Ball Don’t Lie

Delacort recently published Gotham fiction teacher Ball Don’t Lie, the story of a teenager with a shuffled-around foster life who seeks the end of the rainbow playing basketball. Matt played college b-ball and he knows how to write, as well, with Gillian Engberg of Booklist saying: “Readers will be strongly affected by the unforgettable, distinctly male voice; the thrilling, unusually detailed basketball action; and the questions about race, love, self-worth, and what it means to build a life without advantages.” Ball Don’t Lie is now in the process of being turned into a feature film.

                                       I Could Tell

you a lot about this game….

How a dark gym like Lincoln Rec is a different world. Full of theft and dunk, smooth jumpers and fragile egos. Full of its own funky politics and stratification. Music bleeding out of old rattling speakers from open to close. Old rhythm and blues. Stevie Wonder. Aretha Franklin. Funk. Motown. Marvin Gaye. Sometimes Jimmy gets talked into hard core rap on weekends. Or Trey sneaks in his three-year-old demo tape.

Always music.

There are fat rats that scurry through the lane on game point. Beady eyes on the man with the ball. There are roaches congregating under the bleachers.

There is so much dust on the slick floor that sometimes a guy will go to stop and slide right out of the gym. Every time there’s a break in the action, ten guys put palm to sole for grip.

There are a hundred different ways of talking and a thousand uses of the word motherfucker.

There are no women.

In the winter there are so many homeless bodies spread out across court 2 you can hardly see the floor. There are leaks when it rains. Rusted pots are set out to collect heavy drops. Sometimes a guy will track in mud and everybody throws a fit. Jimmy sets out a twenty-five dollar heater and everybody puts their hands up to it before they play.

In the summer you can hear cracks in the foundation. The walls, the ceiling. Like the old gym is stretching out its stiff arms and legs.

There are faded blood stains and teeth marks in the wood. Arguments that end with a gun being pulled.

And everybody shows up for a different reason. A potpourri of ballers:

Some guys come because they’re regulars. Used to seeing all the fellas on a daily basis.

Some show for the first time on a tip from a friend. Try their skills in the best pick-up around to see if they can hang.

A couple NBA cats roll through when it’s their off-season.

Some jokers walk through the doors looking for nothing more than a sweat. They come in wearing wetsuit looking wraps around bulging stomachs. Keep love handles away without hopping on a treadmill. They get run out of the gym after one game.

Some guys come to drop rainbow jumpers from deep.

Some come to throw their bodies around down low. To bang with the big boys.

Some guys pull in every day because they love talking trash. Barbershop talk in high tops. They always have something to say when they score. They have something to say when anybody scores.

Some guys show up because they have nothing better to do.

Some guys come because they didn’t play much in college. Get the sour taste out of their mouth by busting somebody up.

Some cause they didn’t play much in high school.

Some guys show up drunk. High. Tweaking.

Some of the best ballers roll in wearing a work shirt and jeans. Some of the worst have top of the line sneakers, top of the line gym shorts, the most effective and smooth looking knee braces. Basketball runway show.

Some guys come to dunk on somebody. They come to hype up all the loudmouths on the sideline with a rim rocking two-hand bash.

Some don’t mind being one of the loudmouths that gets hyped when the guy who comes to dunk on somebody, dunks on somebody.

Sticky shows up cause the game’s his life and the guys are like family.

Some guys stay behind when the gym closes, curl up on their spot on court 2 with the rest of the homeless.

Some come to score enough junk to soothe junky bones. Chronic. Ups. Downs. Meth. Crack. X. Or to score shiny watches. Gold bracelets. Platinum hoop earring. Heavy ropes.

Some come to sell.

Some feel like they’re part of something. Like a book club or church.

Some show up because they just got off work. Doing all night security or hustling on the streets.

Sometimes a cop is guarding a robber. Everybody has a joke when that happens.

Some guys roll in because they’re addicted to competition. Gotta beat somebody in something to get happy.
            Some cause it’s the only place in the world they get respect. The only place they have any real control.
            But no matter who they are, or why they come, every one of them squint their eyes when they step foot out of the dark gym and back into the bright world that waits outside.