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.