Swampscott resident Ian Thomsen, one of the nation’s leading sportswriters for the past three decades, will be in Winthrop on April 19 to talk about his new book, “The Soul of Basketball: The Epic Showdown Between Lebron, Kobe, Doc and Dirk That Saved the NBA.”
Thomas will be speaking about the book and his illustrious career and signing autographs during a special appearance at the Cottage Park Yacht Club.
Thomsen, considered a giant in the writing profession (and not only because he stands a towering 6 feet, 6 inches tall), has a strong affinity for Winthrop. His wife, Maureen (Ford), and well-known Winthrop resident Kathleen Doherty are sisters. He is a proud uncle to Kathleen’s four, talented daughters, who excelled in sports at Winthrop High School. Thomsen has visited the town on many occasions and enjoys many of the restaurants here, especially Alia Ristorante.
Thomsen’s book, which focuses on the NBA’s 2010-11 season following LeBron James’s nationally televised “Decision” to play for the Miami Heat, is drawing rave reviews in advance of its April 17 release. His friend, Jackie MacMullan, with whom he interned at the Boston Globe, gave the book a “thumbs-up” during an appearance on ESPN’s “Around The Horn” this week.
It’s easy to see why Thomsen’s book would instantly become a “must-read” for fans of the world’s greatest basketball league. Following his graduation from Northwestern, which sits at the top of the list of college journalism programs in the country alongside Columbia and Missouri, Thomsen began working at the Globe where he covered three NBA finals of Larry Bird versus Magic Johnson. He was also courtside in Barcelona for the original Dream Team’s gold medal-winning performance in the Summer Olympics.
Thomsen said the book focuses on the 2010-11 NBA season that began with NBA prodigy LeBron James telling Jim Gray on “The Decision” that he would be leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers and going to “take my talents to South Beach (Miami).”
“At that time it looked like the NBA was really in trouble,” said Thomsen. “So LeBron was supposed to be the savior for the league, the next Michael Jordan, and over the course of several years, culminating with that show, he turned himself into the villain. He was the most hated athlete in America after that show, combined with the following day in Miami when he did that rally and pronounced that he would win five…six titles for Miami.”
The NBA was heading toward a lockout at that time, and there was talk of a shutdown of the league following the season due to a dispute between the owners and the NBA Players Union.
“That’s why I did the book – it was about that season and what was it really about,” said Thomsen. “Is this a game of making money and drawing audiences? Was is a business? Or was it something more valuable than a business? And that’s how the publisher came up with the title, “The Soul of Basketball” because it’s really trying to find out what the soul of the game is. It’s something more than money and fame.”
Thomsen’s conclusion: “That basketball becomes the sport of the American dream and that the biggest names in basketball are driven by something more valuable than money and fame.”
The NBA player who helped Thomsen figure out that basketball is the sport of the American dream was 7-footer Dirk Nowitzki, who has had a Hall of Fame-caliber career for the Dallas Mavericks.
“Dirk’s the hero of the book,” said Thomsen. “He’s an immigrant [from Germany] and he changed the game. He’s the first 7-footer to shoot three-pointers. He was drawn here by the ideals of basketball. He was never a commercial guy. He showed by winning the NBA championship in 2011 that it’s a dream for anyone around the world to play the American game, come to the greatest league in the world, and beat everybody at the game. He lived out his version of the American Dream and helps us come up with an identity for our sport.”
In compiling interviews for the book, Thomsen used his sterling reputation among the NBA community to gain inside access to players. Thomsen had a longtime connection to Nowitzki’s basketball mentor, Holger Geschwindner, about whom he had written a feature during his tenure as a writer for Sports Illustrated.
“He taught Dirk how to shoot the basketball – he invented a shooting stroke for Dirk and they practiced every day: footwork, balance, the proper angle and trajectory, keep your mouth open while you’re shooting, every last detail,” related Thomsen.
In addition to Nowitzki, the other main characters in the book are LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Doc Rivers.
“Kobe was really good for the book,” said Thomsen. “I joined Sports illustrated at the end of 1997, and I was assigned to do a story about Kobe and the Lakers. He was 19 years old, and we went to an outdoor restaurant in Santa Monica and we talked for four hours. The story made the cover. I think that relationship helped convince Kobe to talk to me for this book.”
Asked about the notorious Sports Illustrated cover jinx, Thomsen replied, “Kobe turned out okay.”
No less a brilliant sports columnist than Winthrop resident Leigh Montville, formerly of the Boston Globe and Sports illustrated, is praising Thomsen’s book.
Writes Montville on the book’s jacket, “Travel back to the 2010 season, when LeBron and his two amigos arrived in Miami, when Dirk asserted himself in Dallas, when the league went through an economic and social convulsion. Marinate to see all the repercussions. Thomsen tells the tale with the deft prose and snappy anecdotes and brings us all up to speed on what might come next.”
Winthrop fans will have the opportunity to meet the author in person and talk some basketball with him next week.
And that’s going to be hoop heaven for those who have followed the game.
By Seth Daniel
Local organizers said the City, its non-profits and its residents left a positive mark on a team of evaluators visiting the city from the Robert Wood Johnson Culture of Health prize last week.
“I thought it was exciting,” said Roseann Bongiovanni of GreenRoots, one of the planners. “We had planned so much for them to see and the community welcome at City Hall and the bus tour, and it all went much better than we anticipated…We actually made it to every place we wanted to go. We felt it was a great, inclusive view of the community…They said they felt their experience was really positive.”
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he was thrilled with the way the City was portrayed. He said he believes the City has a great chance of winning the $25,000 prize and all of the accolades that go with it.
“I was so proud of the City of Chelsea during those two days they were here,” he said. “It showcased how much great work is being done and the good collaboration that comes with non-profits and residents. This is a fantastic city. I was proud of the city and proud to be its leader. If we don’t prevail in this award, I want to visit the city that does because I can’t imagine anyone is doing better work than the City of Chelsea.”
The team arrived on Thursday, May 18, and were greeted at the Council Chambers with a large crowd of City officials, residents and non-profit leaders. Presentations were made by Ambrosino, State Housing Undersecretary Juan Vega, Chelsea Collaborative Director Gladys Vega, Council President Leo Robinson and Chamber President Sergio Jaramillo.
Yeny Solis, who was recently hired by the City’s Billing Department, gave testimony as to how she turned her life around. She said the community gave her a chance to flourish through her struggles, and she and her young son have done so.
“This community helped me to grow and spread my wings and find a successful life,” she said.
Jaramillo said the City was one he didn’t plan to stay in when he came to this country, but it grew on him until he was a part of it.
“You come to Chelsea and you don’t figure you will stay,” he said. “You figure you will move on to somewhere else. That’s what I thought, but the fabric of Chelsea is in my blood and my character. I now love this place.”
Bongiovanni said the evaluators visited Roca, the Box District, talked with Councillor Damali Vidot, Enio Lopez and Judith Garcia, went to the Clark Avenue School and also to the MGH Chelsea.
They also visited the New England Produce Center to see how environmental justice played out in the outfitting of diesel trucks with more environmentally friendly equipment.
“They asked us a lot of questions and they were very interested in how we address our health issues,” she said.
The City and the planning committee expects to find out if they win before July 4.
Council President Leo Robinson, Ron Robinson, Leo Buzzalino of ISD, Hector Prieto of ISD and Building Inspector Mike McAteer.
Compare Supermarket owner Al Calvo, Rev. Sandra Whitley, and City Treasurer Bob Boulrice.
School Committeeman Bobby Pereira and Councillor Damali Vidot.
Photographer John Kennard and Judy Mastrocola.
Roseann Bongiovanni welcomes the evaluators to City Hall, including (left) RWJ Director Karabi Acharya.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino welcomed the team to the City on Thursday afternoon.
Evaluators listen to the presenters (L-R) RWJ Communications Director Joe Marx, Lillian Rivera of Miami-Dade County Health Department, Rev. Sandra Whitley, RWJ Director Karabi Acharya, Devarati Syam and RWJ Deputy Director Carrie Carroll.
Chelsea Collaborative Director Gladys Vega details how far the City has come over the years in public health.
In a time when school and community face challenges in connecting, Chelsea High School (CHS) and the Chelsea Jewish Foundation have had no problems in bridging the gap and creating a strong partnership.
This month, Sept. 28, the Leonard Florence Center for Living (LFCL) on Admiral’s Hill will host it’s annual ALS & MS Walk for Living and scores of CHS students will once again be participating enthusiastically.
This according to Ilana Ascher, a history teacher at CHS, who has been appointed an Honorary Chair of the event.
Kiss 108 radio personality Matt Siegel will be the the host of the 6th annual signature event.
Ascher said this week that her students really enjoy participating in the walk and they began getting involved a few years ago with the InterACT Club – which is affiliated with the Rotary Club.
“Our students really do love the walk,” she said, noting that they hope to have 100 students participate. “The Center really does a great job of including its residents in the event. A lot of times the kids here do a walk and don’t connect with the reason or the people they are walking for. This walk is different because our kids have been able to tour the ALS center and meet the residents who they’re walking for.”
LFCL resident Steve Saling – a die-hard spokesman for the Center – has even come to talk to the kids at CHS and give his personal story and how he has overcome incredible odds.
As part of the Board, Ascher and two appointed student have been meeting with the rest of the walk coordinators all summer to fine-tune the details. It’s just one of many things the CHS students and the Center have collaborated on, though.
“The ALS Center really wants the kids to be a part of it during the walk and even during the rest of the year,” said Ascher. “There truly is a partnership that has formed between the ALS Center and CHS. This event is particularly good because it is short, quick and inspirational. The kids can feel good about what they’re doing and do something good right here in Chelsea.”
Ascher has taught at CHS for 10 years and spent two years in Chelsea middle schools. Prior to that, she taught in Miami, FL. She lives in Chelsea with her husband, whose family goes way back in the city.
His grandmother worked in the old Minsky’s Chicken Butcher Shop and attended the old Chelsea High School.
The ALS & MS Walk for Living will take place on Sept. 28 on Admiral’s Hill. For more details, call (617) 409-8973 or go online to www.walkforliving.org.