Basketball Jones debuted yesterday and is the brand new novel from E. Lynn Harris. If it performs as well as his last three novels, the book will quickly climb
the New York Times Bestseller List. The plot is ripped from the
headlines and the situations will be intimately familiar with black gay
audiences. The closeted professional basketball player.
The secret boyfriend kept in luxury. The players who suspect their teammate and his "boy" are more than just "friends." The
homophobia commonly accepted in professional sports and the black community.
"The story came to me in the form of a gift," the bestselling novelist told Rod 2.0 yesterday after he appeared on The Tom Joyner Show. "Some time ago I got a call from the representative of an NBA player. The player wanted my advice because they were being blackmailed and were thinking about coming out. I was not told his name, or what team he played for, only that he might call and was considering coming out of the closet." Harris says that phone call never came—"For about a week I carried my cell phone with me everywhere and answered it on the first ring"—so he started to consider the possibilities. What if there were a professional basketball player who was involved with a man and wanted to come out?
Harris sat down for a short interview with Rod 2.0—we're friends and this is his second interview with the blog—to discuss Basketball Jones, how he developed the characters of NBA star Dray Jones and boyfriend AJ Richardson ... oh and the truth behind the persistent rumors about Harris' real-life involvement with a closeted professional athlete.
The story behind how Dray met AJ is simple, it's very sweet and there is instant identification with many gay men, especially black gay men.
Thanks, that was my goal. Most of the athletes I've known tend to be attracted to smarter guys. Intelligent, goal-oriented, brains. Since they met in college, it didn't seem like AJ and Dray would travel in the same circles. AJ is a serious student and I could see him coming from a single family and needed to make some money. Tutoring. We've all seen football and basketball players who were tutored in calculus or chemistry. Many gay men tutored athletes in high school or college.
Their relationship grows from there ...
Absolutely. When AJ graduates and Dray is drafted, Dray basically says, "You're moving with me." After he is traded to another team Dray says, "I'm getting traded. I'm bought you another house in the same city, here are the keys." AJ doesn't complain. He has a great house, brand new car, shopping sprees, doesn't have to work ... But no one can know the real relationship so it's hush-hush.
So it's like the Real Housewives of Atlanta. Except these are boys?
(Laughing) Okay! Now that would be a "real" show!
AJ is comfortable in the supportive role and he has come out to his mother. But there are many unspoken rules. They have separate houses in the same city. They travel separately. They're supposed to be friends. Even AJ's best friend Maurice doesn't know the truth and that is a major bone of contention between them. They get into a huge argument and it strains their friendship.
This is all because Dray can't come out. Or let's be honest, he won't come out.
Dray wants to be honest about his life but coming out is not for everybody. It has a lot has to do with supportive family, station in life, income, occupation and let's not forget if you're black there is church, your extended family and your neighbors. There are a lot of people depending upon Dray. Professional athletes are often paying for the homes of several family members, college tuition, saving for when their career is over in ten years ... I can't pass judgment. If there were no homophobia in our culture, in our black community or in sports, it would be different.
Of course there is a love triangle. With a woman.
That's the down side to this or any closeted relationship. The athletes are going to have to date women unless they want people to start to suspect. that's what happens here, Dray's teammates begin to suspect and talk, so he starts dating a woman and that explodes into a larger situation.
AJ always told himself he knew this day would come. So at first AJ didn't mind. They have a very solid relationship, so it is no big deal when I see the ball player I'm dating on Page Six with a model, it's just for show and—
Wait a minute. You said, "When I see the ball player I'm dating on Page Six with a model." Now is a good time to bring it up: There was a huge rumor last year on the black gossip blogs and on the scene that you were involved with a pro football player.
(Laughing) Well, there is some truth to any rumor. Maybe it's been more than one athlete? HaHa.
In all honesty, yes, I have some experience. But I wasn't the AJ, the kept man, so to speak. But many gay men have this experience, maybe you are involved with a businessman who can't come out, a well-respected doctor, a married man or just a man who is closeted. You learn to make compromises and appreciate other things when you can't see each other. A text message takes on significance, "I scored so and so during the game, miss you."
Dray and AJ's secret relationship, the love triangle with the woman, AJ continuing to see Dray after he marries this woman ... Your critics say you focus on these "down low" stories and love triangles with women and ignore black gay men who are out and comfortable with their sexuality.
People are not neat and tidy. We are complex and layered, and the more successful you are, the more complex your life becomes. It's harder for black gay men and many of us are closeted or know people who are. But someone will always criticize, seriously, if I wrote books about the happy black gay couple in the suburbs .... everyone would say it wasn't realistic!
Rod, I'm glad you brought that up because you have always been fair to me and that's what I came you. I love Rod 2.0 and check it every day. You've been talking a lot about sports, basketball and homophobia and your audience will probably enjoy Basketball Jones. But more importantly, I wanted to tell your readers and black gay men I haven't abandoned them. I am writing some books for women but am never leaving my roots.