Rucker Park Setup was inspired by my love of street basketball. I’ve played in the same Saturday morning game in Queens since 1980, and I still do. I often say that I grew up in New York City, but I think the real truth of the matter is that I grew up on a basketball court, because I learned so much there. The court I grew up on was a lot like a war zone, with nicknames such as “Pirate” and “Snake” for some very rough players. But in this mix of aggression, anger, stubbornness and fortitude, exists a real brotherhood. Hence, the novel’s dedication page—This text is dedicated to every park player who ever threw down like the NBA championship was on the line. Warriors with whom I traded words and elbows, then five minutes later, when the sides changed, had my back with the same fire.
I’d heard a news account about a young street player who was murdered on the court. His father happened along about the same time as the police and ambulances, creating a very sad scene. That gave me the basic framework for the novel.
Another aspect to the work comes from my own playing. I was always intrigued that no matter what was going wrong in my life—friends, family, relationships or work. I could usually push those problems behind some curtain in my head while I played ball. But for this book I started to wonder, what if the problem was your best friend’s murder? A murder that happened on the very same court you were playing on now? What if you were hiding the fact that you knew who the murderer was? And what if your best friend’s father was the referee in that game, and still looking for answers from you? Could you push all of that behind some magic curtain in your head and still win the championship game at Rucker Park?