Today on the podcast I have an interview with journalist Ian Thomsen. For the last three decades, he has been writing about sports in America and around the world for The Boston Globe, The National Sports Daily, the International Herald Tribune, Sports Illustrated, and NBA.com. Ian now works as a writer at Northeastern University’s news outlet and lives in Swampscott. On today’s episode, we discuss his background in sports journalism, his book, which is titled The Soul of Basketball: The Epic Showdown between LeBron, Kobe, Doc, and Dirk That Saved the NBA, and the future of the NBA given our current situation. Enjoy!
Ian: Hi, Julie?
Julie: Yes, hi, how are you?
Ian: Good. How are you?
Julie: Good. Thanks for doing this, I appreciate it.
Ian: Oh, no, yeah.
Julie: And I just finished your book, like 20 minutes ago, so that –
Ian: Oh, that was nice of you!
Julie: Yeah, of course, I – so, as a disclosure, I’m not – I don’t follow basketball; but I really liked your book. I thought it was exciting.
Ian: That’s – I appreciate that, and a lot of people don’t read it before they talk to you, you know, so that was very nice. Thanks.
Julie: Yeah, no problem. So just to start, I’m wondering if you could just take us through your career path and how you got your start and how you ended up here?
Ian: Yeah, that’s one of those questions you don’t know where to start, right?
Ian: But I got into journalism just because when you’re a teenager you can’t think of anything else better to do. I remember sitting with my mom and she was saying – when I was in high school and trying to figure out where to go to college – and she’d say “Well, what do you want to do?” And I’d say, “Well, I don’t know.” – “Well, do you want to try this?” – “No.” – “What about that?” – “No.” – “What about –” She’d say, “What about journalism?” I’d say, “Well, that would be ok,” because I was working for the student newspaper and all of that. So you just sort of back into it.
Both of my parents were immigrants from Europe; my dad’s from Denmark and my mom’s from Scotland. I was almost the first person from either side of the family to go to college, so everything was just a mystery trying to figure out how to navigate college and what to do with your life, the whole process, sort of. So I applied to Northwestern University, which was one of the top journalism schools. I think I got in because at the time we were living in Mobile, Alabama, and I might’ve been the only person applying to Northwestern from Mobile, Alabama. And then I did all the internships and everything in college, worked for the student newspaper. I was doing a lot of sports because that’s what I liked, and if I was going to do something for free I might as well do something I liked. While I was at Northwestern, the football team, which was in the Big Ten conference, they lost every game from the second week of my freshman [year] until midway through my senior year. They set the all-time record for losing in NCAA football; they were the worst team in the history of football. And I was covering the team, so that – so people got to see what I was doing a lot more than if they’d won a couple of games, you know? So in a strange way, that – I hate to say it, but their misery helped me. And then I had an internship with The Boston Globe. And there was another intern there – she was a news intern, her name was Jackie MacMullan, [and] we hit it off, we became best friends that summer – The Globe hired us both after the internship. I had another year of college to go.
So that was my first job, working for The Globe. The first thing they had me cover was Boston College – so this was, we’re talking way back, you know, this is like 1983 – they put me onto covering Boston College football and Doug Flutie was the quarterback, so my first two years on the job were covering Doug Flutie’s final two years, and he won the Heisman Trophy, and it was a big story.
And from there, at the end of the ’80s, a new newspaper was being started up by Frank Deford, who was the biggest sportswriter in America. The newspaper was called The National Sports Daily. And this was before the internet existed, and the idea was to put a national newspaper out there that would be available in every city. So they went around and hired all these sportswriters from around the country to work for it. It lasted 17 months and lost all this money; it was a spectacular disaster. People really liked it, but it lost a lot of money. So now I was out of a job, early ’90s.
I moved to Europe to work for the International Herald Tribune. They were looking for a sportswriter to live in Europe, so I lived for three years in Paris, three years in London. I married my girlfriend from Winthrop, Mass., we moved over, we had our kids over there; my daughter was born in Paris, my son was born in London. And I traveled all over the world writing about sports. I could go wherever I wanted, write whatever I wanted – it’s the greatest job ever.
And then at the end of the ’90s, ESPN was starting the magazine, so they offered me a job; they wanted me to move back and work for them. Sports Illustrated hired me basically to keep me from working for them. So I took the job with Sports Illustrated and moved back here. You can live – when you worked for Sports Illustrated back then, you can live wherever you wanted, so I lived in Boston, which is where I’d been before and where my wife is from. So we moved to Swampscott, I was with Sports Illustrated for 16 years, most of it covering the NBA, and it was while I was working for Sports Illustrated that I started working on this book.
So, I wish I could say that was the short answer to your question, but that’s what happened.
Julie: No, it’s all good information. And I think your focus is mostly on basketball. Why?
Ian: Well, what happened was, with this particular thing, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which has a big office in Boston, one of their editors, Susan Canavan, called me up. And I’d met her before, but she called me up around early 2011 and said, “Would you be interested in writing a book for us? We’d like to have a book on LeBron James and the controversy that he’s been involved in.” Because the book revolves around this: that in the summer of 2010, when LeBron was in his mid-20s and he’s a big star but he hasn’t won a championship, he went on television, he created a TV, live TV special, for himself, on which he would announce when he was going to go play, and that’s when
and said “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach to play for the Miami Heat.” He had been seen as the next Michael Jordan before this whole fiasco, and it came off so badly, [as] such an act of entitlement, that people hated him, and he became the most hated athlete in America all of a sudden that year. And so Houghton Mifflin, they wanted a book on that. So I agreed to do it, so I started working on that for them while I was covering the NBA for Sports Illustrated. And I’d been doing the NBA for Sports Illustrated for the previous decade. That had become my specialty. Before that I’d done every kind of sport, all around the world, obviously, and this was – for that decade leading up to the book, I’d been solely an NBA person, which was good. I liked covering the NBA. If I had to cover one league, that would be the one I would want to do. When I was with The Globe in the ’80s, they used to put me onto the Celtics as their third or fourth or fifth guy covering the Celtics. And so I got to cover all three of the Magic Johnson–Larry Bird finals, which are the pinnacle of that sport. So I always liked the NBA. I did a lot of basketball when I lived in Europe, which gave me good perspective and which really helped play into the way I approached doing this book.
Julie: Yeah, so what’s it like – for people that don’t know, like me – to be at those games, or at the bigger games? Do you attend them now, or is it mostly something you do remotely in terms of covering?
Ian: Well, back then – you know, it’s changed a lot – I just used to take it for granted in the ’80s and the ’90s and even the early 2000s. If I would go to a game, I’d be sitting courtside, so I would have the best seat in the house, working for whichever place I was working for, whether it was The Globe, or The National, or Sports Illustrated. You’d have the seat that is no longer available to us because those seats are so expensive now; they sell them for thousands and thousands of dollars per game. So this was something you kind of learn the hard way. I remember the first time I was sent to cover the Celtics, I was probably 23 years old, and I was going to be writing the game story, and I was just so nervous. And I remember Dan Shaughnessy, who’s still with The Globe, telling me telling me how to do it: “Go into the locker room before the game, go into the Celtics locker room, because you have to write a notebook before the game starts.” He recommended I try talking to Robert Parish about about something that was going on at the time, and I remember going in to talk to Robert Parish, he was the center of the Celtics, and he was just – he could see how nervous I was, and he was just so kind. And I could see him laughing at how nervous I was and everything, but he answered my questions for me and helped me out, and I remember just having no clue on how to do this. I was used to watch – I watched hundreds, thousands, of games. But how do you actually break it down and turn it into a story, which is often completely different from what you saw, in a way? It’s a different kind of – you tell a different kind of story than the story that you saw playing out on on the court.
Ian: And I didn’t know how to do that. But basically, when you do cover games, you go. You go there. The locker rooms are open before the game; it’s no longer valid during this pandemic, but you go in and try to find the people you need to talk to, to help you with the stories you’re working on, before the game. Coaches are available before the game; [you can] talk to them in the hallway outside the locker room, usually. And you go have dinner. They have a press room and they’ll serve you dinner before; you pay five bucks for it.
And you go out to the court, set up your laptop, take notes on your laptop, write some stuff during the time outs and times in between the game. During the game you figure out what you want to write about, figure out what the story is. By the time the game ends you want to have a strategy on what you’re going to talk to people about. And I really appreciate you asking me this question. No one’s ever asked me before.
After you figure out your strategy – “I’m gonna talk to–” back then, when I would have been covering the Celtics a lot, let’s say, “I want to talk to Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce, [and] Rajon Rondo for a certain story I’m doing; then I’ll go across the hallway to the visitors’ locker room and see what LeBron James has to say about it, get something from the opposing coach.” You have to get all of this done quickly because the players and the coaches are only available for a few minutes. And it’s often crowded around them; you have to make sure you get your question in to cover what you need.
And then you go back and sit down to write it, and then write it really fast. And I used to listen to really loud music at times when I didn’t have energy, to try to, like, thump me awake, and it was funny, I read years ago – Stephen King, the author, listens to heavy metal music in his office up in Maine when he writes. And I’m not a house music kind of person, but I used to listen to house music to try to get me going.
Julie: It was probably late in the night at that point.
Ian: Yeah, especially during the playoffs, like, if you’re at an NBA finals game, the game starts after nine o’clock at night. And back then at Sports Illustrated, working for our website, si.com, they needed to have everything in by two a.m. because they were going to go home. So you didn’t want to keep them staying late. So if a game started at – a finals game started at after nine p.m., maybe it ends at midnight – and so now from midnight until two, you have to go talk to everybody, get your thoughts together, and write a thousand words.
Ian: Yeah. But if you’ve been doing it a long time, it’s not overwhelming, but you just know you’re gonna have to really, really work hard at it, and sort of approach it the way the players approach a game: you have to be really up, you have to be really ready, positive, ambitious – all of that. And you have to have all good feelings going for you; you can’t be negative about it.
Julie: Mm-hmm. Yeah, wow, I can imagine that’s really intense – both for you, and for the players, after doing this big physical activity for hours, and then having to put their own thoughts together.
Ian: You know, I’ve always wondered about that – that’s a really great question, I’ve always wondered about that with players, how they – if they’re really into something and then, just like that, snapping the fingers, they need to turn it off and be able to step back and put it into perspective. And a lot of times I find myself thinking, “They’re so much better at it than I would be.” But again, they’ve been doing it a long time. If you’re a player in the NBA, that means you were probably a great player going back to when you were eight years old, and you just get used to the attention, and you get used to people asking you questions, you get used to being held accountable to good behavior, behaving well in public.
Ian: So I think that’s part of it. You know what’s interesting, if you think about the differences between the sports – the NFL players, the NFL is like a militaristic kind of league, and they have a code to the way they are: it’s very violent, and you play hurt, and play under this kind of military guise. Baseball, the role models for baseball players – there aren’t a lot of guys who went to college in baseball, you know. There’s a lot of sign in with a pro baseball team straight out of high school, and so who are your role models? But if you’re an NBA player, if you want to be a great NBA player, who do you look up to? Guys like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, they grew up looking to Michael Jordan as their example, and they wanted to be like him. You always picture him wearing a suit and a tie and being very well-spoken in his TV interviews or after a game, and carrying himself in a very high-minded kind of way, and I think that’s how a lot of the basketball players want to be. Larry Bird came to the Celtics and was called “The Hick from French Lick.” He didn’t – he was rough around the edges, but somebody said to me once that he thought Larry Bird came to the NBA and said, “I want to be like Julius Erving,” who carried him – who was a star and he won the – Julius Erving had a lot in common with Michael Jordan and the way he carried himself, and so I just think that each generation in the NBA, they grow up wanting to be like Michael Jordan or Julius Erving or somebody that carries themself really well. They have great role models in the NBA.
Julie: Yeah, that kind of reminds me of a question that I wanted to ask you about. I thought it was interesting in your book – now I’m sort of moving into talking about your book a little bit – you talk about the different generations of basketball stars that everybody, even I, who don’t follow the sport, know – and how this, the generation that was coming up, that’s about – that the focus is on in this book, like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, had a sense of, sort of, entitlement. Do you think that’s changed, now that we’re ten years out from that situation? What are the characteristics of the big players right now, would you say?
Ian: Yeah, that’s a – you know, you’re making me think, Julie, when you think about the impact, just to try to explain where I’m coming from – the impact that the Great Depression had on people that lived through it or grew up in it, and how it formed them. They were focused on saving their money, and preparing for disasters, and not being able to count on the future, and all that kind of stuff. Well, David Stern, who was the commissioner of the NBA forever and ever, and took over as commissioner basically at the same time Michael Jordan came into the league, but had been around the NBA for years before that, David Stern was kind of like a Depression era baby in terms of the NBA. When David Stern came to the NBA it was a struggling league. In the 1970s there was talk that it was gonna go out of business. There were predictions that it could never do well because there were too many black players, and the racist elements in America would never go for a league of black stars. So he came into the NBA and he built his career in the NBA with this kind of Depression-era outlook, that “Look, we’re just trying to stay alive and let’s try to build something here.” What the NBA has become he never could’ve imagined. It’s beyond him. What it has become is now taken for granted as reality by all these players who knew nothing about the NBA’s past, knew nothing about all – that it almost went out of business in the ’70s. Michael Jordan knew all about that. Michael Jordan, when he came into the NBA, it wasn’t anything like the league he helped it turn into. So I think even he looks at this generation of players and sees the entitlement, and sees that ‘they take for granted what I had to earn’ – I would think that’s how he looks at them.
For this new generation of players, I’d think it’s very liberating that they don’t – they can’t imagine a time that the NBA is going to be anything less than what it is right now, which is a league that, before the pandemic, was going to be earning nine billion dollars worldwide and is popular in every country around the world; games are shown everywhere and players are known everywhere. Again, none of that existed way back when, so they take all of that for granted. How they are going to react to this particular time in which we find ourselves now is going to be really interesting to me. This is the biggest crisis that all of us are facing in all sorts of ways, and it’s no different for sports. These leagues that owe billions of dollars in salaries and have billions of dollars of responsibilities with TV networks, they’re unable to meet any of those responsibilities right now; they can’t play. And when they do play, are there going to be fans at the games, and what’s the money going to be like, and are people going to need sports, they’re going to want sports as much, coming out of this pandemic, down the road, as they do now? This is a real crisis, and it’s going to require some leadership from everybody in sports. And it’s going to be interesting to see – for me to see, for all of us to see – these basketball players who just came in expecting, “Ok, if I’m a great player I’m gonna make 30 million dollars a year, and that’s just what comes with it” – how are they going to react? And this is their Depression moment.
Julie: Right. Yeah, I think one thing that really surprised me was the amount of money that – I mean, everybody knows that sports players make a ton of money – but the added endorsement deals that they get on top of that were pretty astounding to hear about, I think, or to read about in your book.
Ian: Yeah. As much money as they make on the court, the great ones make multiples of that off it. Michael Jordan has made over a billion dollars now from his basketball career, but all of the stuff that he’s been able to build off the court – but it’s all from basketball. And LeBron James, if he’s making, say, 30 million on the court, he’s making two times, maybe more that, that off the court, from his endorsements. Kobe Bryant, not quite as much, back in his time, but similar. So yeah, the amount of money is unbelieveable, and that’s all part of this marketplace that’s now being threatened by the pandemic.
Julie: Right. So to go back to your book a little bit, what was the research process like for writing it? I know you mentioned that somebody came to you with the idea, but was it already something you were thinking about at the time, or did you have to give it more thought when they brought it to you?
Ian: You know, this was really hard, because they wanted a book about a guy who was in transition. So LeBron James had gone from this guy who was seen as a savior for the NBA, who was now being regarded as a villain. And his change in status was casting a shadow on the whole league. When Michael Jordan was really popular and was winning championships, the NBA looked better because of Michael Jordan. The same thing – Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, they illuminated the league. And now LeBron was casting a shadow on the league – as the best player. Was he going to be a villain for his whole life? If he was, then, “Why are we even bothering to write a book about him, because no one’s going to buy a book about someone they hate?” So I was in this position of trying to report a story without knowing what the outcome was. You know, the beginning, middle, and end – I didn’t know what the end was, and I was just in the middle of it. So I had hoped to give them the book – they asked me in 2011 to do it and they wanted it by 2012, and I fully expected to give it to them by then, but I couldn’t because I didn’t know what I was writing to. I didn’t know what the outcome was; I didn’t know how it was going to end; and I wanted it to end in a way that it would hold up, that it would be timeless. You don’t want to write a book that’s got a shelf life that’s very short after it comes out. Because what if I write a book that says, “This guy’s a villain,” and makes it look like he’s always going to be a villain, and then all of a sudden he’s a hero, or people love him again – well, it was a waste of time. So I ended up needing years of – I had to wait it out, basically, and I had to wait it out until LeBron moved back to Cleveland and then won the championship, and when he won the championship finally, with Cleveland, a few years later, I said to myself, “Ok, now we can go forward with this; now I know what the ending is.”
As far as the reporting, I just kept doing the same kind of reporting I was doing at the time for Sports Illustrated, except whenever I thought I found a character that would be important to the book, I would arrange an interview with that person and tell them, “It’s for this book I’m doing,” and it would be a lot more in-depth than what I was usually doing. And so I would set up those things along the way, which really worked out well, because I was traveling a lot for Sports Illustrated and so I would just make extra time to make sure I could talk to this person if I happened to be in their city, or if they were coming to Boston, then I would set something up to talk to them when they were here. But yeah, it worked very well with the job I was doing at the time.
Julie: Mm. Yeah, I was going to ask you about those interviews. I’m sure they were pretty extensive, because there’s so many details about each of the, quote-unquote, “characters” in the book. Did you get any feedback from those people that were involved with it – did they read it?
Ian: I haven’t talked a lot to them since. Doc Rivers told me he liked it very much, and he has bought the book and sent it to people, to other coaches. It’s very much a coaches’ book, because of the influence of Doc Rivers on it, and also Pat Riley, who was running the Miami Heat. Pat Riley’s one of the great coaches in the history of the NBA. He was the Lakers coach, the Los Angeles Lakers coach, in the 1980s, so he was Magic Johnson’s coach. And towards the end of this, it wasn’t until after LeBron won his championship in Cleveland that I finally convinced Pat to talk to me, and it went from zero to sixty. I wasn’t able to get him to talk to me at all. All of a sudden he was really opening up to me, and we spoke for nine hours for the book, which was a lot, and I got a lot of out of it. So I know he liked it, and I know Dirk Nowitzki liked it; he asked for some extra copies to share with his family. And, you know, it was well-received from people in my business. I think they can see how much work went into it. There is a lot of detail. I felt personally that I’d made this very extensive investment in writing about basketball throughout my career, and I really wanted to do the best I could to come up with something lasting from that. I didn’t want it to just all be in vain, kind of. I wanted to have something that would endure just a little bit. I don’t know if this does, but that was the goal, and so that’s why I put so much into it.
Julie: Mm-hmm. Also, I found the book to be extremely descriptive, and even I, as somebody who doesn’t know much about it, could follow exactly what was going on. But I’m sure that also people who are fans of basketball, tried-and-true, would get a lot out of the book, obviously. Was it difficult to balance between writing for an audience that doesn’t know, who might pick this up just out of curiosity, or somebody who’s been involved with this for decades, as you have?
Ian: Yeah, thanks for asking that. This is where my time in Europe really helped me. When I went to work for the International Herald Tribune in my early 30s, it was the world’s largest newspaper. It was based in Paris and it went to literally every country around the world, six days a week. It was written in English. It was co-owned by The New York Times and The Washington Post. So basically that newspaper would draw the best stories out of The Times and The Post every day, it would condense them, and then they would hire a few people like me to fill in the cracks of things that weren’t being covered by The New York Times and The Washington Post. So they had me write about sports around the world. They had Suzy Menkes, one of the top fashion writers in the world, she was with the International Herald Tribune to cover the fashion industry from Paris. Those kinds of people. So there were only a few of us as writers, reporters, columnists, whatever, working in Paris for them. And when I came over, the editor – his name was John Vinocur, he was a legend with The New York Times, a legendary writer with The New York Times – and he explained to me the point of view of writing for the world’s largest newspaper. He said, “You have to write for everybody.” So you have to write – if I go to write a sports story, I have to write it so that people who know everything about it are happy with it, and the people who know nothing about it will still want to read it and get something out of it. So it had to truly be universal. So if I was covering a rugby match in England – and I didn’t know anything about rugby, but I had to write about it – I had to write so that the English or the French would say, “Yeah, ok, I’m glad I read this,” but then someone in Indonesia, who didn’t know anything about rugby, would still find the human element in it and be able to get something out of it. So by describing what goes on in the game, but describing it in real-world terms, as if it’s something happening in your kitchen or someone running down the street, so that everyone can relate to it, that’s one way to do it. But then also just looking for the spiritual side of everything – why does, what drives people to do what they do, how do they react to triumph, how do they react to incredible disappointment. If last time they were in a championship game, they blew it, how did they overcome those memories to win it next time? Those kinds of stories, you focused on those, and that was the same kind of point of view I tried to bring to this book.
Julie: Mm-hmm. I think it worked. How was the process of writing a full book different from the type of writing that you usually do?
Ian: For most of my career I was the long-form – they call it long form now; they used to call them takeouts back then – they had me writing the long stories for as long as I can remember. When I was 25, The Globe sent me down to a small town in Pennsylvania to write a story about these two high-school football players who were twins, and they were the running backs – one was the tailback, one was the fullback –and they won the state championship, the first-ever state championship, for their town. And then they were on a recruiting trip after the season, and one of them – they got into a car accident, and one of them was killed. It was a terrible, tragic story, and so they had me write that story, and it ran in The Boston Globe at 6000 words, which meant it – it was on the front page of the sports section, and when you opened up the paper, it took up two full pages of type. But it won the national award for the best sports story of the year. And that was when I was 25, so that was what I was always hired to do. At the Herald Tribune they didn’t run the long stories, they didn’t have room for them, but at Sports Illustrated they did, and at The National Sports Daily that’s what I did. So I was sort of on that track. And then I started doing the book and I realized I still had no idea. As much as I thought I knew about writing long, I still had no idea on how to do it. And I just had to keep writing and rewriting and rewriting. And it didn’t make it any better that I didn’t know what the ending was going to be. And so I – if I got – if I was being paid per word for this book, for every word I typed while trying to write this thing, it’s way, way, way less than one penny per word; I just kept writing and writing and writing. It was harrowing. And it’s part of why, right now, I am of no mind to write another book, at the moment.
Julie: Right. Yeah, even the chapters were kind of articles, or long-form articles, in themselves; was that intentional? I don’t know if that was – I mean, obviously it’s a whole story that leads up to the final games, but was it intentional that each of the chapters was sort of a different main character?
Ian: Yeah, it’s a great observation. It’s probably because that’s how I’d been geared to think of it, but I think also because each of the subjects in the basketball world is really important for basketball fans, for people who love the sport. So Isaiah Thomas – the old Isaiah Thomas from the Detroit Pistons in the 1980s – he opened up to me and told me stories of his childhood that he’d never shared before, and then seeing things from his perspective helped give you a better understanding of why LeBron James was acting the way he was acting. So that’s probably why I structured it that way. Another was with Joey Crawford, who was the NBA’s biggest referee at the time, the most controversial referee, and being able to have a lot of time with him and have him break down an NBA finals game with me – which he’d never done before, which the league had never allowed to have happen before; they usually don’t let you talk to the referees. That was worthy of its own chapter, and again, it gave you more insight into the larger story.
Julie: Mm-hmm. So going back to something you just briefly touched on a little while ago – just going into our current pandemic, how has your job changed as a result of it?
Ian: Well, right now actually I’m not writing about sports so much. I may get back into it, but I’m working at Northeastern University right now as a writer. They have a news service at Northeastern, and actually it’s doing really well. It’s run by a guy, David Filipov, who’s won a couple of Pulitzer Prizes with The Boston Globe, and he was the Moscow bureau chief at The Washington Post. He’s from Boston. He quit the Post, moved back home, and he’s running this news site at Northeastern, and it’s done so well that it was a semi-finalist or a finalist in the recent Webby Awards, up there with The Wall Street Journal and other places, other mainstream places. So I’m one of their writers, and I write about sports sometimes, but I write a lot that isn’t about sports – just larger issues; I write about the pandemic, whatever is going on. And I’ve really enjoyed that; it’s been a really nice change of pace after so many years of writing about sports. As I watch my former colleagues in sports deal with this pandemic, it makes me all the more relieved that I’m not at this very moment doing what they do, because there’s just nothing for them to do, and so there’s – right now there’s a whole lot of coverage of ‘the way things used to be,’ ‘who was the greatest team of all time,’ ‘this happened to me, so-and-so, such-and-such time ago,’ because there is no news coming out of the leagues, out of sports, right now. Everyone’s just waiting for it to start up again. I find myself still trying to think of a way to continue to write about sports on my own terms, and we’ll see if I can come up with something, and if I can’t – even if I did, I would do it in conjunction with what I’m doing now at Northeastern, because I’m very happy with what I’m doing right now. It’s been a really welcome change of pace for me.
Julie: Yeah, that’s great. I’m sure you’re still a fan of basketball.
Ian: Yeah, I watch everything – yeah, not just basketball. You know, I’m one of these – it can be hard to watch a game with me, because I’ll be watching a game with my wife, Maureen, and I’ll pause and tell her a story about this guy or that guy, or “This is not what you think, this guy is really not a good guy at all, blah blah blah,” and then I’m always interrupting to give backstories to things. So I’m still very much into it.
Julie: So what do you see in terms of professional basketball in the coming weeks, or months, or even next season? Do you have any feelings about that?
Ian: Well, I’m very skeptical that they’re going to play again this summer. They’re hoping to be able to resume their season in some form and to be able to have a championship, but they’re trying to predict a future that’s unpredictable. So all these predictions of the NBA coming back, say in June, to play again and have their playoffs throughout the summer, that’s based on things improving. But the fact is, we – as you and I are talking right now, we have no idea, really, where the pandemic is, because we just aren’t testing in our country; our government has not come up with tests for us. We’re the greatest country in the world and we can’t focus on putting out millions and millions of simple tests that would enable us to know where we stand with the virus. And until we have the tests, how can anybody imagine being able to put a business like the NBA back on the stage? If things get worse, now that we’re opening back up again, and there’s still a dearth of tests, how are people gonna feel if the NBA’s gobbling up all these tests so that they can play basketball games? I just think there’s so many questions. I hope it comes back. I can see a way that it would come back, but I don’t believe anybody that tells me it is going to come back; I just – I will believe it when I see it. And if it does come back, that is awesome. That means we’re doing better; we’re on top of this to the extent that we can allow a league like the NBA to have the tests that it needs and the resources it needs to come back. That would be amazing. But I just find myself being too skeptical to imagine that it will be so right now.
Julie: Mm. Yeah, I think probably the most difficult part of this is the unknown, and if there are predictions like that, I always find myself asking, “Oh, how do they know, and what do they think?” – you know – “What do they know that we don’t know?” So I guess, yeah, we can be hopeful, but we’ll see how it goes.
Ian: Yeah, I think what they’re doing is they are making plans that are written in very soft pencil and they can be put into effect if things improve or things slow down, but it’s not like they have control over their own future right now. They just don’t. They’re at the mercy of larger forces. And so if those larger forces enable them to play again, awesome. I hope it happens. But I don’t think they are planning – they are hoping to resume the season, but I do not think they are planning to, because they cannot make such plans; it’s impossible for them to make them.
Julie: So just as a final question, usually on the podcast I’ll interview other librarians about anything that they’re either reading or watching for enjoyment. Are you reading anything that you’re enjoying right now, or do you have time to read? I know you’re still working pretty hard, but…
Ian: Right now, working at Northeastern, I get free tuition – free classes. So I’m working towards a master’s, which will enable me to teach. Hopefully I’ll be graduating a year from now, but right now one of the classes I’m taking is, basically it’s the fundamentals of art, and it’s helping – my major is in digital communications, and this is providing me a foundation on art and how art’s used for the internet. And it’s the fundamentals of art. I have to write – at my age, I have to write a term paper! And so I chose Leonardo da Vinci as my subject because I was woefully versed on him. And I’m reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Leonardo, and I just love it. It’s fascinating, and it makes me want to read his other biographies – I don’t know how interested I am in reading about Steve Jobs, but this is just beautiful. And he was an amazing guy, very much a self-made man, probably did as well as he did because he did not have a formal education – everything he learned he learned on his own, and so he made his own way forward. I’m really liking it, and so I recommend that, totally.
Julie: Yeah, I’m sure people – I’m sure we have it at the library.
Ian: Yeah. What are you reading?
Julie: Well, I just finished your book. But also, I have – Elizabeth Gilbert, who is the woman who wrote Eat, Pray, Love and City of Girls, she’s got some nonfiction, some fiction – she wrote a book that I’m still working my way into. It’s called The Signature of All Things. So I’ll try that out next.
Ian: Do you read two or three books at a time, or do you just stick to one?
Julie: I used to a lot more. Now with limited time, I can really only focus on one at a time.
Well, thank you so much for talking to me. I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but I learned a lot about basketball, and I appreciate that.
Ian: Well, Julie, I really appreciate this. It was great talking to you. And thank you for reading the book. A lot of interviewers don’t have time to read it, and you could really tell the difference talking to them. So thank you, it’s been a real pleasure doing this with you. Thanks very much.
Julie: Yeah, excellent!