After the season, Jerry Joseph joined up with the New Mexico Force AAU team, and the team went on the road. The inevitable happened in April, while Jerry ran up and down the court in Little Rock, Ark., rising high above the rim. These were the last moments of the new life he'd built, and it's easy to imagine how happy he must have felt.
A van carrying a South Florida team parked outside, and, as usual, team comedian Fred Landers ran ahead of everyone, the first to get to the gym. Fred played at Dillard, worked at Marty Seidlin's camps, and, when he was younger, sat in the stands and studied Guerdwich's game: the way he shot, the way he ran. Fred walked into the gym, looked out on the court and saw the vanished Guerdwich Montimere. "He was shocked to see me," Fred says. "When I walked in, he tried to duck his head, like, 'Oh, my god, there goes Fred.'"
AP Photo/Odessa American/Kevin Buehler
In this photo made Jan. 26, 2010, an Odessa Permian high school basketball player, who identified himself as Jerry Joseph, right, drives against Midland High's Paul Merchant (No. 21) during a basketball game at the Permian Fieldhouse in Odessa, Texas.
Fred exploded from the gym. He was laughing so hard it was a struggle to get out the words.
"Guess who's on the court?" he said. "Guerdwich!"
"No way," coach Lou Vives said. "Is he reffing? Coaching?"
"No," Fred cackled. "He's playing!"
The team crowded along the side of the court, screaming at Jerry Joseph, "Yo, Gurt! I know you hear me! Don't act like you don't know me!"
Jerry heard but didn't look. He took himself out of the game, then sat on the bench for a long stretch until the coach put him back in. The ball was passed to him in the paint; he had a clear path to the rim and a backboard-shaking dunk, but Jerry just laid it in softly.
The game ended, and Jerry tried to slip away from the South Florida team. Lou confronted him. Jerry said he didn't know Lou and kept going. Lou saw something in his eyes. "When he looked at me," he says, "it was like, 'I'm busted. I'm busted.' And if he would have just said, 'Yo, Coach, meet me in the bathroom, I got to tell you something,' I would have been like, 'Gurt, you got to pack your s--- and leave and be Guerdwich again. This is real crazy right now.'"
After their game, a Florida coach checked the book for Guerdwich's name and, in its place, found someone named Jerry Joseph. Later, the teammates crowded around the hotel lobby's computer. They typed in Jerry Joseph and found The Odessa American story that had run after the earthquake, read about him being homeless, about the dead parents. Jerry Joseph started getting, and denying, Facebook friend requests from Florida. Word spread fast in Broward County. At the Odessa paper, the tech guys noticed that the old story suddenly rocketed into the top five most read.
The days fill with strange conspiracy theories. I talk to Voodoo priests and basketball coaches. Who knows what is true? I talk with an AAU coach in Texas. He says that, a month before Little Rock, he received an email from a Florida coach who'd seen the news story about Jerry Joseph being named conference newcomer of the year. The Florida coach told him he knew the kid. Eventually, I get the Florida coach on the phone. He doesn't want his name used; the Broward County hoops scene has circled its wagons around Guerdwich Montimere.
"I think that Guerdwich might be his alias, and Jerry Joseph might be his real name," he said. "I think everybody is accepting things as facts that aren't necessarily facts. When he came over here the first time, I really think that Jerry Joseph was his real name. I think when he came here and went to Dillard as Gurt, that was a completely made-up identity."
He paints a picture of South Florida hallways full of kids from Haiti, from Cuba, from the Caribbean and Central America, people with no past and no paperwork. Communities don't care if someone is too old; a few years seems like a silly reason not to get an education. Entire neighborhoods become a haze of facts and dates. People learn to differentiate between the real you and the you that is constructed to make it through the world. Identities are fluid.
"The lady you talking to probably ain't even his mom," the coach says. "That's the way this s--- works."