When Melvin Booker left the University of Missouri in 1994, he did so as a college star with a penchant for taking, and making, three-pointers. These days, as Booker's son Devin has learned, that's a valuable set of skills. As the NBA prioritizes space, the shooters who can create it with their mere presence draw more attention in the draft.
That wasn't the case in the mid-90s, and the elder Booker went undrafted despite earning second-team All-America as a senior. Melvin played in the Continental Basketball Association for a year until having cups of coffee with three NBA teams. Shortly after Devin was born in 1996, Melvin had moved to Italy to pursue a European career that spanned a decade and took him to Russia and Turkey, as well. He had the sort of pro basketball career so many top-flight college players without great size have had, in that it was well outside the NBA spotlight.
His son will have no such anonymity. Devin moved to Moss Point, Miss., before his sophomore year of high school to live with the then-retired Melvin. He became one of the best prospects on the Gulf Coast and eventually drew attention from the top college programs. He chose powerhouse Kentucky, spent a year there and became a lottery pick. Now he's a candidate for first-team All-Rookie as the featured scorer for the Phoenix Suns.
Granted, the younger Booker has a number of physical advantages over his father: he's five inches taller and more athletic. But Melvin's lack of NBA permanency compared to Devin's early stardom helps illustrate the increased importance of deep shooting. You'd have to think that Melvin Booker and prospects like him would get a longer look in today's NBA.
Devin Booker's prominence also speaks to a growing population of second-generation NBA players in the league. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the most prominent examples, both because they are two of the best players in the league and because their fathers were well-known. (Klay's dad was the freaking No. 1 overall pick.)
Kobe Bryant famously followed his father Joe into the league. Namesakes like Tim Hardaway, Glen Rice, Glenn Robinson and Larry Nance litter the league. There are so many second-generation players in the league that it's no longer particularly notable. Every basketball addict like yours truly find new genealogical info every day. (The most recent such revelation: Justise Winslow's dad Rickie was a part of Phi Slamma Jamma.)
Some of the second-generation players, like Steph, Klay, Devin and Jabari Parker, were able to learn at the feet of their NBA fathers. Some, including Wesley Matthews and Jalen Rose, had no paternal support whatsoever. Some of the offspring were borne of role players or journeymen, some were born of stars.
We're all eager to see whether LeBron James Jr. will someday destroy the NBA, but perhaps we'll instead learn to fear the child of a less notorious player who bounces in and out of the league. The NBA's familial branches speak to the balance between nature and nurture so debated in education and skill development circles. What's more important, the genes of an All-Star or having a parent with the time and freedom to coach you through your formative years?
Booker got the latter: his dad was an assistant coach at Moss Point High where Devin starred. Melvin had also been through the recruiting ringer as a top prospect in coastal Mississippi. Given the NBA's age minimum and the heightened importance of picking the right school at which to make an impression, that institutional knowledge must be valuable to the second generation, just as it would be for any teenagers. (Ask any prospective first-generation college student about the disadvantages of not knowing what you don't know.) Having access to that experience, expert coaching 24/7 and, in many cases, extraordinary financial resources thanks to the NBA salary boom of the mid-1990s -- is a huge advantage.
This isn't to take anything away from Devin Booker or any other second-generation star -- after all, it takes incredible talent and an impeccable work ethic beyond the genes and developmental resources. There's a reason you can't buy the NBA jerseys of Michael Jordan's sons. It's not given that any son of an NBA player, no matter how great, will someday make the league and thrive. Mychal Thompson has two sons not in the NBA. (Albeit one's had a cup of coffee and the other is an L.A. Dodger. So maybe that overachieving family isn't the best example.) Dell Curry has a son catching splinters on the pine for one of the NBA's lowliest teams. Not all of Rick Barry's sons made the NBA.
Second-generation players are suddenly everywhere in the NBA, but it's still anyone's guess as to which ones will make it and which will not. Some will repeat what their fathers did, some will fall short. And some, like Devin Booker, will take what his father began and expand on it to create something new.