- By Jason Dougas Lewis
- In Local Legends
Former NBA star and famed broadcaster broke barriers, traveled, fell in love with jazz, lived life, all with a winning smile on his face.
Tommy Hawkins (right) has larger than life experiences, and he routinely rubbed elbows with the most famous people in the world, such as Wilt Chamberlain.
Article originally published by the Los Angeles Sentinel. www.lasentinel.net
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor (2010-2013)
“Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever your convictions, welcome to life as I have lived it and seen it.” –Tommy Hawkins
For most of us, we could only have dreamed to live the life that Hawkins has had, and if you ever get a chance to sit down with him at a café near his home in Malibu, he’ll surely tell you about it. It is an experience worth having.
But Hawkins is always on the move, so the next best way to hear his stories is through his new book of poetry, which has been a lifetime in the making. Hawkins has been writing poetry as long as he’s loved jazz music, which is nearly his entire life. In his book “Life’s Reflections: Poetry for the People,” he tells his stories about the music that he loves, the places he’s traveled to, relationships, and experiences that has shaped him into the person that he is.
This colorful coffee table book has something for everybody, no matter what their racial background or gender is. The book touches on love, sports, psychiatry, travel, music, family, relationships, and much more. Everybody can relate themselves to the poetry in this book.
Hawkins is a trailblazer, and he did not let racial barriers stop him from achieving his goals.
“My life has been breaking barriers,” Hawkins said. “I was the first black analyst for NBC. I was the first black to be given a daily two-hour live television show that had nothing to do with sports. I was the first black captain at Notre Dame. I was the racial ambassador for my high school, which was in the process of integrating. Integration and barrier breaking has been my life. No professional athlete has done anything like this. I’m just doing what I do.”
Hawkins had a great role model that he pattered himself after.
“My thing has been to follow Jackie Robinson, and step through the doors that Jackie Robinson opened, and to open other doors for other minorities to step through,” Hawkins said. “What they do once they step in is up to them. I’ve done my part. And excuse me if I say so, I’ve been effective in everything that I’ve done. I wasn’t some Uncle Tom. ‘Thank you boss Charlie for allowing me to be here.’ That’s not me. I was creative, innovative, I did things. I brought about change.”
Hawkins, who was a member of the first Lakers team in Los Angeles, has numerous colorful stories. He remembers the reception that he and his teammates received when the team moved in 1960. When the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn they were given a ticker tape parade down Broadway in Downtown. Hawkins laughs as he said that the Lakers came in on a bus through San Bernardino without any fan fair at all. Nobody knew who they were, but with stars such as Hawkins, Jerry West, Walt Hazzard, and Elgin Baylor, it did not take long for people to find out about them.
“It only took a year for us to get established,” Hawkins said. “We were like the new kids on the block. We had something to offer that was new and refreshing and different. Los Angeles was a baseball town, with two teams in the Pacific Coast league. This was four years before John Wooden’s first championship. So we just went about doing our thing. Being young, exciting, and trying to re-establish what the Lakers were in the ‘50s.”
After Hawkins’ basketball career he went into broadcasting for the next 18 years of his life, and then Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley offered him the job of Vice President of Communications with the ball club. Hawkins was the first black person in Major League Baseball to hold that type of position.
Hawkins’ line of work took him around the world, and allowed him to have great experiences, which he captured with his writings. His favorite time period is the 1960s.
“There were two decades in the 20th century that I thought were the most dynamic,” Hawkins said. “That was the ‘20s and the ‘60s. There is a poem in the book called ‘60s Revisited, and it goes on about what happened in the ‘60s. The death of Martin Luther King, John Kennedy, the Freedom Riders, Chubby Checkers and the Twist, and the Beatles coming from England. The ‘60s was just incredible. It was also an incredible time to travel. We as young brothers had to decide if we were going to wear dashikis or Brooks Brothers suits, because we had just gotten to the point where we could wear Brooks Brothers suits.”
Hawkins writes in a poem titled “Sixties Revisited”:
“Hendrix filled your probing minds with scintillating sound,
Dylan was your troubadour with messages abound.
Joplin belted earth songs for the masses on the ground,
While Coltrane played his favorites for the avant-garde around.”
Jazz music has influenced every aspect of Hawkins’ life, and there is one word that comes to his mind when he thinks about the music that he grew up on.
“Freedom,” Hawkins said. “When Martin Luther King said ‘free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we’re free at last,’ he had to have some sense of jazz, because jazz is that open medium of expression, where who ever you are, what ever your background, what ever you have to say, you can say it.”
When it comes to travel, many of Hawkins’ experiences came as a young man, and he laughed when he said, “I tell my wife, please do not ask me about my past.”
In the poem “The Traveler,” Hawkins writes:
“I’m a modern day Marco Polo,
Magellan hand nothing on me,
Never lived a man with a suitcase in hand
Who hits the road with such glee.”
Each narrative in the book is accompanied by a captivating painting or photographer that illustrates his words, including works by famed artist Leroy Neiman and Ernie Barners, among others. Neiman said of Hawkins, “Tommy’s insights and intelligence is always evident. His talent as a writer is in the way he plays with words, the way I work with paint…freely.”
If you would like to hear Hawkins tell his stories in person, he is appearing at Chevaliers Bookstore, 126 Larchmont Blvd, on Saturday, January 28, from 2-4 p.m.
To purchase the book, visit Hawkins’ webstie at HYPERLINK "http://www.tommyhawkins.net" www.tommyhawkins.net.