Josh waits for a long time in his Mom’s office. Finally, she comes in and says that she is not going to suspend him, but she adds that Duke and other colleges do not accept cheaters. He wishes he could tell her the truth but he does not; instead, he says sorry and returns to class.
Today, they work on CPR training. Josh watches JB pass notes to Miss Sweet Tea and thinks that life is not fair.
Josh is trying to talk to JB, but he’s all moony and not paying attention.
Josh goes to Dad and sighs that his brother is acting weird because of the girl and Dad has to do something. Dad only laughs and says that talking to his brother right now would be useless and they should just go get some donuts.
Basketball Rule #5
“When / you stop / playing / your game / you’ve already / lost” (93).
JB struts, steps, stutters, spins, slides sickly, makes the seven-foot shot. What a showoff!
Out of Control
Mom was not at the game tonight, so Dad was free to yell at the officials, which is what he did the whole time.
Mom calls me into the kitchen
Josh is expecting the usual food, but it is not there. Mom starts telling him about his grandfather whom he never met and how he died from a stroke he got from heart disease. This runs in their family, she says, so they’ve got to start eating better. Josh is incredulous that they have to have hummus and pita for his victory dinner, but he understands her when she tells him that if Dad wants to stop by Pollard's or Krispy Kreme after the rec center, Josh has to say no.
On the way home from a victorious Game Six, Dad wants to stop at Pollard’s. Josh says he is not hungry and has too much homework, but neither of these is true.
Lately, Josh has been feeling like everything is going right: he beat JB at Madden, he got an A+ on the vocabulary test, and Mom is away at a conference so there’s no Assistant Principal. He is worried that something will go wrong soon.
I’m on Free Throw Number Twenty-Seven
The boys are doing free throws with Dad when suddenly Dad bowls over and starts coughing with a horrible look on his face and sweat on his brow. JB reacts by getting the hose and spraying water on Dad’s face; suddenly, Dad is not coughing but rather laughing. Dad grabs the hose and sprays both of them. They laugh, but Josh is only laughing on the outside.
JB thinks Dad probably got something stuck in his throat and they don’t need to tell Mom. They don’t, but Josh feels strange about it.
It is NOT ironic that Grandpa died in a hospital and Dad does not like doctors. It is ironic that JB has swagger but is too shy to talk to Miss Sweet Tea, giving Josh the phone instead.
This is Alexis—May I Please Speak to Jordan?
Identical twins are no different than anyone else except that they look and sound the same.
Phone Conversation (I Sub For JB)
Josh and Alexis talk for a few minutes; she thinks he is JB. She asks if he got her text and wants the answer. Josh tries to fake it. She asks if they are rich because Dad played. Josh says they aren’t “opulent,” which surprises her. She asks if Dad is cool and he says “very.”
Finally, she asks if she is his girlfriend and when she can meet Mom and Dad. He covers the mouthpiece and asks JB, but JB is nervous and runs away. Josh stammers, asking if Alexis wants to be his girlfriend. She says yes. He almost calls her "Miss Sweet Tea" but stops. They say goodnight.
JB runs back in excitedly. Josh tells him she likes him—rather, JB—a lot.
JB and I
The brothers normally eat lunch together every day and argue over who is a better dunker (LeBron or Blake) and which shoes (Converse or Nike) are better. Today, Josh waits twenty-five minutes alone until he sees JB come into the cafeteria holding Miss Sweet Tea’s hand.
Boy walks into a room
They come over and JB says “Hey, Filthy McNasty” and snickers; she says it too, but it seems less like a nickname and more like the punchline to a joke.
Coach says they have to work on their mental game if they want to beat the defending champions. They all have to meditate. Suddenly, Josh gets a vision of JB in the hospital. He opens his eyes and looks at his brother, who is looking back at him as if he’s seen a ghost.
You walk home alone. No one to argue with. You wonder what JB and his pink-Reebok-wearing girlfriend are doing. You don’t want to go to the library, but your report on The Giver is due tomorrow and JB has the book. You are walking home alone and “your brother owns the world” (115).
In the library, you walk to a desk and then ask for the book. The librarian asks if you found your friend, which is confusing. Then, later, you are walking around the rows of books and you see “the friend” kissing your brother.
For instance: the tipping point for the recession, Dad says, was greedy bankers and housing gamblers. If they get one more C, Mom will see this as the tipping point for no more basketball. And today, when Josh sees his brother and Miss Sweet Tea, he has found his tipping point.
The main reason I can’t sleep
The main reason Josh can’t sleep isn't the game, nor his itchy head, nor worrying about Dad. It’s hearing JB giggling on the phone with Miss Sweet Tea.
Josh’s plan is to confront JB on the way to the game and tell him he’s not spending enough time with him and Dad. However, he hears a car horn, looks out, and sees JB jumping into a car with Miss Sweet Tea and her dad.
Josh asks Dad if going to the doctor will really kill him. Dad rolls his eyes. Josh says Mom says Grandpop was really sick. Finally, he says, “just because your teammate / gets fouled on a lay-up / doesn’t mean you shouldn’t // ever drive to the lane again” (123-24). Dad is laughing so hard that they almost don’t hear the flashing blues behind them.
Game Time: 6:00 p.m.
5:28: a cop pulls Dad over for a broken taillight. 5:30: officer walks up and asks Dad for his license and registration. 5:32: team begins pregame warm-ups without Josh. 5:34: Dad tells the officer his wallet with his license is at home. 5:37: Dad says his name is Chuck Bell and he’s just trying to get his son to the basketball game. 5:47: Coach leads the Wildcats in prayer and Josh is praying Dad won’t get arrested. 5:48: officer Googles Dad’s identity and smiles that he’s “Da Man!” 5:50: Dad autographs a napkin for the officer and gets a warning. 6:01: they arrive at the game and Josh slips in the mud as he runs in.
this is my second year
Josh has started every game in his two years on the Wildcats, but now he has to sit on the bench. Coach does not want any excuses. The other boys are pointing and laughing at him.
Basketball Rule #6
“A great team / has a good scorer / with a teammate / who’s on point / and ready / to assist” (129).
Finally—at the beginning of the second half, when they’re up twenty-three to twelve—Josh gets to play. Josh and JB do what they do best, but now Josh has something else in mind. JB is free and open, but Josh has his own plans while he’s getting double-teamed. He leaps in the air, flies, and his wings spread out—wait! His wings are gone! Dad is screaming and JB is screaming for him to pass the ball.
Things are coming to a head. The roar of the crowd is deafening. He sees JB. He wants the ball so badly? Okay, he can have it!
When he walked into the gym, he was covered in mud, everyone laughed, and JB viciously called him “Filthy McNasty.” Then, he was benched. Everyone cheered for JB as he made four three-pointers in a row. He saw JB wink at Miss Sweet Tea. Then, he was in the game and everything was like they practiced. However, as Coach and Dad screamed for Josh to pass, he thought of how he planned to pass to JB—but JB was calling him “Filthy” and calling for the ball, so he dribbled over to his brother and fired so hard that it leveled JB. JB fell to the ground, blood shooting from his nose.
In this section, Dad’s health issues become more concerning, though he still shows no inclination to do anything about them. Josh is somewhat aware of them, but his attention is still more focused on how JB is drifting away from him. An accumulation of frustrating and embarrassing situations—being late to the game, slipping and falling in the mud, being benched, hearing JB scream out his nickname in a mocking way, seeing Miss Sweet Tea and his parents cheering for JB—lead Josh to lose his temper and behave in a “churlish” way by heaving the ball at JB so hard that he almost breaks his brother’s nose. Alexander creates sympathy for Josh, who’s clearly feeling the pressure of many things that have been plaguing him all coming to a head, but this is also an unequivocal mistake on Josh’s part. He could have really hurt his brother physically, and he certainly did damage to him emotionally. JB’s subsequent refusal to speak to Josh is a fitting, albeit difficult, penance for Josh.
When Mom sits Josh down to confront him on his behavior and levy his punishment, she speaks in a way that is all too familiar to black mothers in this country. She cautions him that “Boys with no self-control become men behind bars” (138) and “Boys with no discipline end up in prison” (140). She is subtly calling attention to the racist reality that boys of color are more easily targeted for being “angry” or “aggressive” and thus perceived as a threat. Even more markedly relevant to contemporary racial dynamics is the traffic stop where a white police officer pulls Dad over. It is a slightly uncomfortable and fraught scene that the reader expects at any moment could become even more so. Alexander spoke to an interviewer about such things, explaining that he does see that “there's a strong race element as it relates to the way they're trying to raise their boys or when the father gets stopped by the police. And I never thought about that when I was writing it. It didn't come to mind that the mother was talking to her young black boy and saying, you know, you're going to — if you're angry, you're going to end up like this. It was just, you know, a mother trying to tell her child that you need to have a little bit of joy in this world. You need to find a little bit of peace.”
Whether or not Alexander intended while writing to comment on current racial structures in this country, he did absolutely write a novel that celebrates black life and culture in an unapologetic, beautiful, and nuanced way. Dad waxes poetic about the great black jazz players, and his sons speak of the men they admire on the court. The songs of Lil Wayne, Kanye, and Jay-Z “play” in the background of the text. Josh revels in his dreadlocks and, Samson-like, sees their loss as a loss of identity.
One of the most memorable parts of the text is the “Basketball Rules” Chuck relays to his sons. They’re pithy and catchy, seemingly about life on the court but absolutely relevant to life off the court. Alexander has spoken often of his own father being somewhat of an inspiration for the figure of Chuck, explaining that his father used to throw such easily digestible and memorable life lessons at him as he headed out the door in the morning. Alexander said, “so as it relates to the basketball rules, that was sort of [my dad’s] thing. I knew how the book was going to end and I needed there to be something that the boys would have to sort of hold onto to help guide them, sort of that fatherly advice, that same advice and guidance that I got and didn’t understand. And I think they kind of view it the same way, at least some of them. As they mature, they begin to understand what some of those things mean.”
Alexander thus uses the basketball rules in the text a couple of different ways: based on where they fall in the text, they often are commenting on what Josh is going through, and, as a whole, they are lessons for the boys to heed now that their father is not with them in a corporeal sense. For example, the 7th rule says: “Rebounding / is the art / of anticipating, / of always being prepared / to grab it. / But you can’t / drop the ball” (146). As this comes after Josh has damaged his relationship with his brother and been suspended from the team, the rule suggests that if he wants to “rebound” from his mistake, he needs to constantly be trying, constantly be prepared to do what he needs to do to make amends. The 3rd rule is a profound one: “If you miss / enough of life’s / free throws / you will pay / in the end” (71). It could relate to many different things, but it seems to be especially applicable to Chuck, who gets numerous “free throws”—a.k.a. warnings—about his health but chooses not to take them.