Mom doesn’t like us eating out
Once a month, one of the family members gets to choose a restaurant. Dad chooses Chinese, but Josh knows he really wants Pollard’s Chicken and BBQ. They can't go there because Mom has banned them from that place.
Mom is telling JB that he owes Josh an apology for cutting his hair. JB protests that it was an accident.
They talk about the game and Dad tells a story. JB goes to the buffet and brings back three packages of duck sauce and a cup of wonton soup. Dad and Mom look at JB and Mom says that that was random—JB shrugs that those are what Filthy wanted. Josh had never opened his mouth, but yes, that was what he wanted.
Josh is no mathematician and things seldom add up. He counts his locks—thirty-seven, with one tear—and those don’t add up either.
The inside of Mom and Dad’s bedroom closet
Mom and Dad’s bedroom closet is normally off-limits, but today, when Josh asks for a box to put his dreads in, Mom directs him to the top shelf of her closet. Next to a purple hatbox is Dad’s small silver safety box that is begging to be opened.
Josh starts to open it and JB catches him. He comes up next to him and says he is really sorry about cutting his hair; as penance, he will cut the grass and wash the cars for him. Josh gives him a noogie.
JB starts looking at the safety box, and they begin perusing old clippings, ticket stubs, and flyers. They finally see the championship ring and are filled with awe. JB tries it on, and then Josh wants his turn.
They keep looking and Josh asks if there’s anything new—anything they don’t already know. Suddenly, JB pulls out an envelope marked PRIVATE. Josh is hesitant, but JB opens it. There are two letters. The first is from the Los Angeles Lakers asking Chuck Bell to come to their free-agent tryouts. The second says “Your decision not to have surgery / means that realistically / with patellar tendonitis, / you may not be able to play // again” (47).
This is what Dad has. This is what he has even though once he was a rookie, led his team to the Euroleague championship, and was a superstar and millionaire. Now, his career has faded away. This is what Josh wonders about: why didn’t Dad take care of his patella tendonitis?
Sundays After Church
After church, the Bells hit center stage at the afternoon pick-up game at the gym at the county recreation center. There’s music, mocking, teasing, and laughing, but the playing is serious.
Basketball Rule #2 (random text from Dad)
“Hustle dig / Grind push / Run fast / Change pivot / Chase pull / Aim shoot / Work smart / Live smarter / Play hard / Practice harder” (51).
Heads turn when JB and Josh walk into the cafeteria. People ask why Josh cut his hair and say they look the same now. Josh teases that they can be distinguished from one another since he can dunk whereas his brother cannot. People laugh.
A girl whom they’ve never seen before in tight jeans and pink Reeboks comes up. JB has wide eyes and an open mouth. She asks if it’s true that Josh and JB know what each other is thinking. Josh replies that you don’t have to be his twin to know what JB is thinking.
While Vondie and JB
The two debate the girl’s beauty and Josh finishes his vocabulary homework as well as his brother’s. It is hard to concentrate in the lunchroom with the step team and a rap group practicing and Vondie and JB waxing poetic about love and basketball. They ask what Josh thinks about the girl and he replies that she is pulchritudinous.
“Having great physical / beauty and appeal” (55). This is the new girl. This is what Josh’s girlfriend would be, though he’s never had one. This is the new girl now talking to his brother.
Coach reads to his players from The Art of War and has them run drills. Josh is the quickest but lets the other guy win so he can practice harder.
Josh is asking JB a bunch of questions about winning the championship,m why Dad never got knee surgery, if they want to play twenty-one at home.
Man to Man
They play the game and Josh teases and taunts his brother as he drops the ball into the hoop. Mom calls for him to clean his room.
Dad takes the boys to the rec center to practice free throws. Three young men from the local college ask Dad for autographs for their parents. Dad laughs with them. Josh taunts them to play, and they accept.
After we win
Josh sees that girl from school playing basketball on the other court. She plays? He can tell JB likes her because he doesn’t slap her ball down as he does to Josh; instead, he just stands there smiling.
Dad Takes Us to Krispy Kreme and Tells Us His Favorite Story (Again)
The boys know Mom doesn’t want Dad eating donuts, but he smiles that what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.
Dad starts telling the same story he always does: the story of when the boys were two and he taught them the game, with a bottle in one hand, a ball in the other. Once, when they were three, Dad took them to the park to shoot free throws and the man said he’d lower the hoop, but the boys shot and made them, and the man was shocked.
Basketball Rule #3
Never let anyone lower your goals; the sky is the limit. Shoot for the sun and you will shine.
The Red Rockets are defending the county championship. Their whole school is there and they’re beating the Wildcats by one point. Josh needs to make two shots—one misses; Vondie takes another. It is like Ping-Pong. Josh slams the ball against the glass. He and JB are stars in the making. Josh snatches the ball out of the air and makes another.
The new girl
The new girl comes up and compliments Josh’s dunk. She asks if they’re coming to the gym over Thanksgiving and why he cut his dreads, as she thought they were kind of cute. Vondie snickers. Then, the girl goes to JB and offers him some sweet tea.
I Missed Three Free Throws Tonight
Usually, after dinner, the twins have to make ten free throws in a row. Dad tells Josh he needs to do fifteen.
Basketball Rule #4
“If you miss / enough of life’s / free throws / you will pay / in the end” (71).
Having a mother
It can be tough when your Mom is the principal because it’s education all the time. Josh wants food, a bath, and sleep, but Mom makes him read. JB listens to his iPod and can’t hear when Josh asks if Miss Sweet Tea is his girlfriend. JB claims he’s listening to French classical music, but he's obviously listening to Jay-Z and Kanye.
Mom and Dad are arguing. She is telling Dad he needs to see a doctor, and when he says he is fine, she says that his father wasn’t fine. Fainting is not a joke, she says. He flirts with her and tries to get her mind off that. When they stop talking, Josh knows what that means.
Hypertension is high blood pressure. It is what Dad has or maybe is going to have, and you have a higher risk of it if someone in your family has it. Josh wonders if his grandfather really died of hypertension.
To fall asleep
Josh counts the thirty-seven strands in the box beneath his bed.
Why We Only Ate Salad for Thanksgiving
Normally, Grandma cooks, but she fell off her front stoop. So, this year, Uncle Bob, who smokes cigars and thinks he is a chef because he watches Food TV, makes a disgusting meal. There is greenish ham, and Mom asks if there are any eggs to go with it; Grandma laughs so hard that she falls out of her wheelchair.
How Do You Spell Trouble?
During the vocabulary exam, JB passes Josh a note for “Miss Sweet Tea,” which is what Josh starts calling her to himself. A window is cracked; the breeze ruffles her hair, and Josh forgets about the note. Finally he taps her, but at that moment, the teacher looks up and sees.
What should he do? Give JB back the note and embarrass him? Hide it and take the heat? JB is sweating and Miss Sweet Tea smiles. He knows what to do.
In this section, Josh begins to experience what he perceives to be the loss of his brother. Alexis—or “Miss Sweet Tea,” as Josh calls her privately—has come into JB’s life and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere soon. Josh struggles with the changes that this new relationship has in store for him, which include doing things alone more often, seeing JB’s interest in basketball wane slightly, feeling left out because he does not have a girlfriend, and generally feeling that the former family dynamic is now irrevocably altered. Josh is still loyal to his brother, however, and doesn’t let him take the fall for passing a note to Alexis in class. He also forgives JB for accidentally messing up his dreadlocks, though the loss of his “wings” wounds him deeply.
Alexander also hints quite strongly at Dad’s health troubles. Some of the earliest clues are that Mom wants them to eat healthily and has banned them from Pollards and that Dad jokes that what Mom doesn’t know won’t hurt her when he’s taking the boys out for donuts. Josh also overhears an even clearer indication of Dad’s ill health when Mom and Dad are arguing about Dad fainting, his hypertension, and how Grandpop died from hypertension. Josh figures out that this means high blood pressure and that genetics can exacerbate it, which worries him in terms of him and JB being prone to it as well.
Chuck refused to get knee surgery, thus precluding his ability to try out for the Lakers, due to his fear of and antipathy towards doctors. His father, as mentioned, died in the hospital, and Chuck stubbornly attributes that to the doctors. Readers don’t know exactly what happened in the hospital, but it is far more probable that the doctors did everything they could and Grandpop was simply beyond saving rather than that the doctors failed to do their job properly. It makes sense that Chuck has never gotten over his father’s early death, but his stubbornness and deeply-held sense of infallibility eventually contribute to his own death.
Indeed, Chuck’s stubbornness is a crucial component of his multi-faceted personality. He is a fantastic, larger-than-life character, and his interactions with his sons practically leap off the page. He’s charming, cocky, easily worked up, funny, wise, and a dedicated father. He brims with enthusiasm whether he’s exposing the boys to jazz, waxing poetic about their childhood or his own days on the court, or telling jokes to lighten the mood. Almost everything in his life is basketball; it’s the primary way he relates to his sons and the primary lens through which he views himself. Like all fathers, he has advice for his sons, but his are couched in “Basketball Rules,” which end up being applicable on and off the court.
Chuck’s major shortcoming is his inability to confront what his father’s death did to him and to put those fears aside so he can get the medical attention he needs in time to avert disaster. He’s a dedicated and loving father, but one could argue that he is not being a good father because he is deliberately avoiding taking care of himself, which will take him out of his sons’ lives when they desperately need him.