SI: Were the athletes willing to talk to you?
Wolfe: Some were, if I had a way to get to know them. I think they liked to talk about their lives. We all do.
SI: What did you hope to learn from the athletes?
Wolfe: I wanted to know what it was like to be on the court as sound builds up. One player told me the sound becomes static. It doesn't sound like a human sound. You don't hear the insults. You don't hear anybody cheering you on. You feel like you're in a shell that separates you from the rest of the world--and the world is watching. Another player told me he was never at peace unless he was on the court and the ball was in play, because he wasn't confident enough to deal with the ordinary world. That's why when my character Jojo Johanssen is outgunned in the first game of the season and loses his starting position, I tried to put the emphasis on how the horn sounding represented his world coming apart.
SI: Have you ever seen a basketball game at Duke?
Wolfe: I managed to see one game. You cannot imagine how hard it is to get a seat at a game at Duke. I sat in a folding chair. I found the Cameron Crazies fascinating. During the warmups, a tall player from Wake Forest went up for a routine layup or dunk and missed, and they immediately got on his case, yelling at him and telling him what an oaf he was. He comes around again and he's so rattled by all of this that he misses again. Then he comes around the third time, and he is so determined not to miss, he jams the hardest dunk you'll ever see in your life, and he does a swing on the rim that shatters the backboard. It was unbelievable. Immediately, the Cameron Crazies started a chant, "You break it, you pay it." They didn't say "you pay for it" because that doesn't scan. Immediately, they had the right meter and everything. I think Wake Forest lost by 40 points or so.
SI: Does the Red Sox' winning the World Series have a larger meaning beyond baseball?
Wolfe: Everybody loves the triumph of the underdog. Perhaps the Red Sox did catch fire emotionally and something marvelous happened to them. If so, it's worth having larger meaning. It's saying champions are not mercenaries. But these guys constantly move from team to team--and they certainly have the economic right to that--and it destroys the dream that this is a permanent group of champions for your city. And that illusion is shattered every year.
SI: Will the Yankees bounce back?
Wolfe: When I was young, for some reason unknown to me now, I was a follower of the Detroit Tigers. And so I really detested the Yankees. It was a long time before I overcame that and became a Yankees partisan. But nevertheless, thank God for this little inequity. It made things a little more interesting.