By: Adam Spunberg
As LeBron James hovers on the precipice of perhaps his first NBA championship, author Tony Meale delves deep into the King’s past, back to the days when he was royalty of the Ohio high school circuit and never lost a game – except for one. That loss was to Roger Bacon, an inspirational team of unlikely, undaunted heroes whose remarkable achievement deserves to be told. Meale does just that through a soul-searching, heartfelt narrative, The Chosen Ones, now available for purchase. On the heels of its anticipated release, Meale provides some poignant answers about the book and his personal journey in writing it. To buy the book and learn more about it, go to TheChosenOnesTheBook.com.
Q: You make a point of stressing how much Roger Bacon’s surprise victory stayed with you, even many years after it took place. What makes their underdog story more special than others?
A: Well, from a basketball standpoint, LeBron James went 81-1 against in-state competition in high school, so if you’re the only team to accomplish something – and that something involves beating LeBron James at basketball – then you know what you did was pretty special. But one thing that makes it bittersweet is the fact that Roger Bacon’s coach in 2002, Bill Brewer, passed away in 2007. He was only 42, and he died about five months after being interviewed for a story that ran in USA Today about that state championship. Bill was a very tough coach, a coach whose players didn’t always like playing for him. In fact, some of them hated playing for him. But now that they’re a little older and a little wiser, they appreciate what he did and realize just how special he was. But they can’t tell him that. They can’t say thank you.
Q: Let’s say someone is browsing for an interesting book to read and that person comes across yours. Why should he/she read it?
A: I think this book is about basketball in the same sense that Remember the Titans is about football, and it’s about Roger Bacon in the same sense that Friday Night Lights is about Permian. It is, but it isn’t. If you love basketball – regardless of whether you love or hate LeBron, regardless of whether you love or hate the NBA – you’ll enjoy this book. And if basketball really isn’t your thing, that’s okay, too. Because this book, at its core, is about the human spirit. There’s so much that so many central figures in this story had to overcome – not just during that season, but before it and after it – and you get a chance to see them as people, not just as players and coaches. I think there’s a lot in this book that people can relate to. None of the characters are perfect, but you find yourself rooting for them.
Q: Your story is about the improbable victory of Roger Bacon, but also about the defeat of LeBron James. Which component is more significant to you?
A: Oh, Roger Bacon’s victory, without question. So much has been done on LeBron James – and deservedly so; he was probably the greatest prep basketball player ever. But everything that’s been done on him has all been told from his perspective. This book is by no means a biography on LeBron James, but you get glimpses of him that you’ve never seen before, and knowing what I know about him now, his pro career to date makes a whole lot more sense. But the heart of the book is telling Roger Bacon’s story. That’s a story that sports fans, by and large, know nothing about. I think people who know about that game just assume that St. Vincent-St. Mary beat itself – that they came in too cocky and didn’t take Roger Bacon seriously. Well, maybe, maybe not. By the end of the book, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself questioning whether this was even an upset. And even if you think it was, I guarantee it won’t be as cut-and-dry as you think.
Q: Have you found yourself rooting for LeBron James in the NBA more or less since you began the odyssey of writing The Chosen Ones?
A: I don’t know if I’m rooting for or against him, but I think it’d be kind of fitting if he won his first NBA title in the same month this book comes out. That loss to Roger Bacon was probably the biggest amateur setback of LeBron’s career. It’s something he still brings up, and it’s something you know he still thinks about. He won the national title as a senior at St. Vincent-St. Mary, but I’m not sure if he’s ever gotten entirely over that loss to Bacon – and maybe he never will. But given the timing of my book, an NBA title would sort of make things come full circle.
Q: The tale of Roger Bacon clearly has some parallels — as you mention — to the more famous Hoosiers legend. How close are they?
A: I think they’re similar in that you’ve got a high school basketball state final, a tough coach, a heavy favorite and a serious underdog. But I think there were some things that Roger Bacon had to endure and overcome that season that Milan and Hickory – depending on which story you’re more into – didn’t encounter. Then you throw in the X-factor of LeBron, who will go down as one of the greatest players ever, and it’s safe to say there are some discernible differences.
Q: With this book written, where will you turn for your next project?
A: That’s a good question. You know, I sort of pulled a Buzz Bissinger last summer when I resigned from my newspaper job to write this book, which certainly made for some interesting reactions. People have asked about my next book – and I do have a few ideas floating in my head – but I really am taking this whole thing one day at a time. I hope to write a second book – and I think I will – but if I only write one, I’m glad it was this one because sports fans need to know about Roger Bacon. It’s a great story. I mean, I give away the ending in the title. That’s how much faith I have in the story, and that’s how confident I am that it’ll resonate with people. My hope is that the writing does it justice. If the writing is one-tenth as good as the story, I’ll be happy. And I really mean that.
Adam Spunberg is a sports contributor for CBS Local Digital Media and you can follow him on Twitter @AdamSpunberg