The Other NBA Seeks to Answer the Question: Are Literary Types Any Good at Basketball?

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In what is sure to be the greatest game in basketball history the greatest basketball game in literary history, writers and publishers will face off this Saturday right here in Brooklyn in “The Other NBA: Writers vs. Editors.” The game will feature writers like Alex Gilvarry, Mitchell S. Jackson, Natalie Diaz, and Jess Walter, as well as publishing powerhouses like Steph Ophitz, Calvin Reed, and Katie Freeman. Taking on announcing duties will be local lit luminaries Jason Diamond and Kevin Nguyen. All profits from the game will go to support the expansion of BookUp, the National Book Foundation’s reading program for underserved middle school students, to Detroit and beyond. We spoke with Benjamin Samuel of the National Book Foundation about why the game is being held, what to expect this Saturday, and what kind of trash-talking to expect.

It must be so frustrating to be subjected to constant confusion with, you know, the other NBA.  How did the idea for such a game come into existence, and what does the event aim to do?
I’d say the confusion between the lit world and the athletic world can be funnier than it is frustrating. Was that shot rejected by Dikembe Mutumbo or The Paris Review? Is Valeria Luiselli a 5 Under 35 Honoree, or did she go for 5 for 5 from the free-throw line? What’s a bigger joke, that cartoon in the New Yorker or the New York Knicks? [Ed. note: The Knicks. Always the Knicks]

The idea for The Other NBA did come from Twitter’s confusion between the National Basketball Association (#NBA) and the National Book Awards (#NBAwards)—we correct it as often as we can, but the Internet does what it wants. When we learned that Sherman Alexie and Jess Walter (a National Book Award Winner and Finalist, respectively) actually play basketball together, hosting a game with award-winning writers was inevitable. And Jess Walter will actually be playing in the game on Saturday. But The Other NBA is more than just a game, it’s a fundraiser to bring BookUp, our reading program for middle school students in low income communities, to Detroit, a city with a 47% adult illiteracy rate.

What is the nature of the National Book Foundation’s relationship with BookUp?
BookUp is a program established and run by the National Book Foundation. We’re best recognized as the presenter of the National Book Awards, but our mission is to expand the audience for literature in America. We accomplish that goal through programs including BookUp, the Innovations in Reading Prize, and National Readathon Day.

The game will have writers pitted against publishing superpowers.  What are the team rosters looking like?  Are there any existing rivalries between the opposing team’s players that we should look forward to playing out? Who can we expect to emerge victorious?
The Other NBA’s rosters read like a literary dream team. And we’re immensely grateful for the generosity to everyone involved, including the referees, announcers, and players, who are all volunteering their time—and basketball skills. As far as predicting a winner? It’s a tough call. We’ve put together some very competitive teams. If you ask the publishers who’ll win, they’ll tell you the publishers are a sure thing. The writers will tell you that the writers are a lock. But the real winner will be the students in Detroit who will benefit from the BookUp program. As Junot Díaz said of BookUp: “To give a young person the gift of reading is to give them the fulcrum with which they can move the universe.”

(Also, attendees of The Other NBA can win too: we’re raffling off great prizes, including a pair of tickets to the 2015 NBA draft!)

Are literary types going to naturally be good at talking smack?
The answer is unequivocally yes. But it’s still best to let the players speak for themselves.

“Most of these guys can barely get a byline, let alone take it baseline.” – Jonny Diamond (Lit Hub)

“We’ve been rejected by the New Yorker, Paris Review, Harper’s, et al. Enough is enough. It’s time to bite back the hand that feeds us, basket after basket. However… we’d still like to continue to publish books and stories in your magazines and cultivate our growing relationship, no matter how bad a beating we dish out game time.” – Alex Gilvarry (From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant)

“Congrats authors, you’ve left the house. That’s huge for you, I get it. But, guess what? YOU’RE IN MY HOUSE NOW.” – Steph Opitz (Texas Book Festival)

“We are your worst nightmare—well, you know, aside from a rapacious Amazon, the Department of Justice and the inevitable collapse of commercial publishing as a viable commercial enterprise.” – Jess Walter (Beautiful Ruins), who added “I don’t suppose anyone wants to share a cab to the hospital after this.” 

Writers aren’t exactly known to be the greatest jocks, at least not in the traditional high school social circles. Will this game promise to be as riveting as the real NBA playoffs?
I promise The Other NBA will be even more riveting than the NBA playoffs. When you watch professionals playing sports, you know what to expect. When writers and publishers leave their desks and come out on the basketball court, who knows what will happen!

The Other NBA: Writers vs Publishers will be held Saturday, June 20 from 3-6pm at St. Francis College Brooklyn, 180 Remsen Street, Brooklyn Heights

For more info on the Other NBA, including where to get tickets for the game, visit here.

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