great book is a great book, no matter the subject. So why do
sports books often get such a bad name? Sports editor Hayden
Meikle - who answers his own question by acknowledging the
sports book market has more dross than most - names the 12
sports books you simply must read.
Sample: ''He liked the clash of will. He was at once
an intensely proud black man, justifiably angry about the
injustice around him, and a superb and subtle con artist, a
man who had in effect invented himself and his persona - Luke
the Intimidator. When he was making demands, when he talked
about race being an issue at point, it was sometimes hard to
tell which Maurice Lucas was talking - the Lucas who
genuinely believed he was a victim of such obvious American
racism, or the Lucas who knew that his cause was more
dramatic if he deliberately cloaked it in himself.''
The setting: The National Basketball Association in
the late 1970s.
The protagonists: The Portland Trail Blazers,
including such fascinating characters as Bill Walton, Kermit
Washington, Maurice Lucas and Billy Ray Bates.
Why it is brilliant: Great writer plus great topic
equals ... a great book. Halberstam was a literary giant, a
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who became known for his
coverage in Vietnam. He made a spectacular debut into the
sports book market with The Breaks of the Game, which
weaved the recent history of the Blazers with their efforts
in (a vastly different) NBA. Road trip stories, personal
stories, racial conflict stories, weird and wonderful stories
- Halberstam collates the lot with a deft, lyrical touch. The
result is momentous.
Don't just take my word for it: ''Eventually, I read
the book so many times that the spine of the book crumbled,
so I bought the paperback version to replace it. Through
college and grad school, as I was slowly deciding on a
career, I read it every year to remind myself how to write -
how to save words, how to construct a sentence, how to tell
someone's life story without relying on quotes, how to make
anecdotes come alive. It was my own personal writing
seminar.'' - Bill Simmons.
The aftermath: Thirty years on, many still consider
this the finest basketball book ever written. Halberstam
later returned to hoops with Playing For Keeps: Michael
Jordan and the World He Made. He died in 2007.