Melvin Booker is nervous.
The former Missouri star and Big Eight Player of the Year, who led the Tigers to the Elite Eight in 1994, had a feeling of anxiety similar to his playing days before his son, Devin, suited up for his first playoff game for the Phoenix Suns.
“I was a nervous wreck his first playoff game,” he said. “It felt like his first NBA game to me.”
Melvin has been nervous and superstitious for the entirety of the Suns’ playoff run that ended Tuesday with a 105-98 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
In the opening series against the Lakers, Booker felt Game 3 slipping away, so he left early and decided to watch Game 4, a Suns win, on his own. The Suns eventually won the series behind 47 points from Devin in Game 6.
Melvin continued that superstition and watched Game 4 of the next round against the Nuggets, another Suns win that clinched a second-round sweep, from afar.
“As a player, you have a good game and you try to do the same thing,” Melvin said. “The same routine to keep that same energy going, and that’s the same way I support my son.”
That superstition followed Devin and the Suns to the NBA Finals after they won a competitive Western Conference filled with the Lakers’ LeBron James, NBA MVP Nikola Jokic and the Clippers star duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
That run included Booker losing star guard Chris Paul through COVID-19 protocols for the first two games of the Western Conference finals. Booker also suffered a broken nose in that same series against the Clippers.
“He’s seen almost everything in this playoff run that I think he will probably see in his playoff career,” Melvin said. “In the past two months, they’ve seen so much just in this first playoff run that it’s only gonna help his career going forward.”
Devin ended his debut NBA Finals averaging 28.2 points per game with 40-point performances in Games 4 and 5. He became the seventh player to ever score back-to-back 40-point games in the finals, joining Giannis Antetokounmpo, James, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Jerry West and Rick Barry.
After this playoff run, the next step for Devin is an almost immediate turnaround to the Olympics. Team USA has its first group stage game against France on Sunday.
When Devin got the call from Jerry Colangelo with an invitation to the Olympics, Melvin had one question. What would Devin do if the Suns made it to the finals?
“I’ll be on the first flight to Tokyo,” Devin responded.
After being spurned foe invites for to play for any of USA Basketball’s youth teams while in high school, this summer is Devin’s first chance at playing competitively for the national team.
“I always used to tell him, ‘Don’t worry about it.’” Melvin said. “Your ultimate goal is to be on the national team and play in the Olympics. It’s funny that he’d never got an invite to any of those teams, and now he is on the national team with a chance to win a gold medal.”
Melvin will watch Devin play in the Olympics on TV, since no fans will be allowed in Tokyo, just as the two would watch the games over the summers when Devin was growing up.
“We watched all that,” Melvin said. “I mean, Devin’s seen the documentary on the Dream Team. It’s funny to say that Devin wasn’t even born when they did the Dream Team. We’ve always watched in the summertime because he’s with me, and we always watch the USA play and go for the gold.”
Some of those summers would be in Europe, where Devin visited his father when Melvin was playing professionally overseas. Melvin decided to end his pro career and move back to Mississippi to train Devin.
“I saw he had a special gift, and I just wanted to get my hands on him and try to make him the best player he could be,” Melvin said. “He was a hard-working kid and a sponge taking in all of the information. And now here we are today.”
Melvin trained Devin as a point guard, but once he continued to grow and showed his shooting prowess, the younger Booker made the switch to shooting guard.
Devin played collegiately at Kentucky before going pro and now playing in the NBA Finals and Olympics in the same summer.
“Just making it to this point is rewarding enough to see my son live out his dream,” Melvin said. “To see him play at the level that he’s playing. To see him grow into the player that he’s grown into, to see him now playing in the finals. That’s just all the hard work that we put in. And he still has such a long career ahead of him.”