WEEI>On Demand>>Neil Swidey, Author, The Assist

Neil Swidey, Author, The Assist

Mar 6, 2008|

Neil joined Dale and Michael in studio to talk about his book, "The Assist: Hoops, Hope, and the Game of Their Lives ".

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Transcript - Not for consumer use. Robot overlords only. Will not be accurate.

-- you already know that my partner and I have almost identical tastes in music and fashion and -- turns out that his recommendations and books are pretty darn good as well because. It's Michael who brought this book to my attention he had read almost all of that when he said you've gotta read this thing. It is so brand new book available in bookstores right now called the assist. Hoops hope and the game of their lives published by public affairs and the author meals -- joins us in the studios could see in real -- to be here. He's right it's not fair that the man's first books -- -- this thing -- -- center. Estes I think this is not your first book it's almost like we're about LeBron James earlier do you really believe he's 23 I -- -- -- I don't lasers as as is their first ago. Well thanks very much I mean and you know -- during her fourth. At thirty -- -- is there is coming out now yet I mean as you say I mean I -- for usually you know magazine -- stories and this was the first book. But it was one of those things that the story kept pulling me back in those saw that was more in -- -- Bullets in fact let's get to -- -- look back now back sat right. That refers -- in my book and let's get to that point first how you came to this story to begin. You know I. It was a basic sort of magazine story of following a high school basketball team through the season and you know many people have done that before but I wanted to find something different about it so meant scouting for the right team. And I went and I began sort of asking around in and talking to people and Michael knows like Bob Holmes -- local sports that are at the globe and saying what team she should you look at and he said he got a check out discuss Jack O'Brien -- Charles -- -- and I sort of knew that they were. Winners you know they've won four state titles and well and I thought how interesting can that be you know the dominates sort of seems a little boring sometimes. And I but I sat down and I got involved with the program and more importantly again involved with the lives of the players and sort of became hooked. I said to dale earlier. You're the man on the scene in this book okay our our correspondent will take care of everything not only do you go to someone's house. You go there you tell us that they have on headphones and listen OJ easier than listening to the game. Not only do you say here's his basketball player hears his mother hears a relationship with father here's a cousin. You're fair and it made me wonder just as a writer. How did that happen how did you blend in because you clearly were hanging around some of these very private intimate conversations -- Yeah no my basic point was to sort of get them comfortable enough so that they can beat themselves you know so when you come into people's lives. And if you are reporter or you're sort of trying to find -- -- going on you can't just begin and they sit down and tell me what were your hopes of what your fears and especially when you're dealing with -- eighteen year old sixteen year old kid they're not going to get that deep and they're also going to have to guard up -- for me it was very important for them to have me around enough so that date. Were comfortable in didn't sort of feel self conscious but and I didn't feel self conscious about I had to get to know them. At their place with them and sort of go in their situations it was interesting we were going to Charles -- to school and I -- sort of try to make the commute with the kids would get up at you know 5 in the morning to get to their house is there waking up -- most of these kids. Are you know making three hour -- commutes just to school and back in the day I wanted to be with them see that and also. Feel the fatigue at the end of the day as you sort of feeling and they're about to being begin basketball practice and I'm Marty did because they've been up since 5 in the morning with a that -- overtime I think he's assertive and met each other as as human beings united as opposed to reporter -- contacts. And that part of the story. You almost naturally takes you to the whole ritual busing in the city of Boston right you know the fact that these kids -- have to make three hour round trip commute to go to school. Did you expect when you do opened at this that you world's going to look at the history of the -- controversy in the city of boss he know. I -- -- sense some level -- this is taking place at Charleston high school which was not just a school known in Boston but sort of nationally. In in the seventies for all the wrong reasons it was sort of this flashpoint. Of racing class and and and urban education in this sort of transformation of the cities and the fight that sort of unresolved. And for me there was some appeal in going back into place that. For a lot of people their perception of it was frozen in time if you talk to people outside of the Boston system even people inside Boston those the other sort of thinks that. Charleston -- coastal very white school which it's not. And that this sort of the same things were happening in seven innings happen in there and not mean it's different it's a completely different context in sort of being part of that and being you know an organic -- from the inside deal -- talk about that was was part of the appeal for me then it was difficult to sort of talk about that in the book and we've that in so wasn't disrupt. You know -- this is where the rubber meets the road and this is. Watch out for your answer here is the educators of Boston going to be listening very closely this question you broke down -- very well. I mean there was there was a point for Bostonians were common ground was a book that you had to read I think of the assist is that book now. But you've you've broken down so well I'm wondering have we reached a point where it Stewart hopeless. Four for Boston schools help we screwed up bussing so much of Boston that we cannot repair. The the damage that the wreckage that -- has cost our school system. I mean it's a great question I don't think we're at that point I think. -- -- the mistakes in Boston and that in this sort of the overreached in this sort of that happened in the seventies that was a result of a lot of sort of pent up bigotry that thing going on for awhile. But what happened there was kind of this -- comes come positive clumsy sort of messy period on there. That accelerated through the problems but I think you see that in in sort of urban cities across the country you see to a lesser extent some of the similar problems that are here now and what you do -- Boston now our pockets of of progress in the schools you know that there and they're moving forward on there. But it's interesting how -- this issue still is whoever is books I'm yesterday and mortars and we were talking with people after the the signing and and a man came up and started sort of jumping into the witness about. You know the busing orders in judge Garrity and other things and it was like it was lively group back there in the seventies and I think that's a good thing to have that discussion I also think it's a good thing. That the kids. In this program. Don't have the baggage necessarily don't think about -- they'll think they don't know much about that they weren't born there and I don't think there weighed down by the way I think some adults are. As I was reading along I'm thinking about Jack O'Brien and -- an interest in figure obviously. Lives at home with his mother single he has the time to drive these kids and a -- on a Saturday -- to try to get them into -- college program there. And I kept saying to myself what's in this for Jack right because that's the way we think nowadays what was it for Jack. It's a great question I think a lot of people would jump to conclusions because they didn't sort of get. That it could be this you know make it could be that the guy gets. Satisfaction from working with players from the struggle and when I always thought about O'Brien that was different was. You know a lot of people are committed but what he could do is unique to have this setback and you could tell -- -- three or four times not to do something you'll do it. And -- finally most people just say okay the walk away and at a certain point if someone's not sort of toeing the line bill bill be out of the program. But there is disability angle back into it again we're going to talk again Jack and talk for Ohio as the guys we tell me the first thing there's no short conversation -- spirits today. And they would look at their cellphones it's come -- through the call ever from him but there was the sense that. He sort of as a city you know that this was. How he built his life around I don't know that he started out thinking that I think he sort of and threw the book you get this idea of how coaching filled some gaps in his own life. And that's again where I think he he what he gets out of it is these relationships that for the alumni coming back and -- talk about how they meager difference in his life. And and it was the first time yet success in his life and it and sort of overcame some of them. Family issues that you and is only going up success as a coach working with young players and I think he started young -- that and. That's were sort of led him okay now you're in the middle of the book right now. Turn the radio down that'll give anything away. Okay I give you ten generated this -- Jack O'Brien. The thing -- like about this book with O'Brien. With hood with the Ridley with spot these are all people that you can relate to either yet kids you've got cousins -- nephews these are people your neighbors they're real people they have obvious strengths they have obvious flaws is great with -- I'm just wondering. What you thought during his. Hamlin moments okay him. He left Charlestown four lead then he settled in on that go back to Charlestown and Rebecca Charles -- -- -- you know. I gotta go back the -- and Vinny said. -- mister -- got to come back acted to Charlestown is it okay this is too much. What did you think of of that back report because it seemed like the the way I'd I'd let the book. He would still if he had his choice to be back at Charleston coached basketball. Yeah I think that's true and it is interesting just to have you know -- that played out in the headlines it in in the papers and -- and being. In the program in with Jack as he was wrestling with decision at the time these issues there's some degree to which he. That doesn't -- again at that and I hope that comes through in the book of just kind of what you -- you know grappling with so that he leaves you know after -- the you can imagine this as you talk about. Dale sort of what is this guy getting out of this he gets out of the relationships with the guy but he sort of built his whole life around -- and then you sort of see over the course of a couple years. The sort of lack of Europe for appreciation from you know that the sort of bureaucracy the wider Garcia said the school than normal sort of issues that you deal with -- sort of over time build up. And you think why you know. -- my really getting appreciated and they get courted by another system saying come here we're going to let you do what you do in do well that it had your back and everything so that he goes and then. To be in the school the next day or to be in the school when he's actually making an announcement as I was in the sort of in deceived the kids especially the young guys the freshman. Who sort of thought. I'm gonna get this program going to get this coach and going to get this experience at all these alumni have been talking about for years. And then to see you walk out the door. These kids were dissolving in the in the corridors they were sort of crying in the cafeteria and other things I think ultimately O'Brien. Had trouble with that and in trouble leaving so when he comes back. Now the bigger question is why he leads again and I think that's a good question it's a question that headmaster Michael -- Would say in the in the book he says the same thing I'd got -- why you left the first time I got that light came back I don't get that third one. And and I think that that sort of is is still open question but I think what you see is when he comes back -- -- sees some of the same issues sort of unresolved and and and and a lot of the same aggravation for thinking oh did I make a rash decision going through that and I and I think what what is interesting. Here in this and to be on this journey with it is for the players to actually have seen that this coach was. A human being that he was flawed that he made mistakes and I think that's actually good because we all make mistakes and I think it did what what you see when you get to the root of this story is not this savior of a coach you know saving. These young guys being in with troubled lives I think what you see is this relationship between him and them in the way that he fills their lives. And the way they feel it's. To the kids ever get the feeling as is often the case in big time athletics that they that they end up. The piece of meat there was one story in there which -- stuck with me. And this kind of -- guy picks up a couple of the guys taken off the plate for its men's league teams somewhere. And they're saying in the car on the way there you know where we going to eat afterwards he says you don't win you don't -- I'm thinking about you know. Is that what is with their lives are you know. What I saw in -- and we into these guys that I get to know well is. That they're smart and they know how to reach people because especially good athletes and young needs start getting used by some people and I think some people even would approach Jack O'Brien and say what does this got to want it the same question US which I think it's a good question because it's a survival question for I think what you have in athletics in especially in a lot of them than not you know that sort of outside a school sports programs. If you -- ten times sometimes have. Guys who want to be able to say I made that guy later on with the with the big time athletes and they want to kind of build the point back at that and so you do have some manipulation that goes on. But I was always impressed that these guys can read I mean these guys -- we talked him after this -- he talked about would take him to men's league they knew exactly what he was doing in they weren't going to get played they were going to. Go play because they were out of season in -- to sort of stay in shape and they get a meal out of it -- this guy but they knew what they were doing. They music I wouldn't necessarily have their has their back when they needed in the -- O'Brien in contrast would so that's where I think that they would stay at what they would see. With -- O'Brien is. And driving twenty hours in a week and just to see a former player. Practice in college those former players can't do anything for him on the court now so. The younger guys would watch that may file that away and say okay this is a different kind of commitment. This book maybe laugh. This book made me cry this book made me think. This made me mad it made me mad if in the end it in the madness package say it that way the matter -- got. Not you. Judge Mark Somerville. Were you -- too. With this story I mean I don't want to give away it is a critical is a critical part of the book and have already give away some of it. Put -- to say that name and askew. Were you mad at his inflexibility apparent inflexibility apparent stubborn ness. Yes I mean assured answers yes I was sort of there at this point I have known that the the guys in Christopher couple years -- known for namely those we've been this this has to do with a court case that went in the the key players and it goes through and from me in this case in this story helped sort of illustrate and how narrow the margin -- art -- And this is where the difference is you know eyes -- think sometimes people Seau inner city kids they you know they don't have the opportunity it's true that it. The educational system is not. Sort of up to part compared to what you might get in other places but often with their own talents in their own drive and -- good mentors and their lives they can get ahead. But what's different I think is the small missteps that can sort of quickly cascade into huge problems because there's not the safety net there's not the support network. And so in in this case you haven't had. It's sort of a great athlete with a scholarship. Whose life if it's completely. On a busted when she. And I sort of thinking -- you know played in sports in high school and had friends and was always the jocks who steal and street signs again into fights and in drug. And nothing of economic consequence ever happened to sold make a call and say this has plane Saturday take care this nevermind don't know has. A -- your athletic scholarship to division two competitive college there is a difference in there in that. These you know again these narrow margins these small steps -- and in badly because there's there there isn't that support network in this case you have a judge who sort of chooses to. Hold up the letter of the law in this case he was within his right legally to do what he did but I was sitting back and thinking. Is this really going yeah. At the same thing you know I regret it maybe four times that didn't happen -- say that this race that. I kept going back over the judge have a history of being the tough -- of the bad cop in town not used to actually interesting. -- history on that and I have to say that other people have read that and said. -- -- saw something they saw that this kid was Torre trying to sort of head and kind of abuse the situation take advantage of that and and he could read through the that he could -- through something that the jury in this case couldn't read through some people read this book and say that I didn't have that feeling when I was going through that. So so I don't I don't know the answer -- but I do I think that the larger point is this kind of stuff is happening. All over the place and we don't know -- sort of caprice is in this. With the law when people don't have means and they don't have. Expensive lawyers and sort of they get there is a different kind of just scrutiny that comes but it doesn't come from the -- sort of average cases that are -- you know going through the court system all over the country as we speak now. Was curious about this when I read a book like this when -- parent teacher association with these young man. And today you handed the ball into the publisher have you been back did Lleyton have they seen it have they talked to you about yeah have they communicated how they feel it. It came out things like that. Yeah I I and it's a great question and it's something that was very important to me I didn't want to sort of trafficking in benefit from people's problems and sort of have that sort of transactional relationship in this you know I -- a journalist or reproach this and I have to follow story wherever it goes but over time I became really invest in these kids. And wanting kept wanting it to go well and have stayed in touch with them instantly knew we've done three things to do that instead of having a traditional launch party we had all the families and extended families of the teams in the alumni over the years to get a repeat party we've -- I've gone out to see one of the players in college it stayed in touch with him in this game it is just with one of the assistant coaches earlier this morning and that part of that is important. To me in and out of games to two media bring the guys you know rotating basis brings them into Dudek I think. Well when I sat -- -- to write the book and I was sort of finishing it where I kind of knew what was happening there what I did is is I set -- each of the guys and says okay this is everything we -- I'm not going to show you -- -- manuscript on it but it tell you when you go through this part of it was fact ticking for me out so. -- -- people who fact checkers to make sure on the other side the more detail issues but just kind of out there these young guys and I want to sort of changed their lives based on. If the randomness that I was in their lives and we talked about -- and are there any issues that you're not comfortable with and I was. I was I was really impressed with these guys and their families that they sort of we're okay with that some things he would take on the might be self conscious about it and basically with a series that's it you know that's part of the story the struggle as part of the story what you overcome in what you and the setbacks you deal with so there I think people relate to this story in the people in it and they care about them because its real because it's not perfect because it's -- -- rushed -- and and and it and I think I feel good about that one other thing that we've done. Is I've worked with a local nonprofit this set up a scholarship fund in the memory of one of the former players. Who's that tragically killed a couple years ago over Taylor and the scholarship fund is designed to help -- of combat that issue of the narrow margins in one small way that it will help. Players who got to college and something went wrong get back to college so that that that's something that were working on now. There's there are some moments in the book you as -- ultimate crime. A lot of -- -- it's funny funny they're really thought about of that nickname now -- have to know dale growing up the complexion like mine being predominately African American. Community they will call yesterday I doubt are really related to the guy would call that guy into it my bad it was called eleven of their guy and has he just wasn't quite quite dark bay and I couldn't close. Maybe that you. You know that the teachers who tried to reinvent that we -- -- that funk had one issue that kids are okay -- cleanup after the you know at the dates back it'll lifted their bad in the 11 teacher. -- -- -- -- in Milan after that they -- while I -- up at. Well they've earned -- leather coat and threw out the window there that you. What some of the teachers I mean I guess you don't mention this. Just flat out hammers but a bridge between the lines. The teachers in the Boston public school system the good ones are really great -- there. They are and that is the thing when you're actually in the classroom and if you -- sort of been it. A teacher before students especially sort of kind of rowdy group of kids who gonna let you know right away you know how sort of -- you feel and exposed in kids can read it and they can sense sort of insecurity in the -- if you -- doing about it and do -- in this that you sort of committee yourself after this concept of -- education but had no idea what you're doing. They don't want that you know they want people who are real and they want people who want to meet them where they're real into the work with them to move forward in the what someone's going to show up every day in and be back in the next day to take it and move on on this. And the the teachers who figure out and I spent time in classrooms that -- -- class and there were chaotic in class and that were orderly and completely devoid of education. You know there was -- of the whole range is there and you seat in that school what's different about Charleston high school Michael phone headmaster brought in a lot of young teachers. And he sort of worked around the union rules to sort of so you can have -- -- allies seniority posting issues -- -- just -- came in and you could see them and some of them. Came in all smiles in the beginning of the year and like three weeks leave team dissolving in the cars. Because they were in it for that they weren't aware of what they were you know getting into. The teachers who did well I mean something to watch you know -- -- a classroom where where they're talking about Shakespearean sonnets united ninth and tenth graders. And no one's reason of course everyone's kind of involved it's kind of into the classroom management is this -- in the people who do well are are great and you just wish that they were more than one -- -- Shakespeare. Do that and Socrates did -- the question over and at a time here. Was tackle Bryant attitude that coaching anywhere but he thinks going to happen. Well he's still at -- -- high school he's a physics teachers there and is working with some of the players in in in that context he still there is still have a presence in the school still working with the players. Though alumni from before he's helping out this only -- scholarship fund that we were working on. By the way there's more information on the assist on net that so and but. I think he needs to get back to coaching I think he wants to get back to coaching it's been two years now I think -- -- -- him. He always said he can walk away from coaching couldn't walk away from the relationships. And I think. Largely that's true people didn't believe that when they see this guy on the court because he's you know he's him. Intense sort of overbearing presence on the court I do think that relationships are more important but I also feel that. Without basketball with so he feels a little. Exposed he feels a little less. Potent as as as a mentor and as and it and it as a kind of if the teacher so I think that ultimately in somewhere some form he'll be coaching again and I think that's a good thing because he's a great coach. You guys know the rules we we don't have authors on unless a we've read the book in two we think you should buy it and read it as well and that is. -- absolutely the case with the assist written by -- widely published by public affairs books available in your bookstores right now and if you go to the dale and Holley web page on yeah -- dot com we've got all the information -- -- you can purchase the book is well. Felix spectacular thank you very much for technical so much a really big fans you guys they're really appreciate it thanks. We gotta get out of here the big shows coming up next Pete shepherd and atop the hours Sports Radio WEE

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