My story always begins in Astoria, in the housing project in Queens where I grew up playing ball with the guys, my grandmother watching out for me through a bedroom window in our apartment. When people write stories about me, they always call it something of a desolate place, my building one of a bunch of battered-looking high-rises grouped together along the East River, with the basketball courts in the center. There's a lot of graffiti, and I suppose a lot of drugs, if you wanted them and knew where to look. I never did, and no one ever bothered me.
It wasn't a pretty place, but that's not something I really noticed. To...