Monday, February 09, 2009

Chicago Bulls Assistant Coach, Bob Ociepka, Authors "Minestrone for the Mobster's Soul: Life Lessons from the Movie Mafia"

When Chicago Bulls assistant coach Bob Ociepka says "nice shot" in his free time, you can bet he's not talking about basketball.

Ociepka, who lives in Arlington Heights, loves mob movies. Loves them. He's studied them all, from the James Cagney flicks of the 1930s all the way up to contemporary films like "American Gangster."

The crime and violence inherent in such films is part of the fascination, of course, but Ociepka said he's also attracted to the actually quite-traditional values that the characters espouse when they're not breaking the law: respect, loyalty, responsibility, friendship.

"It occurred to me that there really are some important lessons in those movies," Ociepka said during a phone interview shortly before a Bulls-Rockets game in Houston. "And that's when I thought of putting those lessons together in a book."

The result is "Minestrone for the Mobster's Soul: Life Lessons from the Movie Mafia," a book Ociepka co-wrote and self-published with his cousin, Bruno Ociepka, also a mob-movie devotee.

The pair's fascination with Hollywood's treatment of organized crime began in their youth, when they lived on Chicago's West Side, an area that used to be home to a connected guy or two.

"We didn't have to look far to see some of that stuff," Bob Ociepka said with a laugh. "It was all around."

The book includes hundreds of mob-movie quotes and lists of the mob films that the authors would like to have "made" and others they believe should get whacked. ("The Godfather" is a favorite, but "Black Caesar" gets low marks.)

The heart of the book, though, is a fictionalized account of life on Chicago's West Side in the '50s and '60s. These accounts, narrated by the Ociepkas' alter-egos Bobby Madura and Joey DiBruno, hum with Chicago references and street slang. You'll read about 16-inch Clinchers, stern Catholic school nuns and the danger involved in running afoul of the neighborhood precinct captain.

"It was a professional writer in California who suggested that we include the Chicago stories along with the movie stuff," Bob Ociepka said. "We changed some details in the stories so they could fit with the lessons we were talking about, but there's still a lot of truth in them."

Ociepka, a graduate of Providence-St. Mel High School in Chicago, made his name as a local high school basketball coach before moving to the NBA in the late 1980s. He joined the Bulls' staff last year.

Ociepka said he's been handing out copies of the book to his players, many of whom share his interest in mob flicks. He recently autographed a copy for Ben Gordon, the Bulls' hot-shooting guard.

"I'm glad that a lot of the players like the movies, but they tend to focus on the recent ones," Ociepka said. "'Scarface' (the 1983 Brian DePalma version) is a big favorite. But it kills me that some of them have never seen 'The Godfather.'"

Writing "Minestrone" took about seven years, from conception to completion. Ociepka said he loved the experience, but he's not sure if he has another book inside him. "I might have told all my good stories in this one," he said.

Thanks to Matt Arado

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