Remembering Jimmy Strong

By Alipio M. Terenzi
Updated: May 8, 2007

NOTE: Back in May, BASN did a three-part report on three great African-American pioneers of Italian sports which included Jimmy Strong who passed away this past Wednesday. Writer Alipio M. Terenzi tells the story of the versatile athlete and coach and his impact on his European followers in Italy.

SEATTLE– While Elliot van Zandt was spreading his gospel of the basics of basketball, Jimmy Strong was playing and coaching very successfully in central Italy.

Indeed the two ex-soldiers were slated to play on the same Livorno basketball team in 1947, but van Zandt was hired by the Italian basketball federation.

Jimmy Strong was an outstanding athlete and a natural coach in his own right. His speed and strength on the baseball field were impressive, as were his ball-handling skills on the basketball court.

Livorno basketball fans carried Strong in triumph after one of his amazing games in 1947. Strong then started playing basketball in Bologna in 1948.

He is now considered to be the first foreigner ever recruited to play basketball in Bologna, one of the strongholds of Italian basketball.

The locals in Bologna would flock to watch Jimmy Strong’s practices and games. Strong both coached and played for the Gira basketball team.

While doing double-duty for this basketball team, Strong also played baseball for the Libertas Bologna team in 1948, winning the first Italian baseball title.

His former players remember him for his deep knowledge of the game and its rules. Strong is considered a landmark in the history of Bologna baseball.

Former pitcher and national team player Franco Ludovisi describes him as a master of psychology who was able to rev up his players; he was also a coach who always supported his players.

Giulio Glorioso, pitching legend and Italian Hall of Famer, describes Strong as a feared hitter and one of the most aggressive base runners, a man of “extraordinary intelligence and vitality.”

For two years, from 1951 to 1952, Jimmy Strong followed van Zandt’s lead and was head coach of the Swiss men’s basketball team.

Like van Zandt, he took this team to the Helsinki Olympics. In Switzerland, Strong also played with the Servette BBC first division basketball team.

This did not interrupt Strong’s baseball career in Italy; in fact, Strong went on to coach the Italian national baseball team at the European championships of 1957 and 1958.

In 1957 Strong was also the first instructor of the first-ever baseball coaches’ course in Italy. He left Italy in the early 70′s to continue his coaching career in the Netherlands, where he coached basketball, softball, baseball, and boxing.

In this northern European country, Jimmy Strong had a big impact and is greatly respected to this day.

Strong passed away on Wednesday, November 21, at the age of 88 years old. He would have turned 89 on November 29. Last year, he suffered a stroke and has been in a revalidation center since.