I wanted to be in touch and say thanks. But with him that’s not so easy. This guy doesn’t own a computer and doesn’t use e-mail. Heck, even calling and leaving a message isn’t a possibility because he doesn’t have a cellphone or use an answering service of any kind. He’s a self-proclaimed “Luddite” and proud of it.
So when I wanted to say ‘thanks’ to basketball’s greatest high school scout, Tom Konchalski, for showing me and my pal PJ through the courts of NYC and NJ again I had to drop him a letter. It was a hand-written card, in fact. And penning it felt great — great to know that I had made more than a cold electronic connection with a man who, in his early seventies now, has spent decades making personal and meaningful connections with high school basketball players of all skill levels. He’s the guy who first spotted Michael (then “Mike”) Jordan. And he’s the kind of guy who, long after he’d helped raise Felipe Lopez’s profile so high that “Spanish Michael Jordan” ended up on the cover of Sports Illustrated (after which he graduated to the NBA), still sends Mrs. Lopez, Felipe’s mom, a birthday card. Every year.
Yep, that’s the guy I get to hang with for a few days every summer. Not because I’m anyone special. No way. Rather, it’s just because Tom and I met a bunch of years ago and we stay connected. I’m thrilled to say that somewhere along the way the 6’ 6’’ bastion of basketball information who is “Tom” went from being the subject of a story I was writing (see the “Basketball Diary” page) to a friend. We’re not close, but we’re always happy to hear from one another. And because of my annual visits to NYC — where Tom and me and my dear pal PJ roll around a few playgrounds and watch outstanding HS ball — we’ve all bonded. Over ball and meals and long chats (where PJ and Tom do most of the talking and I listen and nod a lot).
Tom Konchalski is unusual for many reasons, his complete aversion to technology being one of those (his daily attendance at church and inability to drive a car are two others). But he’s even more unusual for his sincerity and character and goodness. He has made a lasting impact on the lives of countless basketball players in terms of the schools to which he has pointed the and the good lives toward which he was guided them. He’s done this in word and in deed.
America’s current political leaders could all take a page from the book of kindness and connection as written by Tom. Heck, we all could. Meantime, for the cost of 2 stamps, a little ink, and a few minutes of my time, I happily communicate with this ‘Wizard of Odds’ the sweet, slow fashioned way.