LA Lakers Great Tommy Hawkins Pens Reflections from the Soul

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Tommy Hawkins, former Los Angeles Lakers legend who helped shape the dynasty of today, recently launched his first ever narrative book of poetry.

Life’s Reflections: Poetry for the People, a collection of days, times, seasons and events, from a man who has a lifetime of memorable moments, beginning with his rise from the inner city streets of Chicago to all-time leading scorer at the University of Notre Dame, to his reign during the budding days of the Los Angeles Lakers creating a dynasty in a city he loved, to his season as Los Angeles Dodgers executive, Tommy Hawkins, has created poetry from the soul.

Having the opportunity to interview Tommy, he spoke as a man with a soul, a deep love of artistic expression whatever the form, of his days on Chicago’s far south side, raised in a single parent family, his love of literature, jazz and especially poetry his affections for poetry and jazz, still present and in the forefront of his life.  

The following is a transcript of our phone interview.

Janet Walker: Talk about your experiences as a young black man growing up in Chicago, and receiving a basketball scholarship to Notre Dame. How did it change your life?

Tommy Hawkins: I don’t know if it changed my life. It was a continuation of a life of being a positive person and I guess I was stimulated by my Mom. I was raised in a single family, raised by my Mom.  Also, I was strongly supported by a grade school coach an athletic director in perfected discipline by the name of William McQuitter, whom I wrote about in the book. He just spurred me on to be everything I could be.

Not to get caught up in being black but get caught up in being a productive human being. That carried on through high school and the continued support of another coach, Eddie O’Farrell. I was the leading scorer in the city of Chicago as a senior. I was the city’s most valuable player and I received a four year scholarship to the University of Notre Dame where I became a two year All American and became the all-time leading scorer and rebounder at Notre Dame one of those records I still hold. From there into Pro Basketball, ten years of pro basketball, eighteen years of broadcasting and eighteen years as Vice President of the [Los Angeles] Dodgers

Janet Walker: Wow. That’s an illustrious career.

Tommy Hawkins: I have been very fortunate to have done most of the things that I wanted to do in life and a really a couple few of the things I didn’t have any idea I would doing. 

Janet Walker: Explain how you came to L.A. from Minneapolis to play pro ball with the Lakers.

Tommy Hawkins: The Lakers were originally in Minneapolis. The Lakers were the dynasty in the ‘50’s and I came in at the tail end of the Lakers venue in Minneapolis and we weren’t doing that well. My rookie year, 1959, was in Minneapolis and Bob Short decided to follow the Dodgers and move the team from Minneapolis to Los Angeles and that’s how I got to Los Angeles. And I have been here since 1960.

Janet Walker: Wow. So you’ve seen a lot of changes in the area.

Tommy Hawkins:  A lot of changes in the area, a lot of changes in the people, a lot of changes in everything in this City of the Angeles.

Janet Walker: Who motivated you to write a book of poetry?

Tommy Hawkins: That goes back to my sophomore year at Notre Dame and I had to take a year of English Literature which was a part of my sequence to get my degree in Arts & Letters.

On the first day of class of English Literature, this priest walks in, long black robe, white collar, deep set eyes, mixed gray hair, went to the black board, wrote his name on the blackboard.  ‘My name is Father Seletti, the name is of Greek origin, it is my pleasure to teach you English Literature this semester. My specialty is poetry and I will make it live in your souls’ which is kind of stunning because I expected a bespectacled, meek, person to teach English Literature and I was going to be board as hell starting with Brer Wolf and The Canterbury Tales.

It turned out that this man was dynamic and he was actually prolific in his expression and his love of English literature and his poetry. When we get to the poetry section he read his favorite poem which was T.S. Eliot’s A Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. 

And I was just taken away by not only the poem the symbolism, the metaphors and everything that T.S. Eliot used but the poem itself and the way that Father Seletti read it and from that point on I said to myself ‘one day I would like to put together a group of narratives and one day write a book.’ But I want to do it a little differently as I grew up I got into Art and Architecture and everything. I’m an eclectic person. I enjoy all sorts of expressions. And I said, I want to do a book but I want to do a book that’s illustrated. So I chose paintings of well-known painters and artists to go with the narratives I wrote and thus the book, Life’s Reflections: Poetry for the People.

And there are a lot of life’s reflections in it but its Poetry for the people. Everyone can read it without being board. It’s not esoteric. It didn’t die in some Greenwich Village coffee shop in the 1960’s. It’s not mental masturbation.  It’s an examination of yourself and your mind. I like to say, in the book there are forty-five narratives and forty-five different pieces of Beef Jerky to chew on.

Janet Walker: I understand, the narratives cover many topics - romance, jazz, family, travel, relationships, etc. Do you have a particular one that is closer to your soul than another?

Tommy Hawkins: Well all of them are from the soul. What I’ve done requires a lot of insight, a love of words, a love of vocabulary, a love of room and a love of insight. So you can lead people to really think about what you’re saying. The illustrations are basically in color and cover this wide spectrum of things and thought and people and I don’t know if I can pick one and say it’s my favorite. I love them all!

Janet Walker: I understand you’re a huge jazz fan. You would hang out with some of the most famous Jazz musicians in New York, Chicago and L.A. Did they influence you and your writing?

Tommy Hawkins: They influenced me; they still influence. One of the greatest jazz guitarists of all times is Kenny Burrell. Kenny Burrell is the Head of Jazz at UCLA. He is a Hall of Fame Jazz Guitarist. He has recorded 106 CD’s in his lifetime. He’s now 83 years old. I talk to him, we lunch from time to time, and I spend time over at UCLA MC’ing Jazz Concerts and the like, and Kenny was nice enough at the unveiling of my book at the Museum of Tolerance in Beverly Hills to open the show by doing about two or three pieces on the guitar. And he’s great.  I’m very close Cannonball Adderley. As I travel as a professional you knew where to find me after the game. I was in the Jazz clubs; and I got to know just a host of Jazz people. I’m a collector of jazz music. I been collecting since I was twelve and I’ve got a collection of eight thousand vinyl and three thousand CD’s.

 

Janet Walker: Describe your most memorable moment with the Lakers and your most memorable moment in Jazz.

Tommy Hawkins:  Oh boy. You know that’s very difficult to do because I have had a lifetime of memorable moments and I don’t say that in a braggadocios way, but I have.  I have the pleasure of playing with Elgin Beeler, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robinson. I’ve played on the same teams with them. I was on the floor in Madison Square Garden the night Elgin Beeler scored 71 points and I always like to say ‘that I’ll never forget the night Elgin and I combined scored a total of 86 points.’ He scored 71. I had 15 that night; would have had more if he passed the ball more.  But anyway, that was a great night. (Laughter)

Establishing the Lakers franchise in Los Angeles; that was a great moment. Because when we came to LA we were unknowns and we had to establish the franchise from scratch.


In Jazz? Oh boy, I’ve MC’d majored Jazz Concerts at the Hollywood Bowl and I think my first MC job at the JVC Jazz concert Hollywood Bowl  before 18K people was memorable but I just got a boat load of things that are part of my memories.

Janet Walker: That’s great.

Tommy Hawkins’ Life Reflections: Poetry for the People is available at Bookstores on online.

For more information on Tommy Hawkins: www.tommyhawkins.net.

Image courtesy of Tommy Hawkins

 

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