Ian Thomsen - Author of 'The Soul of Basketball: The Epic Showdown Between LeBron, Kobe, Doc, and Dirk That Saved the NBA'

Oct 26, 2020, 07:00 PM
Ian on the Zach Lowe Podcast: 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3njJaiTMzzA

Questions:
* To skip the introduction (3:35)
  1. Your book is called ‘The Soul of Basketball’ - why this title? Should it be so broadly ‘Basketball’ or the ‘NBA or NBA Basketball’? (4:30)
  2. The ‘bi-line’ of the book reads: ‘The epic showdown between LeBron, Kobe, Doc and Dirk that Saved the NBA’ - saved it from what? And with the latest Finals ratings so poor, do you still hold this belief? (7:03)
  3. You chose a quote by Wynton Marsalis to start your book. How did you find it? Why did you choose it? (12:35)
  4. “Rarely did Kobe make the game look as easy or artistic as Jordan” - I agree. Why do you suppose that was? (16:44)
  5. I want to talk to you about writing with courage - “Kobe’s stubbornness had been earned throughout his years of fighting to be the player he could never be. He could never be Jordan, and from that failure he had broken free.” - You wrote this describing Bryant’s 6/24 in Game 7 of the Finals over Boston. I totally agree with the assessment, but where did you find the courage to write this and the challenging/critical bits of your book? (18:50)
  6. During the 2011 Finals Gregg Doyel asked a very piercing question about LeBron “shrinking” offensively in Games 1 to 3. If I remember correctly - you didn’t make mention of it, why not? It seemed to mirror your own thoughts precisely. What are you thoughts on Doyel asking that question at the time and now? Thoughts on Lebron’s condescending “watch the tape and you can ask a better question tomorrow” response? (24:01)
  7. Page 45 - you described the post Decision dislike for LeBron as it pertains to James as Jordan’s heir. Despite living 16,000kms apart you described exactly how I and my friends felt about that decision. What helped you articulate this thought? (29:14)
  8. Stern - “we knew it (the decision) was going to be terrible, and we tried very hard for it not to happen”. Why do you suppose Stern/The League failed in their ambition to stop the decision? (32:32) 
  9. You write; Stern had a “less endearing inclination to bully and berate” - don’t suppose you have any examples? (34:00) 
  10. “In America, where freedoms are often taken for granted, the theatre of the NBA was often frustrating. Elsewhere, however, it was inspiring.” - Just tell us what you meant by that? Why frustrating? (36:52)
  11. Following on from the above question where does masculinity and the lack of contact factor into your thinking about basketball as it pertains to its appeal to Americans (or even Australians)? Is it a masculine sport? Compared to Rugby or AFL or NFL it’s not - do fans struggle to understand it? (41:49) 
  12. Page 67 - Michael Jordan vs Bill Russell as a civil rights activist. I disagree with you from an international standpoint. It’s a question of passive v aggressive. (46:08)
  13. Doc Rivers: “The superstars are the easiest to coach … They play because of something other than the money. It’s the average player and the below-average player thats chasing the money. Those are the guys that are tough, because you’re trying to get them to buy into a role, to be a winner - but they’re trying to make their careers”. Great quote. How did you leverage a relatively explosive quote like this from Doc? What were the conditions/surrounds of your interview(s)? Does this quote fill you with optimism about his chances of success with the 76ers? (50:37) 
  14. “The obsession with discovering the next Michael Jordan was based on a cynical assumption that the NBA had peaked in the 1990s, as if nothing could be better than the past” - why cynical? Why that choice of words? Did the people saying and thinking that have something to gain? (57:08) 
  15. The above condition is something the Australian NBL is struggling with. Coming away from Andrew Gaze and the Gaze family. I compare it to - how do you tell a Star Wars story without Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader? That’s my question to you - how to shake the cynicism? (59:33) 
  16. Page 199 - Doc Rivers via John Thompson “Nobody wants to put their reputations on the line anymore” - you seem to imply this is a result of a lot of the players coming from single-parent, mother only households and the informal AAU basketball playgrounds. Did I read that right? (1:02:00) 
  17. “Need to know your faults, little bit of an asshole and fucked-up to be a ref”. I really enjoyed the chapter on referee Joey Crawford. It was my favourite. Did you always have the ambition to include it? Why did you include it? And why as the second last chapter of the book? (1:06:17) 
  18. What do you suppose would have happened to the NBA had LeBron James and the Miami Heat won the 2011 NBA Championship? (Page 286) (1:12:31) 
  19. “I’m a good Irishman … I don’t hold a grudge. Only the drunks do - and the Celtics. But not me.” - Pat Riley - again, how did you get this quotes - what were the situations surrounding him giving it? What was it in answer to? (1:17:05) 
  20. The final line - The Great Gatsby - The final line of your book reads “Basketball, thanks to Dirk Nowitzki, had grown up at long last to become the sport of the American Dream.” it has shades of “Gatsby believed in the green light the orgastic future that year-by-year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter tomorrow we run faster, stretch out our arms further. And one fine morning so we beat on boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”.  Am I reading into this too much? Was this your intention? Is Dirk a foreign-born basketball Gatsby? Did you read that book in preparation for writing this one? Has Dirk read the book and said anything to you? Have any other personalities mentioned in the book contacted you? Interviewed Sam Smith - I asked him if he thinks Michael Jordan has ever read The Jordan Rules - he answered NO - do you think LeBron James has read your book? What do suppose LeBron’s reaction would be if he read it? (1:22:26) 
  21. Does LeBron James winning this most recent championship with the Lakers, his third team, change or reaffirm anything from your book? (1:26:37) 
  22. How does the NBL and Australian media sell the sporting embodiment of the ‘American Dream’ to a non-American audience? (1:28:04)