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Matt & Luke Bonner's Concord YMCA Mixtape...Volume 1
Matt Bonner can’t believe his luck. The little brother he used to tie to a basketball pole as a kid is playing up the road for the Spurs D-League team, the Austin Toros.
Luke Bonner can’t believe his luck. The big brother who used to feed him chocolate to trigger painful, allergic reactions is playing down the road in San Antonio.
For the first time since childhood, the Bonner brothers – five years apart – are close enough to watch each other play, trade pranks and exchange elbows, knees and body checks in a regular game of one-on-one.
"We’re very close," says Matt, who stands 6-10 but lost his height advantage to Luke years ago.
"I was the best man in his wedding," says Luke, who stands 7-1 and enjoys banging against his older brother.
Back home in Concord, N.H., Luke was the annoying, tag-along brother Matt used to torment. Today, Luke is the bigger, younger brother who, at last, plays for the same organization as Matt – Spurs Sports & Entertainment.
"It’s unbelievable," says Dave Bonner and the 6-7 father means it. In winter sport-loving New Hampshire, nobody envisioned a future in pro ball for the brothers even though they had game.
Matt, Luke and middle sister Becky grew up as gym rats, keeping score and running the clock for games Dave refereed on weekends. If they weren’t working for dad, they were shooting hoops. And if they weren’t shooting hoops, Matt – and sometimes Becky, a former college basketball star herself -- were abusing Luke.
True story: Matt once promised to give Luke the best Christmas present ever. Matt repeated the promise day after day until Luke, then in first grade, could hardly stand the suspense. On Christmas morning, Matt made Luke open the long-awaited gift last. After ripping off the paper, Luke opened a box and found ... a Barbie doll.
Luke threw the doll at Matt, who was on the floor laughing, then stormed out of the room. Becky, meanwhile, was holding another gift: new clothes for Barbie.
"I’ve never seen him that mad," Dave says. "Matt and Becky would do quite a bit to him. Luke was allergic to chocolate and they’d make him eat it just to see what would happen and then it would happen. He’d get sick."
Matt recalls taking Luke into the woods on a bike ride and leading him to a high hill. The coolest thing, Matt told him, was to pedal downhill as fast as possible. What Matt neglected to mention was the ditch down below.
"He went flying into the ditch and came out with the handle bars twisted the wrong way," Matt says. "He was really mad at me about that one."
Luke Bonner Takes the Matt Bonner Challenge
Years later, while averaging 6.9 points and 5.4 rebounds at the University of Massachusetts, Luke claimed revenge. One day Matt received a Cowboy-themed calendar – the details of which he won’t disclose – with a message that said: "Barbie Payback."
Now they’re best friends until they step on the court. "It gets physical," Matt says. "He’s bigger and stronger and can totally take me out."
Off the court, the Bonners' attend concerts, frequent video arcades, go on road trips and pull pranks. Once, they set off firecrackers outside their house on Christmas Eve, hoping to scare their parents. Instead, they frightened the dog and their dad stumbled out, laughing.
The brothers also share a passion for frugality. Matt, for example, spends little of his NBA paycheck on transportation. In Toronto he rode street cars. In San Antonio, he tools around in a Pontiac, which he bought in New Hampshire because the state has no sales tax.
How tight is Matt? He once ventured into a sandwich shop with a "50 percent off" coupon to save a couple of bucks.
How tight is Luke? "He’s never bought me a meal in his entire life," Matt says. "Not a half a sandwich, not a bowl of soup, not anything."
Matt lives on the cheap. He once played for an Italian team that went bankrupt. Matt didn't get paid the second half of the season, almost got evicted from his apartment, lived without heat and electricity and developed a severe case of food poisoning.
Now he writes a sandwich blog and solicits comment from Luke. The brothers may scrimp on material things but not with charity. They started a summer event, "Speakers and Sneakers," to raise money for the Boys and Girls Club in Concord, where Matt learned to play hoops.
It's a long way from a ditch in the woods to a dream in pro ball. Looking back, that head-over-heels spill with those twisted handlebars appears comically prophetic. At the time, not one person in New Hampshire history had ever reached the NBA, and maybe a handful had played any kind of pro ball. More than a decade later, two prank-loving brothers have pulled a fast one on the folks back home.