There are a surprising number of Toronto sports personalities with impressive bloodlines.
Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson’s father, Larry, and uncle, Johnny, played on Stanley Cup winning teams in Detroit.
Raptors forward Ed Davis is the son of Terry Davis, who played in the NBA for 10 seasons.
And the father of Blue Jays pitcher Kyle Drabek, Doug Drabek, won the 1990 National League Cy Young Award.
But perhaps the most impressive family connection belongs to Maurizio Gherardini, the Raptors senior vice-president of basketball operations.
Does the name Gherardini mean anything to you on a non-hoops level?
Unless you’re an art connoisseur, it probably wouldn’t.
But think about this ... what is the most famous, most beloved painting of all time? Of course, everyone’s tastes differ and great works of art aren’t judged solely on their sale price.
But anyone who knows the difference between Salvador Dali and a Spotted Owl would likely agree that the Mona Lisa is certainly one of the greatest paintings ever.
The Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece has moved kings and queens and serfs and criminals ever since the Italian Renaissance man finished the iconic portrait prior to his death in 1519.
So what does the Mona Lisa have to do with Maurizio Gherardini?
Mona Lisa is the name of the painting, but the actual woman in the painting, the model, is Lisa del Giocondo, who was born Lisa Gherardini.
As for the blood ties, Maurizio Gherardini isn’t 100% certain that the families are directly linked, but he sincerely believes they are, as Lisa Gherardini hails from his father’s hometown, Florence. And Gherardini, he said, is a very rare name.
“You can look on Google. There are not many Gherardinis,” the Raptors VP said, prior to a recent game at the Air Canada Centre. “And while I can’t guarantee you how close the ties are, I think we’re connected.”
Maurizio did not grow up with stories of the Mona Lisa and how there may be a family connection.
“To be honest, I’ve always admired the painting, but never paid too much attention to the last name,” he said.
The personable Raptors VP wasn’t even aware that they shared a common surname until one day when the CEO of a local company strolled into the Banca Commerciale Italiana in Forli, Italy, where Maurizio was the head of the Letter of Credit Department, and presented him with a gift.
“I said, ‘That’s very nice of you’. But I wasn’t getting what he was trying to do,’ ” said Maurizio. “And he said, ‘My hobby is history. I read a lot of historical books. And I found this book by a French historian who tells the Mona Lisa story’.
“But I still wasn’t getting it. ‘Why this book?’ ” I said. ‘Why didn’t you bring me another book? And he said, ‘I thought you would appreciate this particular book because it is your story and your family’s story.’ And that’s how I found out about Mona Lisa’s last name.”
Since then, Maurizio has embraced everything about the Mona Lisa and Lisa Gherardini, the woman with the shy, enigmatic smile. He has travelled to The Louvre in Paris 4-5 times to view the painting and takes enormous pride in Da Vinci’s great work.
“Somehow, without having any credit, I do take pride,” he said. “She’s a Gherardini.
“It’s fascinating. The first time I was a little bit shocked by the size because I thought it was much bigger,” he added.
“But it’s such an intriguing painting. Just looking at that smile, you can ponder for hours trying to understand whether it’s a happy smile or unhappy smile.”
That’s one of the great mysteries of the Mona Lisa, one of the qualities that makes the painting so timeless.
No one knows what Da Vinci was trying to convey through her smile, or whether the smile was Lisa Gherardini’s alone.
But for Maurizio, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that she is beautiful and she is a Gherardini.
One day, when he has the time, the busy Raptors executive plans to do a complete ancestry search.
But in his mind, though, there’s no doubt.
He can feel it in his heart.
“Once in a while when the topic of the Mona Lisa comes up, I always take very special pride and say, ‘Hey, she’s a Gherardini. So watch out before you say any bad comments about her,’” he said with a laugh.