The Street Singer – a semi-autobiographical account of how a struggling street entertainer became an unlikely player in bringing the Brooklyn Nets to the Barclay’s Arena – was written by Skokie native Stephen Witt. Witt attended Lincoln Jr. High and later Niles East High School.
The Street Singer follows subway musician Jason Spirit as he stumbles into contact with Thaddeus Hoover, a high-powered developer with a plan to build a huge arena in Brooklyn and also bring in the first major professional sports team since the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Spirit ends up pitting the key players and opponents against each other as he plots to get a song he’s written to a famous rapper who’s heavily involved in the development of the project.
Sound kind of familiar?
The story’s re-telling is a satire that takes the reader on an intimate, nail-biting and comical journey.
Witt, a Skokie native and by extension, he says, a huge sports fan, got the idea for the book after Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov announced he was buying the Brooklyn Nets.
“I thought that was such an irony: We’re in New York City, which is supposedly the center of American capitalism,” said Witt at the reading. “But in New York City, if you dig a hole in the ground, you have to get the community involvement-- It’s like, how many people does it take to build in NY? It takes the whole community.
“And when it came down to it, Ratner (Barclay’s developer) ran out of money, and the project would have never happened unless a Russian oligarch, a billionaire with ties to the Kremlin, came in an invested in it.
“When he bought the team is when I got the idea to write the book.”
Witt has a somewhat smug and familiar take on the players and the playbook for the entire Barclays Arena project. Why? One, because he covered much of the project's development as a journalist. And two, because, according to him, he was largely responsible for getting the Nets to Brooklyn.
“Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz will collaborate it,” said Witt of his story.
“When Marty first got elected, I was assigned to cover his very first state of the borough address,” he said. “One of the first things he said was he wanted to bring an NBA team here. And when he said it, everybody laughed, and all the reporters used it as the lead.
“But when I came back to the office, I took it on my own to call the NBA office. I looked at the Nets, because I saw they could not sell out except during the finals. I called the owner 5 or 6 times and only got through to the secretary. So then I called Marty and told him to call this guy.”
And well, the rest is history.
The Street Singer, a tale of money, sex and power during a changing Brooklyn, is re-told with light-hearted humor and subjective precision, through the eyes of an unsung subway musician and via the pen of an award-winning journalist.