Athlete Paints Picture of Extraordinary Life with Book of Poetry
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
Longtime Malibu resident Tommy Hawkins, a native of Chicago, was a two-time basketball All-American and captain of the Notre Dame team, and one of the first black athletes in the NBA.
Hawkins has played for the Lakers, served as player representative and as a member of the NBA players' labor negotiation team, spent 18 years with the Los Angeles Dodgers as vice president of communications and external affairs, was a local and national television and radio broadcaster, and network sports analyst. He has also taught university courses at California State University Long Beach, where he serves on the advisory board of the school of sports management.
Hawkins volunteers his time and energy as a member of the board of directors of the Center Theater Group, the Los Angeles Sports Council, the Children's Burn Foundation and the Friends of Jazz at UCLA. He is now the author of a book of poetry.
"I take nothing for granted," Hawkins told the Malibu Surfside News during an interview this week. "Hustle like a rookie, that's my motto."
"Life's Reflections: Poetry for the People" is a coffee table book that pairs Hawkins' poetry with photographs and paintings by artists, includes works by LeRoy Nieman, a longtime friend of Hawkins, and the late Ernie Barnes.
"What we have here is a product I guarantee will challenge, enlighten and inspire," Hawkins told The News. "This is poetry for people who on a scale of 1-10 would rate poetry a minus 1, people who think poetry is a waste of time. What I have put together is narratives that rhyme and are supported by paintings. It's user-friendly."
This is an intensely personal book. The 45 narratives explore Hawkins' passion for sports and jazz, his love of words and rhythm, his experiences as an African American, his thoughts on love and the events of 9/11. Words create portraits of the author's mother, artist LeRoy Nieman, and the pain Hawkins felt at the death of his father.
"My life is poetry, syncopated rhythm," Hawkins says. "Questions come to me as music."
"When I was at Notre Dame working on a degree in sociology, I was required to take a year of English literature. I was thinking, Oh no, "Beowulf" and "Canterbury Tales," get it over with. When the teacher walked in, he was a priest, tall, deep resonant voice. 'Good morning men, it is my pleasure to be teaching you. My specialty is poetry. I will make it live in your souls.'"
"He wasn't sending out words," Hawkins says, "It was lightning bolts. He taught us how to read poetry, recite it, research it, understand it. He planted the seeds in 1956."
The introduction to the book includes a tribute to Father Chester Soleta, who "engendered a lifelong love of poetic expression."
Hawkins recites the last line of his never-to-be-forgotten mentor's favorite poem, T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock": "We have lingered in the chambers of the sea/By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown/Till human voices wake us, and we drown."
"That's powerful stuff," Hawkins says. "I have said to myself through the years how can I impart that power?"
"When I wake up at 1:30 a.m. and this is on my mind, tugging on me, when that happens, sleep is not an option."
Hawkins recalls "When I was a rookie with the Lakers, sitting on a plane, hiding, writing poetry. Today, I can laugh at myself and laugh at you."
Hawkins shares some recollections of the early days of the L.A. Lakers. "We were the pioneers," he says. "We didn't even have a full-time trainer. The Dodgers moved to L.A. in 1957, flew in on a private plane. There was a ticker-tape parade, a welcome at City Hall.
"The Lakers drove in through San Bernardino on a bus. No one knew we had arrived. We were such a non-entity we didn't even have a radio broadcast."
Hawkins recalls that the team would be loaded into trucks, given a script and driven around town broadcasting things like: "Hello, I'm Tommy Hawkins, of your new L.A. Lakers."
"I have seen these things grow and develop, the exciting part is to see it grow," Hawkins says, adding that he is writing an autobiography and a history of the NBA.
Hawkins also shared some thoughts about Malibu with The News.
"I moved here 30 years ago," Hawkins says. "I used to drive through Malibu, I loved it." Hawkins moved from the coast to one of Malibu's canyons 25 years ago.
"It's a paradise for birds," he says. "I hear the coyotes every night. I stepped out the door the other day and this big buck went right past me. You don't realize how powerful they are until you see them up close."
His current plans include sharing "Life's Reflections" with the world. "This book comes with a guarantee. You will find images of self, me, family, friends. This is the first book of its kind written by a professional athlete. This is me. What you see is what you get. This has been decades in the making."
Hawkins' poem "Yesterday's Gardenias" appears to sum up his philosophy:
"'Where have all the flowers gone"' I've heard so many sing,/ voicing the need of adornment that pretty blossoms bring./ Gently caress a bouquet of beauty, partake of petals galore/ and when they die and lose their form, go out and get some more."
The author says he is planning to have a Malibu book reading and signing event in the near future. "Life's Reflections: Poetry for the People" is available at Hawkins website: http://tommyhawkins.net