Ball Don't Lie


Sticky is a beat-around-the-head foster kid with nowhere to call home but the street, and an outer shell so tough that no one will take him in. He started out life so far behind the pack that the finish line seems nearly unreachable. He’s a white boy living and playing in a world where he doesn’t seem to belong.

But Sticky can ball. And basketball might just be his ticket out . . . if he can only realize that he doesn’t have to be the person ...

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Ball Don't Lie

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Sticky is a beat-around-the-head foster kid with nowhere to call home but the street, and an outer shell so tough that no one will take him in. He started out life so far behind the pack that the finish line seems nearly unreachable. He’s a white boy living and playing in a world where he doesn’t seem to belong.

But Sticky can ball. And basketball might just be his ticket out . . . if he can only realize that he doesn’t have to be the person everyone else expects him to be.

Matt de la Peña's breakout urban masterpiece, Ball Don’t Lie takes place where the street and the court meet and where a boy can be anything if he puts his mind to it.


[STAR] "[An] inspiring story. Sticky is a true original, and de la Peña has skillfully brought him to life."-School Library Journal, Starred

"Riveting...Teens will be strongly affected by the unforgettable, distinctly male voice; the thrilling, unusually detailed basketball action; and the questions about race, love, self-worth, and what it means to build a life without advantages."-Booklist

"Stunningly realistic, this book will hook older readers, especially urban teen males."-Voice of Youth Advocates

"The characters live and breath...This is a must-read."-The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"De la Peña does an excellent job of combining the streets with the sport. Gritty and mesmerizing."-Kirkus Reviews

"I have never before seen blacktop ball depicted so well. In this novel, you will find its flash, its power, and its elegance without chains. This is powerful stuff."-Antawn Jamison, forward for the Los Angeles Clippers

"From the very first sentence, this book grabbed me and didn't let go. The deeper I got into it, the more I felt like Sticky's story was my story. His heart, his handle, the guys in the gym, his potential pitfalls, his dreams. All of it. In a weird sense, this is my life."-Grayson Boucher ("The Professor") of tha AND 1 Mix Tape Tour

"Truly authentic in its examination of both the game I love and the invariable missteps toward manhood. You cannot fail to be moved by the eloquence and truth of this story."-Rick Fox, former forward for the Los Angeles Lakers

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
De la Pena recounts one eventful day in the life of basketball phenom Sticky Reichard, 17, with flashbacks that fill in his horrific childhood. Since age seven, Sticky's ricocheted between group and foster homes before settling in Venice Beach, Calif. Along the way, he picked up a passion for basketball, and his obsessive-compulsive habits enhance his game-he practices constantly. Despite a demonstrated lack of interest in school (a freshman-year report card contains "five Fs and a C in PE"), a college scholarship is on the horizon, and so is a healthy relationship with "super-pretty Vietnamese girl," Anh-thu. But can Sticky overcome his past-the cigarette-burn scars from his mother's pimp, his mother's violent death, the succession of indifferent caretakers? The group home director tells him he's "a good person," but Sticky's morals allow for compulsive shoplifting, and he celebrates a big win with mindless vandalism that lands him in jail. It's easy to feel sorry for him but he's tough to like. The author's depiction of the foster care system seems over-the-top (the first would-be parent dies of cancer, the next doesn't even provide a bed, a third catches his daughter with Sticky unclothed). Still, readers will find the portrait of this obsessive-compulsive's rituals both on and off the court fascinating. The prose moves with the rhythm of a bouncing basketball and those who don't mind mixing their sports stories with some true grit may find themselves hypnotized by Sticky's grim saga. Ages 14-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
This is a work of art by a newcomer to the field. It's a dark tale about a basketball player, related in the third person about a teenager whose personal history couldn't be much worse. Sticky is white; his mother was a prostitute whose pimp hurt her little boy. After her suicide Sticky was sent to a series of foster homes. This back-story is revealed in short segments intersecting the events in the present, when Sticky is turning 17. Much of Sticky's current life is about being on a basketball court, shooting hoops. "But this game is Sticky's drug. It's his stage. This court is Sticky's home. It's his hiding place. It's his church. And he's the one who gets to talk to God." He is highly talented, almost sure to get a college scholarship; for him, the NBA dream is truly all he has. He rarely talks and is practically incapable of relating to others except through basketball. A group of black guys who play ball and hang out at the community rec center slowly become his family: "Yo, I don't know about y'all, but when I look at Stick now, I don't even see white. I see family." There is a lovely girlfriend who is just turning 15 and worried that she is pregnant with Sticky's baby; there are thefts, there is a shooting, there are frequent swearwords. All those familiar with the rhythms of basketball will feel the same rhythms in de la Pena's prose. Oddly, even Sticky's sometimes-recurring obsessive repetitions (a bit of OCD) can seem like the dribbling of a basketball on the court. The author played college ball and this book has a recommendation by Rick Fox, from the LA Lakers, who says it is "truly authentic in its examination of both the game I love and the invariable missteps towardmanhood." KLIATT Codes: S*—Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students. 2005, Random House, Delacorte, 279p., Ages 15 to 18.
—Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-"That white boy can ball-.He don't play like no regular white boy." Sticky, 17, has spent his life being abused by pimps living with his prostitute mother, bouncing from one foster home to another, and living on the street between failed placements. But he's developed incredible hoop skills that have given him considerable social standing among his mostly black peers. And he gets a girlfriend named Anh-thu, who loves him and wants to help him reach his dreams. Sticky sees basketball as his way out of his dead-end life and is determined to make the right moves in the game to attain his goal. But he doesn't quite know how to make the right moves in his life, until a bad decision leads him to confront dark secrets. Jumping back and forth in time, this first novel has a unique narrative voice that mixes street lingo, basketball jargon, and trash talk to tell Sticky's sorry saga from a variety of viewpoints. Although readers who are not familiar with basketball may have trouble following some of the detailed game action, even they will be involved in the teen's at once depressing and inspiring story. Sticky is a true original, and de la Pe-a has skillfully brought him to life.-Jack Forman, Mesa College Library, San Diego Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Travis Reichard only answers to the name Stick. He hangs out at Lincoln Park basketball court in Los Angeles, which is practically a character in itself. It's the only place that feels like home and where his skills give him some street cred. Shuffled from one foster home to another after his mother's suicide, Stick fits with the rough camaraderie of the other hoopsters, even if some are homeless. Stick's history gradually emerges as his reflections and memories surface. The rhythm of dribble, jump shot and dunk punctuates the narrative, resulting in a staccato effect that mimics a fast-paced hoops game. Suspense builds as Stick's life unfolds with its possibilities of mayhem and disaster. Will the advice of old hoops players, homeless friends and the beautiful Anh-thu, a girlfriend both loyal and ignorant about his life, be powerful enough to overcome the horrors from the past and the complete lack of support or guidance up until now? Basketball has an urban fan base, and de la Pe-a does an excellent job of combining the streets with the sport. Gritty and mesmerizing. (Fiction. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385734257
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 3/13/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 156,773
  • Age range: 14 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.37 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

Ball Don't Lie was Matt de la Peña’s first novel, which was chosen by the American Library Association as both a Quick Pick and Best Book for Young Adults. He attended the University of the Pacific on a basketball scholarship and went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing at San Diego State University. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, where he teaches creative writing. Look for Matt's other books, Mexican WhiteBoy, We Were Here, I Will Save You, and The Living, all available from Delacorte Press. You can visit him at

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Read an Excerpt

Dreadlock Man,

with his fierce fists and suspect jump shot, sets his stuff ($1.45 sandals, key to bike lock, extra T-shirt) on the bleachers and holds his hands out for the ball. It's ten in the morning and Lincoln Rec has just opened. Sticky's at the free-throw line working out his routine, while all the regulars come swaggering in. Come on, little man, Dreadlock Man says. Give up the rock.

Sticky throws an around-the-back, no-look dime. Watches Dreadlock Man rise into the air with his awful form—calves tightening, dreads scattering, eyes poised on the goal—and let go of a sorry-looking line drive. Before he comes back down to the dusty old hardwood, he yells out: Peanut Butter! Says it every time he takes a jumper. Peanut Butter! That's what he wants everyone to call him, but nobody does.
When the ball ricochets off the side of the backboard, entirely missing the rim, he says what any man would say: Hey, yo, Stick, let me get one more.

Hawk passes through the door, from sunny day into old dark gym. A big black man. Wears bright wraparound shades and baggy shorts, the new Jordans on his size-sixteen feet. Hawk has a little money to his name. He's one of the few Lincoln Rec ballers who does. Some of the regulars say he made a few movies a couple years back. A stunt double maybe or security on the set. If you look quickly, get a fast profile shot, you might think he looks like someone.

Hey, yo, Dreadlock Man, he says, megaphoning a hand around his mouth. I got five says you brick that shot. The whole side of his shaved head flexes as he chews hard at his gum.
Dreadlock Man takes a couple awkward dribbles and rises again. Peanut Butter! This time his ball arcs through the air without backspin. A Phil Niekro knuckleball that thuds off the back of the rim and drops into Sticky's waiting hands.

Damn, Dreadlock Man, your shot's straight broke. Hawk falls into the bleachers laughing, goes to lace up his new sneaks.

Other dudes come strutting into the gym. Slapping hands. Slinging their bags onto the bleachers and talking trash.

Sticky high-dribbles to the other end of the court, spins in an acrobatic reverse. He points up at an invisible crowd.

Dreadlock Man watches, hands on hips. Yells out: Come on, Stick, we tryin to shoot down here.
A couple other balls get tossed into the rotation. Everybody shooting short set-shots to get warm, stretching out stiff shoulders and legs. Most of these cats are just out of bed. A couple have pulled themselves off a piece of cardboard on court two, having spent the night where all the homeless stay.
Lincoln Rec functions both as a great place to hoop and a small-time homeless shelter.
Sometimes things overlap.

Sticky comes dribbling down from the other side of the court with his left hand. He goes right up to Dante, who's just walked in carrying a duffel bag, the best player in the gym, and shoots a soft twenty-footer over his outstretched hand. Dante and Sticky watch the ball smack both sides of the rim and bounce off toward the east sideline.

Go get that brick, Stick, Dante says. Bring it back my way so you could watch a real shooter.
Dante played ball overseas for six or seven seasons; he's slick with both the rock and his mouth. Some cats say, Watch it, man, to newcomers, dude will beat you two times. Then they sit back and clown those who brush off their warning:

Told ya, dawg. Didn't I tell him, Big J, when he walked his sorry ass in here?

Yeah, I heard it, OP. I was sitting right there when you said it.

Dante's skin shines black as night, and his hair is scarecrow wild. The devil's growth fingers out from his chin.

Sticky skips a bounce pass to Dante, who pats it around his back a little, through his legs some, close to the ground with his tips like a magician, and then fires up a twenty-five-footer that nestles in the gut of the net. You see how I play the strings, young Stick? He laughs a little and nods his head: Just like that, baby boy. That's string music.

Dante struts off the court with hip-hop rhythm, brushes past a businessman (who's stopped in to watch these black guys play: arms folded, subtle smile) and lies down near the bleachers to stretch his thirty-seven-year-old back.

This is Lincoln Rec on a Thursday, midsummer.

It's the best place in L.A. to ball. Some sports mag even did a cover story about it a few years back. Gym manager Jimmy's gold-tooth smile spread right across pages seventy-two and seventy-three. The article talked about how one court houses the homeless and the other accommodates the fearless. How Michael Cage sometimes shows up. Cliff Levingston. Eddie Johnson. Bill Walton was quoted saying: "It's the sweetest run in all of Southern California." The gym is in the middle of a pretty good-sized park, adjacent to some museums and business offices. The place gets so dark that when you've been in there a while and you go to peek your head outside to check your car, your eyes freeze up and hide like you've just stared in the sun.

Games go to eleven straight up. No win by two here. Fouls are called by the offense. The ball they use is dead weight. The leather has soaked up so much sweat from so many different dudes over the years, it takes a lot of legs just to get it up to the rim.

Other than that, there's a constant sour smell in the air, a no dunking sign that nobody pays attention to, and an unwritten rule that all who step foot through the gym doors with the intention of getting on the court better come with their A-game.

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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2012

    Great book- could npy put it down

    This book Ball dont lie was a great book. I loved this book and could not put it down because it was about the sport I play. It is not for younger children. I'd suggest it for middle schoolers that like action and sport. this is a realistic fiction book. The characters come to life in the inner cities and all they do is play basketball.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2011

    spanish project

    This was a great book. The best part about it is the plot. Its one of those suspenceful books that just makes you want to keep reading and reading and you dont want to stop but eventually you have to. This book is also aspecially good if you like anything about basketball because its a basketball book. You honestly dont even need to like basketball to read this book, if your in to reading about children that have a rough life at home and about how life is actually on the streets this is a great selection for you. This book is about this kid named Sticky just your average normal kid in the wrong part of the neighborhood. The bad part is...thats his home, the neighborhood. he has no where to call HOME,he gets abussed by a group of pimps everyday and he's a foster kid with a prostitute mother so he basically just keeps bouncing from one fostor family to the next because he cant fine anything secure...he doesnt have the greatest life in the world. Beside from that this kid can ball, hes a really good baller and that could be the solution to him getting out of the neighborhood. Might I mention that he is in an all black community and he is definatly showin them up. He is the only white kid in his community so is the outcast. But the fact was he was able to ball with these kids and he was good. The problem with him not getting reconized by people is because of the neighborhood he lives in and the community. No one wants to go out to that area to look for basketball players because their afraid. I definatly recomend this book to everyone...especially people that like to read about that sort of stuff. Maybe that one day will come for Stick and he'll be able to get out, read the book to find out!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 12, 2012

    The book Ball Don't Lie by Mat t de la Pena, published by Random

    The book Ball Don't Lie by Mat t de la Pena, published by Random House Children's Books in 2005, seems like it takes place present day. It was a very unique and realistic book, even for it being fiction. A lot of teens can relate to the main character, Sticky, also known as Travis Reichard. He was a young kid, hopping around from one foster home to another throughout the area of Santa Monica, California. Always quiet and keeping to himself.  As many children, teens, and even adults, he had a big dream. He wanted nothing more than to make it big in the NBA, basket ball was his life. 
    Sticky grew up with a mother who was in the prostitution business and her boyfriend who was abusive. Money was always tough for them, so Sitcky's mother would stick him on a busy street in dirty clothes with sign, begging for change. One day, when Stick was out with his bowl for change, he would sit there and take the change out. Toss it back in. Take it out, and repeat until it sounded right. He ended up being OCD, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Growing up, he focused a lot on basket ball. It was his life, his world revolved around it, "Cause it's all I got in my life, you know? Playin ball. It's all I got in the whole world." (pg.69) Having obsession compulsion disorder, only made him better at the came because he spent so much time perfecting every play he made. There was more to the story besides the game, there was love too. It was a really special thing that him and his girl, Annie (Anh-thu) had together. It was an instant connection, it's not everyday you walk into a store to steal some pants, and instead walk out with someone holding your heart. She supported him 100%, attending all his games, even the play-off's. Everyday, Sticky's life was changing and he was growing, and so was his game. The pick-up games he played in at the Lincoln Rec court with the older guys for fun, just built him up more. He believed the God was going to get him into the NBA, it was his plan for him. He believed it too. 
    This book taught me a lot, it showed me that no matter what kind of life style you come from, or how bad your past is, as long as you stay focused and have the drive to go for your dream you have a chance. Sometimes, something good can come out of something bad. You just have to be open minded and not dwell on things that will only bring you down. Focus on what your good at and what makes you happy, that's how you get by in life, just like Sticky did. He did what he knew best and what made him happy. All in all, it was a nice book. I'm not really into third person writing, and it confused me at times when it jumps from the past to the present, but it was very good. I would recommend this book to anyone with a love of basket ball or even any sport, or someone who's going through a similar process Sticky did. Moving around from place to place, never having the money, things that a lot of teens go through having a hard life. There's always hope.

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  • Posted May 1, 2012

    Boring, Dull, and thoughtless

    When starting this book, I was very interested in the story of Sticky and the other ballers at the Lincoln Rec. Excited to read the hardships and deep stories, I dove into the book with high. It didn’t keep my attention, seemed predictable and was not as interesting as I had thought. The plot also seemed like it had been written before. Sticky seemed almost predictable at times. With all of his problems, none of them seemed real and the story just couldn’t draw me in. Characters seemed only paper deep and couldn’t create a picture in my head of who they were and how they acted. Maybe it was my lack of sympathy or just the story went over my head, but when I read, the story couldn’t pull me in. I would honestly only recommend this book to children under 15. Any age over that, nobody would enjoy the fake storyline.

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  • Posted January 3, 2012

    really good..too bad the movie is hard to find

    i like the book alot since it from the period of the early 2000s and the setting is in california my home state....

    the story itsef is easy follow none of that looking up the dictionary for every word....highly reccomended.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2011

    Ball Don't Lie true or false

    If you are the type of person that like to see the development of plot, the advancement of the lives of many people, ports, and drama, then you'll love Ball Don't Lie. The book's first few chapters give a very thorough description of the characters' lives. The description is so thorough, that you will feel as though you've lived that life yourself. The title stood out to me and drew my attention by the fact that I love basketball, and I automatically knew it was about basketball. Anyone can relate to the events that takes place in the book. No matter if they were sad, happy, frightening or even fear, you can relate, or even feel the emotion. The book doesn't perplex you, and has a great significant message.

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  • Posted August 3, 2010

    Student Review

    An interesting story of a boy dedicated to the sport of basketball. His tough life in the inner-city helps him understand that he doesn't need to be like everyone else. Especially when it comes to basketball. The author's details about the basketball games make you feel like you're actually playing the game. The story started slowly but once it got into the games it became more interesting to read. If you like basketball, you will like this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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