Concrete Rose - Angie Thomas
When it comes to the streets, there’s rules.
They ain’t written down, and you won’t find them in a book. It’s natural stuff you know the moment your momma let you out the house. Kinda like how you know how to breathe without somebody telling you.
If there was a book though, there would be a whole section on streetball, and the most important rule would be at the top, in big bold letters:
Don’t get your ass beat in front of a fine girl, especially if she your girl.
But that’s exactly what I’m doing. Getting my ass beat in front of Lisa.
“It’s okay, Maverick,” she calls out from a picnic table. “You’ve got this!”
Straight up? I ain’t got nothing. Me and King got zero points to Dre and Shawn’s eleven. One more point and they win. Big as King is you’d think he’d block Shawn’s lanky ass or something. Shawn getting by him like he don’t exist. Posting him up, shooting jumpers in his face, all that. Got the homies going wild on the sidelines, and got King looking like a fool.
I can’t be mad at King. Not with what’s going down today. My head not in the game much either.
It’s one of them perfect August days where the sun real bright yet it’s not too hot to play ball. Rose Park full of King Lords in gray and black—seem like all the homies came to get a game in. Not that King Lords need an excuse to come to Rose. This our territory. We handle business here, chill out here, get our butts kicked on the court here.
I check the ball to Dre.
He grin extra wide. “C’mon, Mav. You going out like this in front of your girl? Lisa should’ve played instead of you.”
“Ooohs” echo along the sidelines. Dre never go easy on me ’cause I’m his younger cousin. He been dunking on me since I was big enough to hold a ball.
“Worry ’bout this whooping you gon’ take in front of your girls,” I say. “Keisha and Andreanna won’t wanna claim you after this one.”
There go more “Ooohs.” Dre’s fiancée, Keisha, is over at the picnic table with Lisa, laughing. Keisha and Dre’s daughter, Andreanna, is in her lap.
“Look at li’l homie, trash-talking,” Shawn says, grinning with his gold grill.
“We should call him Martin Luther King ’cause he got a dream if he think he winning,” Dre says.
“I have a dream,” Shawn try to sound like MLK, “that one day, you may step on this court and get a goddamn point!”
The homies laugh. Truth is, Shawn’s joke could’ve been whack and they’d laugh. That’s how it is when you the crown of the King Lords, the Caesar of Rome. People do what they supposed to in order to stay on your good side.
One of them yell out, “Don’t let them punk you, Li’l Don and Li’l Zeke!”
It don’t matter that my pops been locked up for nine years or that King’s pops been dead almost as long. They still Big Don, the former crown, and Big Zeke, his right-hand man. That make me Li’l Don and King Li’l Zeke. Guess we not old enough to go by our own names yet.
Dre bounce the ball. “What you got, cuz?”
He start right. I follow and run straight into Shawn’s chest. They running a pick-and-roll. Dre get away from me, and King go after him, leaving Shawn open. Shawn gun for the hoop. Dre toss the ball up and—
Goddamn! Shawn dunk on King.
“What!” Shawn yell as he hang from the rim. He jump down, and him and Dre do the handshake they’ve done since they were kids.
“They can’t mess with us!” Shawn says.
“Hell nah!” Dre says.
I won’t ever hear the end of this one. Thirty years from now, Dre gon’ be like, “Remember that time me and Shawn didn’t let y’all score?”
King slam the ball against the concrete. “Shit!”
He take losing to heart for real.
“Ay, chill,” I say. “We’ll get them next—”
“Y’all got beat down!” one of the homies, P-Nut, laughs. He this short dude with a thick beard, and he known to have a big mouth. There’s scars on his face and neck ’cause of it.
“We should’ve stopped calling you Li’l Don a long time ago. You an embarrassment to the OG, balling like that.”
The homies on the sidelines laugh.
I clench my jaw. I oughta be used to them kinda jabs. Let a lot of fools in the set tell it, I ain’t as hard as my pops, ain’t as street as