WHAT'S SO special about another book on streetball in New York City? In Inside the Cage: A Season at West 4th Street's Legendary Tournament ( Simon & Schuster, 275 pages, $22.95) the summer tournament's longtime patron, Wight Martindale, offers a glimpse of life on the pint-sized court in a Greenwich Village neighborhood known more for its bake shops than its ballers. Each year players from Brownsville and Bed-Stuy congregate for some of the city's most compelling street games, under the direction of Kenny Graham, a limo driver who organized the first Cage tournament more than a quarter century ago.
Employing colorful anecdotes and more than a few cautionary tales, Martindale introduces the characters--from the NBA dreamers to the drug dealer turned coach to the scraggly scorekeeper called Moneybags--who carry the story, and a good one it is. While elsewhere street games can get out of hand, fighting is not a factor at the Cage because one incident could result in Village residents pushing for a swift revocation of the tournament's permit. Graham rules with unquestioned authority. As Martindale writes, "The Cage at West 4th Street is hallowed ground--for all the right reasons." -- Chris Mannix