His mother, Mary, used to take him to plays, mostly local productions. They would see anything: dramas, musicals, comedies. Once a week she would let him go to McDonald's, where sometimes his Happy Meal came with a CD that featured a compilation of rerecorded pop music. Together they'd wear out those discs. They grew to share an affinity for celebrities, for people who perform. It's something that continues to connect them.
Alex is 14. He's a freshman who prefers the company of older kids, adults even. He wants to be the one teen who's not fixated on drinking and drugs and sex. After football season, he becomes the manager of the basketball team. He learns the game. He gets to know the players.
In the spring he and a friend start a pop-culture website— boxofMESS.com (Music, Entertainment, Sports and Style). The idea is to feature news and interviews with bona fide celebrities, but snagging chat time with legit A-listers proves difficult. Finally Alex has a breakthrough.
Jason Thompson accepts his friend request on Facebook. Like Alex, Thompson is a Jersey boy, and after a stellar career in-state at Rider University the 6'11" forward-center became a first-round draft pick of the Kings in 2008. Thompson agrees to an interview, which gets good traffic on the site.
The experience leads Alex to a realization: Getting regular interviews with NBA players will be tough, but five years ago Thompson was just another kid knocking around the New Jersey suburbs. Alex has now become the team manager for a local AAU team, NJABC, and he's come to circulate among the best high school ballers in the area. He begins to interview them and post the results on boxofMESS.
As the summer progresses, the team begins to travel to bigger tournaments—Alex has gone as far as West Virginia and Florida—and he finds himself among a wider array of recruits, including some of the top players in the game. They're standing right there, in flip-flops and baggy shorts, earmuff-sized headphones propped on their heads. Most of them are more than happy to answer questions about where they may "take their talents." Alex likes scouting the less recruited kids too, finding those unpolished gems and giving them a swipe with the cuff of his shirt.
And he's good at it. He's a natural on camera. The players seem to relate to him too. He's not some wrinkled 40-year-old with a tape recorder and an advanced degree in cynicism. He's another kid, and the conversations often have the air of before-the-homeroom-bell chat sessions.
Alex likes the game. It's a forum in which kids command the attention of adults, and unanswered questions drive the plot. Each player is a mystery waiting to be solved, a source of anxiety waiting to be eliminated. Alex knows about questions. He knows about lying in bed at night asking why, how, when?
His name has begun to spider outward like cracks across a windshield, but he wants more—needs more. He goes online and looks up the top 100 high school players, then opens Facebook and sends a friend request to everyone on the list who has an account.
Alex is 10. He and his father, Robert, have moved to New York City, where he attends a private school on the Upper East Side. His father picks him up one day, a rainy afternoon in January. Back at the apartment Alex sits. Robert tells him. Alex cries.