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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.