Dime Drop: Jamel Thomas

by November 12, 2008

While he hasn’t quite become the online columnist I sort of implied he would be when he wrote this touching piece for us almost exactly a year ago, Jamel Thomas, the Big East’s top scorer a decade ago and still a pro player in Europe (Greece to be exact), hardly quit creating. On the contrary, he made a wild Youtube video that blew up last spring, then focused his efforts on completing his long-time book project, an honest and revealing autobiography, The Beautiful Struggle.

As I wrote in SLAM 123, Jamel has lived through more than enough to write a book, including a harrowing childhood in Coney Island and serving a long-time role as a mentor to relatives (including half brother Sebastian Telfair) and fellow CI natives. He’s also butted heads with his cousin Stephon Marbury, a subject that Jamel dramatically covers in the book. Check out the interview I did with Jamel for SLAM below and if that makes you want more from him, go to Jamelthebook.com to order it.

SLAM: Some of the details in the book are really rich; did you keep a diary? When did you start writing for real?

JT: I started writing it about two years ago. I remember a lot. They say kids remember when tragedy happens, so since the passing of my mother when I was young is something I just thought about every day. Since I was in college I always wanted to write a story because I saw the transformation into me doing good and not being a street kid anymore. I thought it would be inspirational for younger kids that look up to me and to ball players in general.

SLAM: The book does tell your story, pretty much in order, but there are a lot of interludes and poems and some pieces from other writers as well. What was your thinking in doing it that way?

JT: I always wanted to do poetry because I used to love Biggie Smalls and poetry, rap, whatever. I use that so I can show people my other talents besides just writing a story. The poetry in the book is always related to the story or about the paragraph you just read. I think people are going to be intrigued by it because they won’t be expecting it from me. People probably just look at me as a good guy and a basketball player and that’s about it. People don’t really know my capabilities.

SLAM: As good of a player as you are—and some of the coverage the book has gotten in New York has raised your profile a bit—but I think you’d be the first to admit that a lot of basketball fans know you mainly as someone related to Stephon and Sebastian. What is your relationship like with them now?

JT: I am very disappointed in Stephon right now and people are going to read that in Chapter 7, “The Hidden Truth.” They probably won’t believe it all, but I wrote what happened and he knows the truth. Our relationship has been dry since about 2003. With me and Sebastian, it’s kind of going towards that way as well, but that’s my little brother and I won’t let that happen.

SLAM: What have you heard from them or people close to them lately? With the book coming out, do you have any indication that they are nervous?

JT: Some people are nervous. You know they say the truth hurts, but the truth will also set you free, and that’s my motto. I don’t think they have anything to worry about. If I’m lying about some stories, then they have something to be nervous about, but if it’s the truth, don’t worry about it. It happened already.

SLAM: What are your ultimate goals for the book?

JT: I think the book is going to do well because I think all people can relate to my story. People have been anticipating it. They think it is like a tell-all book, but it’s really not. It’s my life story with a bunch of key players who happen to be in the media’s eye right now. People are going to read about how I was able to overcome certain disappointments and letdowns and still keep my character. I think people are going to appreciate it in Coney Island because there are a lot of good things that I am saying for Coney Island. Even though the economy is bad, maybe some of these beautiful words can help them out, and think about something different for a change; instead of just arguing, fighting, and killing each other and selling drugs to each other. Hopefully things that I write, like the “Coney Island Daily News” section, can bring everybody together, just for maybe for one day. If I can do that for one day, I did my job.

Bonus question that didn’t fit in the magazine but seems poignant these days with Lance Stephenson in the news for the wrong reasons.

SLAM: Do you have any relationship with the Stevenson family? Lance is obviously a phenomenal player, but he can also be a little hot-headed. I am just curious, do you root for a guy like that, do you have advice for him, do you know him at all? Pretty crazy that yet another arguably top player in the country is from Coney Island.

Jamel: Of course I’m rooting for him. I wish I could be more of an influence for him, because I could really help him off the court. A lot of guys have talent, and some don’t make it to the NBA, some don’t even make it to college. Attitude and image is everything, and I wish I could be there to teach him that. But he has other people in his ear and I’m not trying to over-step those people at all.