ‘Pops, I remember you telling me that.’ Hearing the song now hit me in my chest.”

Living up to his father’s challenge, Devin Booker has gone farther, further and harder. The two-time NBA All-Star has led the Suns to their first NBA Finals appearance since 1993. He is averaging 27.0 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists in 16 games this postseason. And after the Finals, which begin Tuesday night in Phoenix against the Milwaukee Bucks, he will be joining USA Basketball’s roster for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.

“It means the world to me to see Devin get a chance to play on the biggest stage,” Melvin Booker said. “These are the moments we’ve always talked about. This is why we put in the countless hours to be ready for moments like this. I’m so excited and anxious to see him shine bright.”

Melvin Booker’s challenge for his son to be great is nothing new in the Booker family.

Melvin Booker, 48, grew up in Moss Point, a small town in Southeastern Mississippi with about 13,000 people. His father, Booker Sr., played in local leagues and tournaments, and was known for being a great shooter. Melvin Booker was challenged by his father to use the game of basketball to get a free education and more.

“My father was there for me,” Melvin Booker said. “He wasn’t a professional hooper, but he was a local hooper in all the leagues. So, I was always with him everywhere we went. That’s how I fell in love with the game, running around the gyms with him all the time.

“He was a shooter. He was undersized, too. It’s the third generation now. It’s funny. My dad didn’t take it nowhere careerwise. Then I was able to take it to college and professional and now Devin got it and he done took it to a whole other level.”

Melvin Booker averaged 28 points per game for Moss Point High School during the 1989-90 season. The 6-foot-2 guard went on to star at the University of Missouri, where he averaged 18.1 points and 4.5 assists as a senior during the 1993-94 season. He was named the Big Eight Player of the Year and was an Associated Press second-team All-American that season. But when he entered the 1994 NBA draft, point guards were expected to pass first and shoot second. He went undrafted and called it “one of the worst nights” ever as he watched with his family in Mississippi.

“If I was playing today, I probably would have been a top-10 pick with the year I had with my senior year in college. But back then they were saying you wasn’t a true point guard, you are too small to be a shooting guard,” said Melvin Booker, who began his professional basketball career in the Continental Basketball Association with the Hartford Hellcats, Pittsburgh Piranhas and Grand Rapids Mackers.

It was in Grand Rapids that he met Veronica Gutierrez, and in 1996 they had a son, Devin Armani Booker. Melvin Booker and Gutierrez never married, but successfully co-parented their son.

After Grand Rapids, Melvin Booker went on to the NBA, playing 11 games for the Houston Rockets during the 1995-96 season. He also played five games with the Denver Nuggets and 16 games with the Golden State Warriors during the 1996-97 season. He averaged 5.2 points in his short NBA career. From 1999 to 2008, he starred in Italy, Turkey and Russia before retiring in large part to spend more time with his son.

Devin Booker saw some of his dad’s games in Europe, but their basketball bonding usually took place in the summers that he spent with his father.

“I would have him in the gym watching me work. Sometimes my friends come along for a hoop session with pickup games,” Melvin Booker said. “Devin was a little kid running around with the ball until he got old enough to be able to play with us.”

Melvin Booker said he knew his son was competitive and had a high basketball IQ when he used to run plays on NBA 2K while playing against his friends at 10 years old.

During Devin Booker’s sophomore year in high school, his mother allowed the budding basketball star an opportunity to move from Michigan to Moss Point High to live with his father and get better instruction in chasing his basketball dream. Booker credits his father’s honest coaching in helping him become great.

“We’ve done pretty much every workout you can think of from when I first moved on to Moss Point, Mississippi,” Devin Booker said. “I always had a love for the game of basketball. I was always a student of the game. But I wasn’t aware of the work that went into it.

“I was also good. But he made me go the extra mile. He pushed me. I had never been pushed before. I never had the truth told to me at all times. He’s somebody that is telling you the truth out of the goodness of your heart to see you succeed. You can feel that. It just makes you want to be better every day.”

Booker flourished under his dad’s tutelage and it strengthened their father-son relationship in the process.

“It was a chance for us to catch up for lost time,” Melvin Booker said. “The great thing is we both have passion for basketball. So for those three years that he was with me, we spent every day together, working out, in the gym, eating dinner, watching games, for three years. It was a lot of catching up because I missed a lot of his life because I was overseas. And it might have been the best three years of us being together because there was a lot of bonding, and basketball of course was one of the reasons.”

Booker went on to play at the University of Kentucky, where he averaged 10 points, shot 41% from 3-point range and was named the 2015 SEC Sixth Man of the Year as a freshman. He was selected 13th overall in the 2015 NBA draft by the Suns with his mom and dad in attendance.

Booker quickly became the face of Suns basketball and one of the NBA’s elite scorers. But the Suns failed to make the playoffs during the first five seasons of his career. Phoenix showed some promise by going 8-0 in the NBA bubble last season, but didn’t make the playoffs.

On Aug. 7, 2020, Golden State Warriors star forward Draymond Green said on Turner Sports that it was time for Booker to find a new home.

“Get my man out of Phoenix,” Green said. “It’s not good for him, it’s not good for his career. I need my man to go somewhere he can play great basketball all the time and win.”

Melvin Booker strongly disagreed with that sentiment and advised his son to be patient.

“I knew Devin loved Phoenix,” Melvin Booker said. “Of course, he didn’t like the situations of losing because he’s such a winner, but that’s another thing about having me here is I told him, ‘Be patient.’ These careers now are 18 years long. So you ain’t even into a climb yet, you will learn a lot in this losing. Now once you taste winning, you don’t want to go back to the way it was.

“And you can see by the way he is playing now, he don’t want to go back there no more. He feels it, he tastes it, he smells it.”

With his dad’s words in mind, Devin Booker never asked for a trade.

“I tell people all the time that Phoenix is my third home,” Booker said. “They’ve embraced me that way from day one. I’ve put my head down, I’ve worked and I’ve been through a lot of [expletive], honestly. Just being who I am, seeing the bigger picture and having tunnel vision, I knew what this could be.”

The Suns added 10-time NBA All-Star Chris Paul and gritty veteran forward Jae Crowder during the offseason. And after earning the NBA’s second-best record during the regular season, the Suns made the playoffs for the first time since 2010 and faced LeBron James and the reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the postseason. Before the postseason began, Melvin Booker told his son that this was his time to become an elite star in the NBA by not only shining in the playoffs but beating the champs. Devin Booker scored 47 points in Game 6 of the first-round series to eliminate the Lakers.

Booker averaged 25.3 points per game as the Suns swept the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the playoffs. The 6-foot-5 guard also averaged 25.5 points in the Western Conference finals as Phoenix eliminated the LA Clippers in six games to advance to the NBA Finals. After the Game 6 victory, Booker called his father, his mother and sister on the phone to include them as part of the celebration.

“We’ve been through a lot. Since day one before the NBA, they’ve stuck beside me all the way,” Booker said. “Having their acceptance of me and understanding what I’m going through keeps me driven every day. Putting smiles on their faces. Being able to provide for my family, take care of my family, there is no feeling like that. That keeps me on this everyday pursuit to be legendary.”

Devin Booker isn’t the only one in his family playing basketball. His father still plays pickup basketball on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at his workout gym in part to stay in shape in case his son needs an impromptu workout. During one late June pickup game, he hit a midrange jumper, tossed an assist and made a spinning reverse layup on the baseline.

“He plays just like his son,” said former star NFL defensive end Simeon Rice, who was playing in the pickup game with Melvin Booker. “You see where his son gets his game. Supercrafty at his age. Still knows how to get by guys. Knocks down jumpers. Junior is Senior and Senior is Junior. Same guy. It’s just Senior is older now. I don’t know if he was an elite athlete back in the day, but he knows the game without a doubt.”

From the eldest Melvin Booker to Melvin Booker II to Devin Booker, this family has taken it to the next level with each generation. And the newest challenge for Devin Booker is to go farther, go further and go harder to lead the Suns to their first NBA championship.

“I don’t think it was a challenge to be better than me,” Melvin Booker said. “He may not know this, but I was developing him to be better than me. I wanted him to carry the Booker name further than I ever did.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.