Tuesday, April 30, 2013

the last book I ever read (Tiger Rag: A Novel by Nicholas Christopher, excerpt five)

from Tiger Rag: A Novel by Nicholas Christopher:

Ruby highlighted and deleted two pages of text, then looked up at Devon and assumed her clinical voice. “I never heard of anyone committing suicide like that. Medically speaking, it would be excruciating. As your temperature drops, your organs shut down, one by one, last of all your brain. You’re aware of what’s happening until you begin hallucinating, and by then you’ve lost all mobility. Amnesia sets in. You may not know who you are or where you are. Depending on his clothing, it may have taken him four or five hours to die. That’s more than killing yourself: it’s looking to suffer. It doesn’t add up for me.”

Monday, April 29, 2013

the last book I ever read (Tiger Rag: A Novel by Nicholas Christopher, excerpt four)

from Tiger Rag: A Novel by Nicholas Christopher:

By the time he arrived in Jackson that day, Willie Cornish had known plenty of crazy people, some driven mad by drink and despair, some just broken inside, but he had never been inside an asylum. He imagined a hospital that was run like a jail. He had only been locked up once, for disorderly conduct, in a stinking cell at the Michaud Street Jail. In the army he had been in a field hospital outside Santa Clara, Cuba, for a week, lying in the darkness listening to other soldiers scream through the chloroform as doctors removed shrapnel and sawed off limbs. They operated by lantern light, and he never forgot that smell of blood and kerosene.

When Cornish caught sight of the State Asylum, it confirmed his fears: a forbidding monolith with Greek columns, the main building was ringed by smaller ones, including two grim dormitories, one for white, one for colored. Weeping willows dotted the broad lawn. There was a gazebo and a bandstand in a shady corner. On Saturdays chairs were brought out and either a band of visiting musicians or the patients’ own band played ragtime for the other patients and the staff.

In his pocket Cornish had the official response to the letter his wife Bella had sent the superintendent, requesting permission for William Cornish to visit his friend and former colleague, Charles Joseph Bolden.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

the last book I ever read (Tiger Rag: A Novel by Nicholas Christopher, excerpt three)

from Tiger Rag: A Novel by Nicholas Christopher:

Even in less turbulent times, it would have been strange for Devon to revisit that house and bunk down in her former bedroom: the dresser filled with old clothes, a poster of Duke Ellington in tails over the bed, the clarinet she played in the school band on a shelf. As a kid, she had taken lessons on the Steinway grand in the living room, which she hadn’t played in years. She moved out of the house at seventeen and rarely returned. She had taken her small collection of vintage instruments—two trumpets, a mandolin, a saxophone once played by Johnny Hodges, and the clarinet she sold—and two thousand CDs, nearly all jazz, that were stacked around her tiny living room overlooking Corona Boulevard. As a kid, she was always plugged into a Walkman. She had a good ear. She augmented her lessons by playing along to Earl Hines and Horace Silver, to McCoy Tyner’s bop and Memphis Slim’s boogie, mimicking their licks as best she could. She became as much a student of jazz as a musician. Her tastes were broadly eclectic: she was equally attracted to James Johnson’s stride piano and Jason Moran’s historical fusion, which took a famous piece like Johnson’s “You’ve Got to Be Modernistic” and improvised a dozen sequences around the ragtime core. But she found her real model in Ahmad Jamal, the pianist she most admired. Classically trained, endlessly inventive, Jamal worked a broad canvas. He was ambitious, referring to his trio as an orchestra, exploring every jazz form that preceded him, and experimenting on the electric piano. His renditions of “Perfidia” and “But Not for Me” set the standard for Devon: the radical chord shifts, subtle colorations, and Afro-Cuban rhythms.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

the last book I ever read (Tiger Rag: A Novel by Nicholas Christopher, excerpt two)

from Tiger Rag: A Novel by Nicholas Christopher:

Walking back down Julia Street, his hands shaking, Guideau knew he had found his man. He couldn’t prove it yet, but he knew. But what would Johnson do now? Why would he want to keep the cylinder? And why has it become a point of honor for me to win the respect of a man like Zahn, who doesn’t respect me in the first place? Maybe I am mad, like my uncle who failed at everything, but was convinced if he murdered the president he could become president. When they hanged him, he was sure the spectators loved him, that he was a hero. He ruined my father’s life, and my brothers’, dirt farmers who lost everything and had to leave Ohio. I ran away first, changed that one letter in my name which maybe I should’ve changed altogether, and here I am, tired of running. I’m no murderer, but up to now I’ve been a failure, like my uncle. Up to now. Because if that damn cylinder is so hot, I’ll keep it for myself.

Friday, April 26, 2013

the last book I ever read (Tiger Rag: A Novel by Nicholas Christopher, excerpt one)

from Tiger Rag: A Novel by Nicholas Christopher:

Bolden shook his head. He wasn’t happy. Zahn lit another cigarette. Tillman replaced a cracked drumstick. Willie Warner, the B-flat clarinetist, cursed under his breath: he had never played a better solo in his life—for nothing. Guideau handed Zahn a fresh cylinder. Zahn removed it from its gold tube with the photograph of Thomas Edison on the side and screwed it onto the mandrel. He tightened the worm gear, tested the spring, and adjusted the sapphire stylus. Sitting against the wall, Guideau waited for the stylus to dance on the turning cylinder. Four inches high, two inches in diameter, the cylinder revolved one hundred twenty times a minute as the stylus cut grooves thinner than capillaries into which the music flowed. The device still amazed Guideau, who had grown up on a pig farm in Hiram, Ohio, where there were tools, but no machines.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

the last book I ever read (Jim Harrison's The River Swimmer, excerpt eleven)

from The River Swimmer: Novellas (The River Swimmer) by Jim Harrison:

The young scholar from Michigan State said that poets and novelists were whores for language, that they would give anything for something good. Thad easily accepted the idea that he was a whore for swimming, the only activity that gave him total pleasure and a sense of absolutely belonging on Earth, especially swimming in rivers with the current carrying your water-enveloped body along at its own speed. It was bliss to him so why shouldn’t he be obsessed? And if Emily wanted to take him swimming in Costa Rica it was only another kind of whoredom. What was at issue except pride? The classic “I can’t be bought” but then I can. He would anyway end up selling his life for a job like anyone else, including his dad putting out oil well fires or his mother donating her life to the farm. It’s just what people did. He could even imagine doing so at the age Grandpa had been when he died, eighty-one, an old man heading downriver. A teacher had told him that for most of his life the great James Joyce had to be supported by a woman named Sylvia Beach. But he didn’t say where she had gotten the money to begin with. Was there truly dirty money? Or was it purified by rotation and use.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

the last book I ever read (Jim Harrison's The River Swimmer, excerpt ten)

from The River Swimmer: Novellas (The River Swimmer) by Jim Harrison:

They returned to Arles fairly exhausted for one more night, a brief dinner at Le Galoubet, and a night of vivid dreams about death. He got up for a glass of water and watched a drunk stumble across the town square making a moaning sound. In periods of extreme loneliness we don’t know a thing about life and death and the reality of water consoles us. In school he had long thought that history, the study of it, was an instrument of terror. Reading about either the American Indians or slaves can make you physically ill. He wanted a life as free as possible from other people, thus simply staying on the island was tempting. The possibility of stopping people from doing what they do to other people seemed out of the question. Congressmen die in bed.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

the last book I ever read (Jim Harrison's The River Swimmer, excerpt nine)

from The River Swimmer: Novellas (The River Swimmer) by Jim Harrison:

By midafternoon he wobbily hauled himself up a rusty iron ladder at Meigs Field, the island airport. He slumped to the very warm cement facedown to absorb some heat for his cold body. It was only minutes before he looked up and saw a security car with flashing lights headed toward him. It stopped with the front tires not that far from his head. He heard a voice.

“Are you dead?”

“Apparently not,” he answered. “I swam down from Muskegon in the last couple days.”

“Oh bullsh*t!”

“Okay, I walked on water!”

“You can’t nap here. This is an airport.”

Monday, April 22, 2013

the last book I ever read (Jim Harrison's The River Swimmer, excerpt eight)

from The River Swimmer: Novellas (The River Swimmer) by Jim Harrison:

“I admire you. Do what you want. Fais ce que tu voudras, as the French say,” said the least vocal of the fishermen, drinking from a pint of schnapps. “These guys make a lot of money but they haven’t done sh*t. Keep the Lexus washed. I didn’t do much but when I was fourteen I rode my bicycle to the Upper Peninsula, then way over west to Duluth with a friend camping all the way. These were balloon tire bikes.”

“We’ve heard this before,” a fellow fisherman said.

“Well, hear it again. What the f*ck have you done? Go to Princeton and trade stocks. In a good society you would have been executed three years ago.”

Sunday, April 21, 2013

the last book I ever read (Jim Harrison's The River Swimmer, excerpt seven)

from The River Swimmer: Novellas (The Land of Unlikeness) by Jim Harrison:

He stood near the door to the upstairs feeling as he often did that his consciousness was rushing past him at a rate that exceeded that of a suitable life. The grand thing about painting was that your mind slowed to the pace of the work at hand or you simply couldn’t paint well. He decided to take a half hour walk like he used to do in the city when he was overexcited and would walk from SoHo up to Washington Square and back.

He chose the open pasture across the road, drifting this way and that, a little concerned that his thoughts would begin with his daughter, then to his mother, to Margaret in Europe, but then to Susann, a painter friend of his in college who had died from a brain tumor a few years before. Way back when he was the star of his college art department, largely thought to be the most gifted student, tempestuous, full of Sturm und Drang, full of pronouncements, and with a coterie of three girls and a gay student, Robert, following him around and hanging on whatever he wished to say. Clive, however, and an observant art history professor knew a secret: Susann was a better painter. She was shy and deferential and lived out her life in obscurity up near Glen Arbor in Leelanau County. She painted sublimely, mostly landscapes, watercolors, and he had tried without success to get her a New York gallery. They were only in touch every year or so, and on a few of her infrequent trips to New York. She would always say, “Don’t worry about me, I’m fine.” She, in fact, did sell well in her locale but to Clive, Susann represented the grotesque unfairness of the art world, how someone as good as Susann could be totally ignored. He owned three of her paintings and a few watercolors and when she died he had to put her work in a closet for a year to avoid his anger.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

the last book I ever read (Jim Harrison's The River Swimmer, excerpt six)

from The River Swimmer: Novellas (The Land of Unlikeness) by Jim Harrison:

At breakfast, oatmeal and a not ripe banana, which made him crave his New York greengrocer, he became distressed because though she denied it his mother wasn’t feeling up to snuff. It was her atrial fibrillation, unsteady heartbeat, which made her weaker and pale. When he managed to get her to try a bagel with cream cheese and lox she perked up a bit but then admitted that he should run her into the cardiologist after she lay down for a while.

He was disappointed because he wanted to get at his beveled glass painting now that his Masonite rectangles were dry, and then he was embarrassed by his disappointment. After all, he was here to take care of his mother no save what was left of his life, the rock bottom of his intentions. With the situation The Great Doubt began to arise, something that had been with him most poignantly for six decades or so, both philosophically and politically: the conviction that mayhem rules and nothing solidly constructive can be done about anything. This was mostly a mental infirmity borne up under by intellectuals, artists, and writers, but then Clive qualified somewhere in the middle.

Friday, April 19, 2013

the last book I ever read (Jim Harrison's The River Swimmer, excerpt five)

from The River Swimmer: Novellas (The Land of Unlikeness) by Jim Harrison:

It turned out that his mother was well toward the back of the churchyard under an ash tree and was effusively happy because she had heard her first oriole of the spring. He didn’t want to beep the horn out on the street so he had walked back to where she stood oblivious to everything but the oriole up near the top of the budding ash tree. Margaret had said that mother could identify a couple hundred species by their songs. Was this possible? Why not?

On the drive home she had babbled on about the fact that a bird called the bar-tailed godwit migrated all the way from the Aleutians to New Zealand in nine days without stopping for a rest. This seemed improbably to him but she had gone on in detail about how the bird gorged on crustaceans until it was obese and could barely fly before it caught a big north wind and headed south on its ten-thousand-mile flight. The immutable specifics of the sciences had always made Clive feel a tad flimsy. He recalled a line of Wallace Stevens from a college American literature course to the effect that the worst of all things was not to live in a physical world. This segued to the notion that maybe if he were collapsing mentally it might be better to do it out in the country than in New York where so much of the physical world was comprised of cement. When he and Tessa had split up he had to spend much of the day walking or he was sleepless and these walks had to be along the East or Hudson rivers because there was something consoling about moving water that he couldn’t identify.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

the last book I ever read (Jim Harrison's The River Swimmer, excerpt four)

from The River Swimmer: Novellas (The Land of Unlikeness) by Jim Harrison:

Turning in bed he could see Henry Miller’s To Paint Is to Love Again beneath a slender folder of Pascin. His daughter Sabrina had given him the book when she was twelve and feeling insufficiently loved. He liked Miller’s work very much but had never opened the book under the notion that he didn’t want to be disappointed with the man’s views on painting. He had seen a few of Miller’s aquarelles in the possession of a collector in L.A. and they were almost nice though the painter was trying something beyond his capabilities. These thoughts made him feel priggish. Miller had seemed quite happy in his last decade unlike most artists. He painted, played a lot of Ping-Pong, and was involved with younger women. This reminded Clive of Goethe who at seventy-three had gone into a depression because the eighteen-year-old girl next door wouldn’t marry him. This was an amusing presumption by a mountainous ego.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The 49ers at McSweeney's, episode twelve: Daniel J. O'Donnell

"And there were no gay politicians. Barney Frank was in the closet. There was no path. There was no path to be gay and successful in America."

from installment twelve of The 49ers: Oral Histories of Americans Facing 50 for McSweeney's, this with New York State Assemblymember Daniel J. O'Donnell.


the last book I ever read (Jim Harrison's The River Swimmer, excerpt three)

from The River Swimmer: Novellas (The Land of Unlikeness) by Jim Harrison:

He glanced over at the bookcase, dismissing the idea of rereading The Moon and Sixpence, a fictionalized rendering of the life of Gauguin. There were others that had poisoned his teens with their romanticism, including novels on the lives of van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Modigliani, and Caravaggio. At sixteen he had wept until his pillow was wet over the murder of Caravaggio. There were also dreary texts by Berenson, Herbert Read, and a tome by Gombrich.

He suddenly wished he had a photo of Kara from Indiana to put on the wall. There was the abrupt idea that he could easily paint her likeness from memory. He closed his eyes and could see her perfectly. Who would care? No one of course. He had anyway exhausted his feeling of failure over quitting painting twenty years before. The only remnant of the guilt came from having failed his father, a residual nexus of emotions from his father being proud that his son would be an artist rather than a farmer. He mentally organized a self-mocking headline “Professor Takes Up Painting Again” but the irony, as always, was weak-kneed, wobbly in fact. He wanted to see Kara again so he could paint her alive. Simple enough. There was immense freedom in not having a career to protect. His mind, a virtual encyclopedia of the history of art, briefly whirled with like and dislikes. He never cared for Warhol, Johns, Rauschenberg, or Judy Chicago. He rather liked Franz Kline, Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, and the long forgotten Abe Rattner and Syd Solomon, and even the more recent Ed Ruscha. But he loved Burchfield and Walter Inglis Anderson not to speak of Edward Hopper. He lay there feeling pleasantly irrelevant, recalling a Toronto periodical called Brick that a friend had given him, in which there was a goofy essay about food that included a comment to the effect that 99.999 percent of all writers, poets, painters, sculptors, and composers are eliminated in their last act and once you reach sixty you had to kill your ego so that you wouldn’t become desperately unhappy about disappearing in your old age. It wasn’t up to you anyway. Your life’s work would become a mild quarrel among the air guitarists.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

the last book I ever read (Jim Harrison's The River Swimmer, excerpt two)

from The River Swimmer: Novellas (The Land of Unlikeness) by Jim Harrison:

On the short drive home his brain was antic enough from two large drinks to enjoy the trivialization of everything including himself.

He swerved to avoid a rabbit and came altogether too close to the deep ditch which was momentarily sobering. As a boy he would shoot and clean rabbits and his dad would fry them. They both loved rabbit and venison. His father shot a deer every late fall but his mother wouldn’t eat wild game which didn’t lessen the pleasure taken in it by her husband and son. She would eat a bowl of barley soup in the parlor because of her intense empathy with the natural world, which did not include the human species except blacks and Indians.

Monday, April 15, 2013

the last book I ever read (Jim Harrison's The River Swimmer, excerpt one)

from The River Swimmer: Novellas (The Land of Unlikeness) by Jim Harrison:

Sabrina threw down two one-hundred-dollar bills, a habit of her mother’s, this throwing money. He had missed her Wellesley graduation because he had been near Saint-Rémy, France, appraising the collection of an American man on the verge of divorce. The man was itching to have a couple of Matisses declared bogus to save settlement money. Sabrina had gone out the door leaving her veal chop untouched and his ensuing letters and phone calls were unanswered. He had taken the veal chop home to the apartment. Sabrina had visited her grandmother a couple of times a year, staying in this very room he thought.

Maybe it was all about delusions of integrity. In his own twenties he had thought overmuch about not compromising when no one was asking him to compromise. At that age a specific rigidity seemed necessary to isolate yourself from your own confusion and to invent the person you were to become. Sabrina and her grandmother had always had an open level of communication based on their mutual obsession with the natural world. He had nothing of the kind with either of them since they both were singularly disinterested in his own passion for art.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

the last book I ever read (David Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game, excerpt eighteen)

from The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam:

Who was to explain to Luke about sweeps, a word from the world of television, the thrice-yearly periods when the networks got their report cards on ratings? Or the unfortunate fact, for professional basketball players and fans, that one of the sweeps fell in May? Since basketball’s ratings were very low, it meant that CBS would prefer not to broadcast the games during its regular hours, since they would thus emerge with a smaller share of the pie than NBC and ABC. “Stayed up until two o’clock in the morning, thanks to those television people,” Luke said. “Why do you think CBS didn’t carry it?” a reporter asked him. “I know why,” said Luke, “but I’m not saying. You know what it is. The same thing that it always is.” The implication was clear. It was race, basketball was the blackest of the sports.

So it was that in the middle of its massive contract with the NBA, CBS bailed out of the playoffs. The implication of this was clear enough to anyone on either side of the marriage, sports or broadcast: if CBS did not think the playoffs, the denouement of the season, worthy of prime-time coverage, how much longer would it even bother with the regular season? So on that day Maurice Lucas was angry, but the owners were scared.

the last book I ever read (David Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game, excerpt seventeen)

from The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam:

By the early sixties, the game had, in his own words, “gone in the air.” He remembered when he had first realized it, watching a predominately black team from Cincinnati beaten by a team from Loyola of Chicago with an all-black starting lineup. Watching the game he had felt an immense excitement. This was a sport in which he had excelled—in fact in his time he had been one of the best, there had been All-American mentions—and now he was watching a generation of young black men so superior in their gifts that he could not even imagine playing against them. It was an epiphany. He knew that he was watching only the beginning, that this was not going to be some isolated phenomenon at a Cincinnati-Loyola game. Given the number of superb black athletes in the country, how much greater their educational opportunities were becoming, it was undoubtedly the first wave of something large. The sport, he sensed, was about to change color. Watching that game he realized that all the coaching rules of the past, so carefully drilled into players like him—where to set your body, where to position your feet—were meaningless. Those rules were for a slow game played on the floor by slow players and this was a new acrobatic game where players floated above the floor.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

the last book I ever read (David Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game, excerpt sixteen)

from The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam:

In Philadelphia Tom Owens had received a call right before the game telling him that his father had died of a heart attack. He left the team immediately and went back to Bronxville to make arrangements. It was a melancholy trip for him. His father had been seventy-four and the two of them had planned a long-delayed trip to Ireland that summer. Bill Owens had been a maintenance man at the Lotos Club, a fancy Manhattan private club. The family had always been very poor, white but poor, Tom Owens was acutely aware of that as a boy sharing a bed with his brothers as they grew up; but now, when he went home for the first time, sitting in his father’s apartment, going through his personal effects, including his old tax returns, he realized just how poor they had been, and what an immense effort it had been for his parents to raise three sons. The largest amount of money his father had ever made, he learned to his shock, was $8,200 a year. He had no idea it was that little. It was like discovering, upon your father’s death, a kind of secret poverty. Looking at the receipts, all he could think of was how much courage his parents had had. As a professional basketball player he made more than $8,200 just for a sneaker endorsement; some of his teammates who had the plusher sneaker contracts made four times as much for endorsing sneakers they did not necessarily choose to wear. He looked at these tiny pieces of paper which represented part of his father’s story, and he tried not to feel bitterness towards the bleakness and powerlessness of his father’s position in life. Even at that moment his lawyer was enmeshed in endless seemingly fruitless negotiations with Portland over his next contract, a contract, since he was already thirty years old, likely to be his last. One of the questions was whether the contract would start at about $250,000 a year as Portland wished, or $325,000 as Owens and his lawyer, John Lizzo, were demanding. One year, he thought, was the equal of what his father made in an entire lifetime.

When he went back to his father’s house for the funeral it had made him still more determined to sign a proper contract with Portland or go free agent. The negotiations had been dragging on for almost a year. It was his last shot at big, at least by his terms, money. But Portland to him always seemed to be offering too little too late. Before the season had started he had wanted three years starting at $250,000 a year and going up very slightly. That was by NBA standards relatively modest for a starting center. Portland had instead offered him $175,000, which was what he was already making, though Houston was still paying part of that salary. Now Portland was steadily coming up in the offer, but he would soon become a free agent and now he figured he might as well sample the free-agent waters. There was little incentive for him to sign now. Also he felt a certain anger over the way Portland had acted. At one point, when his agent, John Lizzo, had asked for $250,000 a year, Weinberg had responded, “Are you really serious?” Lizzo had answered, “Who’s got the problem of being serious? You’re the people who offered $800,000 a year to a man who can barely walk.” Now, with Portland willing to pay what Owens had originally wanted, but with free agency just around the corner, Owens and his agent were asking $325,000 a year. Owens, looking at his father’s income tax returns, so tiny, so private, thought it all odd; he was not at all sure he was worth that much money, but if Marvin Webster, barely playing for New York, was worth $600,000 or so, then he was worth $325,000. It was all relative, he decided.

the last book I ever read (David Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game, excerpt fifteen)

from The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam:

What Embry considered to be the real tragedy was the way the colleges, which were supposed to be centers of learning, were giving kids a value system entirely different from the old values instilled in the home. “They’re so smooth, so friendly when they recruit, there’s not a question that these men don’t know the answer to.” The only hope the young blacks had was education, some kind of education, and these recruiters were teaching them how to bypass education, how to take pointless courses that would permit them to spend their lives in gyms. “These recruiters, if a kid has a question for them,” Embry said, “then the answer is always Yes, Yes, we can take care of that. Yes, we can fix that.” He himself had been lucky. He had been a poor farm boy from Ohio and was recruited by many schools, two in particular, Ohio State and Miami of Ohio. He had loved the idea of Ohio State. The Buckeyes were big stuff in Ohio and he had been brought to Columbus feeling the shadow of a great university upon him, feeling that he was small and that there was something magic there right at his touch, books with so many secrets, wise professors who knew so much and who would make him into a bigger man. He had almost felt giddy. The giddiness ended that night when he had dined with a high state official who said that Ohio State needed Wayne Embry and that Embry could study three times a week in this official’s office and make $90 a week. That was in 1955 and $90 a week seemed like a lot of money. He had known the moment he heard the official’s words that something was terribly wrong with Ohio State, that those books and professors were not what they should be, there was a terrible lie out there somewhere. Miami of Ohio by contrast had offered him tuition and room but demanded that he work in the dining hall to help pay for it. His parents, as poor as they were, had been outraged by what had happened in Columbus and told him he better expect to work for anything he got. That had been true before college and it was damn well going to be true after it, his father had said. He chose Miami and it had been a happy choice. But now, for the other poor black kids, the inducements were worse than ever. What they seemed to be saying was that you can cheat on life, so long as your jump shot goes in. “And that, my friends, is not always as long as we think,” said Embry.

Friday, April 12, 2013

the last book I ever read (David Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game, excerpt fourteen)

from The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam:

After the Atlanta game Portland re-signed Jim Brewer. He had been let go early in the season when Luke returned, and he had returned to Cleveland where he had a home, waiting for the phone to ring, trying to decide what to do with the rest of his life. He still wanted to play and Denver, a team struggling with its own limited fortunes, seemed briefly interested, but in the end they had signed a player named Glen Gondrezick, a white player, a Colorado boy, much admired by fans for the way he scrambled on the floor. Brewer’s agent had thought it a white-black decision. Brewer was glad to be back with Portland. “Terrible time for my wife,” he said. “I’m waiting around the house all the time. Every day I’ve got a long list of things I’m supposed to do, but all I do is hang around the house looking at the phone, taking up her space.” The hardest thing for him had been fighting the idea that life was over. “You think basketball is life but it’s not. It’s a front. You’re isolated all those years you’re playing ball. Shielded from everything, like living in a glass bubble. Everyone wants to help you, give you discounts on food and clothes, cars, so they can say Jim Brewer shops here. Or [his voice mimicking the people he knew] ‘we’re giving a party and Jim Brewer’s coming.’ Easy to get the idea that you’re someone that you’re not. Then one day it’s over. The hard part is after the last game. That’s when you need the attention the most and then suddenly it’s not there. Then you have to deal with the fact that it’s still all going on, the players are still there, the coaches are still there and the season ticketholders are still there. You want to say, ‘Hey, my career was too short. I can still jump.’ Every day I had a list of things for the new Jim Brewer to do in his new life. And every day I didn’t do any of them. I sat around the house trying to figure out what went wrong, and waiting for someone to phone and give me another piece of my life.”

the last book I ever read (David Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game, excerpt thirteen)

from The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam:

That year, in the midst of the basketball madness known as Blazermania that had not just come to Portland, but seemed to settle there, Geoff Petrie, Portland’s first basketball hero, went into a profound depression. He had tried to rehabilitate his leg, an arduous and excruciatingly painful experience, and in the end he failed. His career, as Dr. Nicholas had said, was over. Basketball had been his entire life since he was twelve years old and he found that he had an instinct for the game. Petrie’s father died two years earlier and he had immersed himself even more deeply in the game; he found that if offered, in an otherwise difficult life, security and confidence. It was the one thing he was good at. Even in his student days at Princeton, basketball had been there, comforting for him; he might stay up until 2 a.m. drinking with his buddies, but at 8 a.m. the next morning, every day of the week, he would be up working at the gym, shooting baskets, feeling minute by minute happier and freer. Sometimes in his best college and professional games, there were moments when he felt immortal, sure even before he took them that his shots would go in; it was as if he were simply floating above everyone else. That was what being an athlete meant, he was sure. Now that was gone. He became a different person. He was difficult for his wife to live with. His confidence seemed to evaporate. He avoided seeing old friends. He did not go to basketball games. It was particularly difficult to see teammates like Bill Walton who were still connected to the game, still alive when he was dead. Every athlete, he later realized, has to deal with the end of his career, with its promise of early death, but he felt cheated, they had taken him in the prime of his career. It had taken a long time for him to be able to watch games again, to associate with old friends. But for the past few months he had been able to manage it. Though he worked in real estate, he helped an old teammate coach at a nearby junior college, and he discovered he could again find pleasure instead of pain in the game he had once loved and then hated.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

the last book I ever read (David Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game, excerpt twelve)

from The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam:

Silas thought of himself and Wilkens as survivors of another era in the NBA. They were among the early blacks to play and their careers ran from that time of overt prejudice and smaller salaries to the modern era of huge salaries and more subtle racial frustrations and anxieties. He regarded Dennis Johnson as typical of many of the new players now entering the league, far more talented than their predecessors of fifteen years ago, but with their raw talent far outstripping their capacity to deal with the immensely complex social situations into which their ability and affluence had catapulted them. Silas had been, over his long career, one of the prime movers in creating a players’ union, and he was proud of the great gains that the union had made in advancing players’ salaries, including his own. But he also believed that many players were now coming into big money far too soon for their own good. Superstars in high school, coveted by college recruiters, always stroked and coddled and catered to, they could not deal well with reality or adversity, either on or off the basketball court.

Many of the new young stars were black, and Silas considered himself in a better position to say these things to them than a white player or coach would be. He and Wilkens had discussed Dennis Johnson, and Silas allowed the justice of Wilkens’s position, that you had to give a player as talented and sensitive as Dennis Johnson room to grow, you could not make him conform. But Silas saw the drawbacks too. First, the more flexibility Wilkens showed, the less respect Johnson had for him. Second, DJ’s behavior was tearing Seattle apart. It was not playing like a championship team; nor did it feel like a championship team. A championship team, he believed, had a certain respect of coach for players and players for coach, and, above all, of players for each other. A respect that had its own built-in discipline. Silas had played for the Boston Celtics, and he had not at first believed the myth of the Celtics as special. But very soon he became a convert, and one of the things he admired most was the way in which Red Auerbach made the players themselves the keepers of the tradition, and thus the enforcers of their own discipline. He sensed that on this team Dennis Johnson was now a threat to the entire delicate mechanism. Perhaps, thought Lenny Wilkens, perhaps Silas was right, but for the moment he was trying desperately to reach his talented young player, trying to excuse the rudeness and the rebuffs he was receiving. He was convinced that if any coach in professional basketball could understand Dennis Johnson, could identify with his problems and the complexity of his world, it was Lenny Wilkens. He saw himself, quite rightly, as a pioneer in both race relations and in changing the labor laws that made it possible for young players to negotiate huge salaries. It was odd to deal with a young man who had so little respect for what had gone before, so little appreciation of the past.

the last book I ever read (David Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game, excerpt eleven)

from The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam:

The new salaries had made it all more difficult. It had heightened natural tensions between teammates as it had increased the differences in status that always existed. Nor did the pressure come from the players alone. Much of it came from wives and girlfriends. Even when the players were reasonably casual about the differences, wives and girlfriends often were not. Their status was derivative and usually had no actual achievement to support it. In their own minds, they were stars as well, celebrities to their neighbors by virtue of their relationships with these heroes. It was, Pat Washington thought, as if the wives thought that they shot the fouls and got the rebounds and made the key baskets. They conceived their own pecking order: the wife of the superstar was the queen bee, and she set the tone; then there were the wives of the starters and, lower down, the wives of the substitutes. This was true on all teams. All general managers were made nervous by the wives, by the tensions they could create, knowing that they could easily hound their husbands to ask for more money, to push for greater statistics. Even on the Boston Celtics, the classic team in terms of sharing, it was believed by connoisseurs that some of the tensions which began to sap the strength of the team came not from the players but from the wives, most particularly because national television always seemed to fix its camera on Beth Havlicek, the wife of John, pert blonde, the cheerleader incarnate, with the kind of face that sports cameras loved (they would have picked her out of the crowd even if she had not been his wife), and there would be the voice of Brent Musburger, just as John was about to shoot a foul, saying “There’s his lovely wife, Beth.” That would provoke a groan from the other wives, mostly black. “She’s on television again,” one would say to the other.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

the last book I ever read (David Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game, excerpt ten)

from The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam:

The Cuckoo Man was Jack Nicholson, the movie star, a devoted follower of Laker Basketball who had a seat right next to the Laker bench. In the championship season, when Portland had played Los Angeles, Nicholson had thus sat only about three feet away from the last man on the Portland bench who, in this case happened to be Lloyd Neal, and everything that Nicholson said, every cry praising Kareem or belittling Walton, thundered in the ears of the Portland players. It was as if he had been chosen by the gods to bedevil them. At the halftime the Portland players had filed into the dressing room and one of the other players, impressed that so famous and yet now so manic a presence was seated so close to them, asked Ice if he knew who his neighbor was. No, he said, who? “Jack Nicholson, Ice,” someone had answered. “You mean the little fellow, not much hair?” Neal asked. “Yes.” “Who’s he?” “A movie star. Did a picture One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” “Oh yeah,” said Ice, “I know who he is, that guy.” The others were not so sure whether Neal had seen the movie or not, they could never tell about Ice, whether he was smarter than they thought but playing dumb, or dumber than they thought but playing smart. In the second half Nicholson had kept up his cheering, loud, partisan, a noise which fell relentlessly upon the Portland bench. Then, late in the game, at a crucial moment, the game hanging in the balance, the Lakers had made a run and Kareem had gone out for a shot and as he did, Walton had gone up too and he had blocked it, and even as Walton reached the apex of his jump, his hand outstretched, the entire Portland bench had been aware of an even more dramatic moment: Lloyd Neal rising up out of his seat, huge now, intimidating, a great dark-visaged figure pointing a massive and threatening finger in a massive threatening hand at the suddenly tiny Nicholson. The others had watched this tableau, it seemed frozen in time for them, as if to symbolize the team’s new invincibility, that they would not be beaten, not by Kareem, not by Los Angeles, not even by rich and celebrated actors, for there was Ice screaming at Nicholson, “Take that, mother-f*cking cuckoo!” The moment had become part of the unofficial team history, a symbol of its triumph, and Nicholson, star of Chinatown, Five Easy Pieces, and other great American films, had simply become The Cuckoo Man.

the last book I ever read (David Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game, excerpt nine)

from The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam:

If Portland was shaky on opening day, then Utah, the Utah Jazz, was even shakier, a reminder of the lack of professionalism at the managerial level in the league. Utah was new this year; the previous year the same team had been the New Orleans Jazz, and having failed gloriously there, it had been moved, lock, stock and nickname, to Salt Lake City (the name a rare contradiction in terms, given the Mormon beliefs on race, though it suggested other misnomers in the league: the Los Angeles Nordiques, the Atlanta Yankees). Basketball failed in New Orleans for a number of reasons. It had been poorly thought out there from the start, and the management, fearful of developing a black-dominated sport in so southern a city, had decided to build the franchise around Pete Maravich, a white player of exceptional skills, though skills rarely disciplined. Because Maravich was white, a local hero, and so flashy a player, the ownership had traded away the future of the franchise—two first-round draft choices, two seconds, and two roster players—to pry Maravich away from Atlanta, where he had already worn out his welcome, and where a comparable management, anxious not to offend its white fans (or, more accurately, hoping to locate them), had broken out a very successful, virtually all-black team, and drafted Maravich out of college. In New Orleans Maravich had signed a long-term contract for some $700,000 a year, more money, it was said, than the other players put together. There had been, not surprisingly, tensions between Maravich and many of his teammates throughout his career (there were similar salary discrepancies everywhere he went), since in order to justify that much money he had to handle and shoot the ball all the time. But fans, particularly fans new to the game, loved him, he was exciting and wonderful at the theater of basketball. Weak management, worried about finding fans, loved him in the early years because it could hype him. More than any other athlete in basketball he dramatized the conflict between pure sports as they should have been and sports in the modern televised era. He always landed in situations where a nervous management was anxious to hype, not the quality of the game but a show, Pistol Pete, the flashy scorer with the fancy moves. He had been handsomely rewarded for his service, not merely in terms of salary but in publicity; there had been magazine covers to pose for and television commercials to shoot. But at the same time something happened that was terrible for a fine athlete. His essential covenant had always been with the hype instead of his teammates and the game. Every move—and there were many—to sell him and make him the show had pulled him that much further away from his teammates and the idea of basketball. Now, in his tenth year of the professional game, one of the two or three highest-paid players in the league, he had a reputation in some quarters of being a loser. Even those sympathetic to him did not really know if he could play team basketball. His career was almost over and no one really knew how good he was.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

the last book I ever read (David Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game, excerpt eight)

from The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam:

If there was one thing which buoyed the Portland coaches, it was the knowledge that whatever afflicted their team afflicted any team that had been successful. It was the special burden of success in the NBA. The moment a team reached the top, the very mechanism that had worked to pull the players together began to work to pull them apart. Watch out, Red Auerbach of the Celtics had warned Harry Glickman, the Trail Blazers’ general manager, after the Blazers won the 1977 championship, now your troubles begin—they’ll think they’re All-Stars now.

Players were willing to sacrifice on the way to a championship, but once there, once at the top, it was a different matter. Agents and wives spoke of bigger salaries and of greater recognition, and of how much rival players, of lesser talent and playing on losing teams, were making. In Washington, runner-up the previous year, Bob Dandridge was said to be sulking; there was also dissidence from other players and Dick Motta, the coach, was reported to want out. In Seattle, which had finally won the championship, Dennis Johnson, the most valuable player in the championship playoffs and signer of a huge contract at $400,000 a year, was already said to be dissatisfied. He was, a friend had told Ramsay, acting petulant, disregarding his coaches. A Seattle sportswriter had told Steve Kelley that Johnson was disaffected because, though he had signed for $400,000, he knew that his teammate Gus Williams, now in his option year, was going to get $700,000 or more. Johnson figured he had asked for, and received, too little.

the last book I ever read (David Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game, excerpt seven)

from The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam:

Portland was a difficult city for Lionel Hollins. He was shy and he soon went through a divorce. He did not make friends easily outside basketball and yet he did not want to be known primarily as a basketball player, he wanted people to know him as a complete person. But that was hard. Besides, it was cold and rainy during the winter and Hollins, who had grown up in Las Vegas and Arizona, did not like cold weather. In Portland he had to wear Oregon-style clothes, heavy down parkas, thick formless pants. He hated clothes like that; he was slim and elegant and everything about him seemed stylish, his clothes, his manner, his girlfriend. He hated being bundled up like some Eskimo. Why take care of yourself if you were going to look like some blimp, he thought. You might as well eat too much and put on weight and be fat. Still, he made his adjustment and bought a house there and moved his grandmother and several of his cousins in to live with him. But the 1978-79 season had been a difficult one. There had been personal problems, a sister had died of a drug overdose. Then he hurt his knee badly, and it had overnight changed and limited his game. He was afraid to cut, and even more afraid to try a full jump. He could no longer leap and stuff the ball. When he went for an open basket, unlike every other backcourt man in the league, he had been forced, at the last moment, to lay the ball up. That, for a professional basketball player, was terribly threatening. If he could not stuff, was he truly a professional player?

Monday, April 8, 2013

the last book I ever read (David Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game, excerpt six)

from The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam:

Three days later the commissioner awarded the compensation. Portland received Kermit Washington and Kevin Kunnert, two draft choices and either (it was up to San Diego) guard Randy Smith or cash. In San Diego, Bill Walton, sitting at practice as assistant coach Bob Weiss read off the names of the soon to be departed, felt terrible. It seemed to go on and on. “I couldn’t look at anyone,” he said later. “I wondered if he was ever going to stop reading off names.” He was angry at what O’Brien had done. Because of the ruling, “the Trail Blazers are not the bad guys. They’re the good guys. I’m the bad guy.” He sat and watched a team being torn apart and men who had made their homes in San Diego having to pick up their families and leave. He felt that he could not face some of the men who had just been his teammates.

In Portland the coaching staff was pleased. They had gotten the players they wanted plus the two first-round draft choices, and those choices, considering the damage their loss might do to San Diego, could prove very valuable to Portland. Weinberg officially complained that Portland had not been made whole, that there was in fact no way to compensate for a player of Walton’s rare quality, and the front office suggested again that Portland would be glad to match San Diego’s offer in order to have him back. Inman and Ramsay, however, were quite pleased. “Maybe it’s just as well this way,” Ramsay said.

the last book I ever read (David Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game, excerpt five)

from The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam:

His career before the fight had been difficult enough, and he had fashioned himself into a high-level professional athlete against the odds, mostly by personal determination. There was a particular irony about the stigma of the fight, for Kermit Washington seemed by his very game and his attitude to want social acceptance more than almost any other player. His face reflected his emotions: if he had made a mistake the pain and guilt always showed on his face and as he ran upcourt past his coach his expression at once showed apology and responsibility; he would, his face seemed to promise, not repeat the error. But the fight had made him an outcast. The film clip showing Washington smashing Rudy Tomjanovich in the face as Tomjanovich ran at Washington, a double force of collision because both principals—Washington black, Tomjanovich white—were moving, had been featured mercilessly on television sports shows, whose newscasters had piously attacked the violence of the moment, and whose executive producers had relentlessly rerun it because it was such rare footage, such good television. Washington had hated that time, the fear of what he had done to Tomjanovich, the knowledge that he had almost killed a man, and he had hated as well the fact that an entire (white) nation, a jury of millions and millions of people, had judged him and found him guilty, not of being in a fight during a heated moment in a game, but rather of premeditated assault on another player. That moment, which was alien to the rest of his career, had stamped him indelibly in the eyes of most American sports fans. He was not the player from the ghetto who had pushed himself to become a scholastic all-American, or the player who, having failed pitifully in his early years with the Los Angeles Lakers, forced himself by special coaching tutorial to become a quality basketball player. He had instead become the villain. Without any hearing, he had been immediately suspended from basketball; he had been fined $10,000 and the suspension cost him another $50,000.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

the last book I ever read (David Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game, excerpt four)

from The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam:

Because of the Wicks case, Inman considered himself a combat veteran of one of the most difficult and turbulent periods in professional sports, a period when the coming of bigtime television and its accompanying money and new labor laws had dramatically changed sports salaries in general and basketball salaries in particular. Other sports salaries had risen significantly in the very brief period from the late sixties to the middle of the seventies, but in that seven years basketball salaries had gone up some 700 percent. In the process, the money had frequently changed a player’s attitude towards the game, towards his coach and towards his teammates. The explosion of the sport, the coming of television and its extraordinary social amplification system, dovetailed almost exactly with the coming of a rival league (there was a rival league in football too, but it had been incorporated before money in sports became really big). Unlike football and baseball, basketball, with so few players, presented the illusion that a single superstar could transform a loser into a winner. There had been a rush by new owners—often unaware of the complexity of the game, anxious to be winners, anxious to be celebrities themselves (one became a celebrity in sports by paying celebrity wages)—to endow young gifted players with huge salaries and make them superstars. Bidding wars took place over players like Spencer Haywood, Bob McAdoo, George McGinnis, and even Wicks, driving the salaries from an average of $75,000 in the late sixties to $500,000 and $600,000 for a superstar by the late seventies.

This explosion of salary, sudden and overnight (owners for the first time, proud capitalists that they are, being forced to pay the market value in what had been the hitherto conservative sanctuary of sports), had changed not just the financial structure of the game but, more significantly, the political structure as well. In the past coaches had been the figures of authority, as a rule paid more than players. They moreover had the power to withhold playing time (and thus statistical production) from players and thus determine to no small degree the course of a player’s career. A coach could determine whether a player had a good year, and if the player had a good year he might be able to sign again, perhaps for $5,000 more. The choice was management’s. Overnight the pay scale changed, superstars—some of them mere rookies—were now being paid four and five times as much as the coaches. Even more important, they had guaranteed, no-cut, long-term contracts. How they performed on the court in the future no longer mattered; at least in financial terms, the future was already theirs. The leverage of the coach and of management to control players dropped accordingly. Since the ownership was now deeply committed to the superstar, if a problem developed (as it often did) it was not the superstar who departed. The superstar was the key to the gate, to season-ticket sales. It was the coach who departed.

the last book I ever read (David Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game, excerpt three)

from The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam:

In the season just past, the team had adjusted surprisingly well to the loss of Walton. It was by no means the classically beautiful team of those two rare seasons, the championship team of 1976-77, and the even better team of 1977-78, 50 and 10 until Walton was injured, but it was a strong team which had grown more confident as the season went along, and it had pushed a very strong Phoenix team to a close three-game playoff series. One of the keys had been the play of Mychal Thompson, then a rookie forward from Minnesota, a player of unusual quickness. He was big, strong and colorful, and said to be a cousin of David Thompson, the great leaper from Denver. This rumor, invented and spread by Mychal himself, turned out not to be true—they were in fact no related at all—but Mychal, coming into the college and professional game after David, decided that it would help his image and his reputation if people thought he was part of the same bloodline. Mychal entered the University of Minnesota as Michael, but had decided his name was too prosaic; he after all considered himself quite colorful as a personality, and his name should be colorful as well, and so he legally changed the spelling to Mychal, becoming a Michael of greater distinction. Michael, by whatever name, enjoyed a superlative rookie season, growing stronger as it went along, and becoming more confident as well (It was said that he showed great courage and confidence not only on the court but off it. Late in the season, after a tough loss in Chicago that had enraged Ramsay, Mychal had nevertheless—his audacity had impressed his older teammates—smuggled not one but two lady friends aboard the bus back to the hotel.) It had been, all in all, a wonderful rookie year and the trade that brought him to Portland was now regarded as one of Inman’s best. But then during the off-season Mychal had returned home to the Bahamas where he was something of a national hero and where all other activities stopped during nationally televised Portland games. There, during a summer pickup game, he tripped and landed badly and in the process snapped his leg and broke the femur, a clean break, unusual for basketball. In this game injuries abounded, of course, but they were of a different nature, reflecting systematic stress upon the knee, or the tendons in the leg. The last comparable break Ron Culp, the trainer, had observed was some fourteen years earlier. In the absence of Walton, Mychal Thompson’s presence had been crucial and he was expected to compensate for the loss in both speed and power. Now he was out until February or March at the earliest. He had arrived at practice that day, his entire leg in a huge cast, on which was written “God Superstar,” and “Jesus Loves Me and I Know It.” Morris Buckwalter, the assistant coach, looked on the cast and the accompanying graffiti and he had thought for a moment that if there were that much heavenly concern for Mychal Thompson he might not have broken his leg in the first place. For his loss was exactly what Portland did not need. The loss first of Walton, then of Thompson, was difficult enough, but on this opening day, Inman was in addition upset over the organization’s frustrating relationship with Maurice Lucas, the team’s remaining big man and star.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

the last book I ever read (David Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game, excerpt two)

from The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam:

The Walton era was over and finished. He was particularly hard in his criticism of the team doctor and trainer, who had been regarded as two of his closest friends in Portland. The next day Bobby Knight, the fiery, intense, coach of Indiana University, had called his friend Stu Inman. Usually Knight’s calls were as volatile as the man who made them, often coming at 6 a.m. Pacific time, since time differences meant little to Knight; he would demand that Inman share whatever majestic experience Knight had just partaken of (for example Inman must see Patton since it was the greatest movie in the history of the world). Elinor Inman had long ago decided that any phone call before 7 a.m. was Bobby Knight and she would automatically hand the phone to Stu. That was the price of such an exotic friendship, for Knight was passionate, difficult, arbitrary, often blasphemous, his own worst enemy. Yet he was, Inman thought, a rare contemporary coach, different from many of his modern contemporaries because he was intensely moral and obsessed by the idea of team, hating much of what was happening in basketball, the shortcuts taken by other coaches to lure players to their schools, the eventual indifference of these same coaches to the academic progress of their players. Bobby Knight, for all of his histrionics, insisted that his players graduate and deal with life as they dealt with basketball. In 1976 his own Indiana team, devoid of truly great college players, had won the national title and remained undefeated for the entire season. Not surprisingly he was fascinated by the Portland championship team and he often called Inman to talk about it, how well the characters of the players seemed to fit together, how well the team had been isolated from so many of the corrupting pressures of modern athletics. Inman had told Knight that they had been lucky in their mix of both talent and character and that Walton was crucial, his very style of play was essential to keeping the egos of the other players in line. It was as if Knight had a personal stake in the Portland team. On this day when he called he was somber, and he talked sadly with Inman about Walton, about what had happened, the breaking up of a great team, perhaps an ultimate team, when it was still so young. At the end of the conversation he had asked his friend, “Stu, is there any way in this day and age to keep a team together? Can it be done anymore?”

the last book I ever read (David Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game, excerpt one)

from The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam:

At the fall training camp Gilliam returned in the best shape of his career. It turned out almost immediately that the main competition was for the job of fourth guard between Gilliam and a rookie from Alabama named T. R. Dunn, whom Portland had chosen on its second pick. Dunn had the strongest body of any guard in the camp and probably in the league; he seemed to be sculpted out of black marble and his physique was the first thing that coaches looked at. To some of the other blacks on the team it was frustrating to see Gilliam and Dunn pitted against each other; they did not think the coaches were being racist, but they also felt that black players were always more vulnerable, their jobs less secure, particularly those of bench players. (On many teams the lower bench positions were often filled by marginal white players, kept aboard principally as a bone to the fans. The blacks resented this and they had a word for it, when a white was kept instead of black. He’s stealin’, they would say, just stealin’ it.) Some of the blacks were bothered by the fact that the competition was restricted to Gilliam and Dunn, and that David Twardzik and Larry Steele, both white, were excluded. To the coaches that was not an issue. Twardzik, they felt, could run the offense as Gilliam could not (no one, thought Stu Inman, the head of player personnel, used other players as intelligently as Twardzik), and Steele, once a guard, had now been switched to the job of back up small forward. The blacks were aware of that, but they also wondered at it—Gross, Walker, Steele, three small forwards, all of them white . . . .

Friday, April 5, 2013

the last book I ever read (Bill Bradley's Life on the Run, excerpt twenty)

from Life on the Run by Bill Bradley:

Fifty percent of the people in the Phoenix area have been here less than 10 years. In 1950 Phoenix was a town of 50,000 people; now 800,000 live here. Scottsdale has increased from 10,000 to 100,000. The Valley of the Sun—Scottsdale, Phoenix, Sun City area—has grown from 100,000 in 1950 to 1.3 million. Such rapid growth produces unevenly scattered development. Private enterprise, unfettered, built Phoenix and many of the rugged individualists still remain. Barry Goldwater’s house and the Wrigley mansion are two prominent landmarks. For them, and their kind, economic freedom is America’s most cherished ideal. Government is anathema. They have yet to feel the compelling need for belonging to a group, brought on by the limits of individualism in a crowded, complex, technological world. They have not confronted the twin yearning, unity and freedom, felt by so many Americans equally and simultaneously. For Western conservatives, belonging is less important than freedom. In this sense, Phoenix is a simpler and perhaps a healthier place than Chicago; yet it is young. As more and more people flee the weather and regimentation of the urban East for Phoenix, this single-minded dedication to economic freedom will end. One can already see what lies ahead as surely as the smog hangs over the city three days out of five. Phoenix is in the terminal phase of the American frontier spirit.

the last book I ever read (Bill Bradley's Life on the Run, excerpt nineteen)

from Life on the Run by Bill Bradley:

I have coffee with DeBusschere and a sportswriter, during which the discussion deals with the difference between basketball today and in the 1950s.

“In the fifties,” Dave says, “basketball was a power game with big muscle men around the basket. Defense was mainly for the guards, maybe because the jump shot wasn’t widely used by big men. There wasn’t much finesse. Then along came Wilt and Russell who controlled the inside. Opponents had to do other things. You had to break down the floor before Wilt or Russell could get set, and you had to be good from the outside. Quick men and coaching also became a bigger part of basketball. The concept of team defense resulted from big men cutting off the traditional way of scoring. You had to learn how to defense the guys other than Wilt or Russell. You had to press and double team so that guys wouldn’t be as effective even though they kept getting better and better at shooting.”

I always thought that the use of a small forward was the biggest innovation of my career years. In the past other teams had used players such as Frank Ramsey, George Yardley, Cliff Hagan, and John Havlicek, but when I came into the league most of the forwards were 6’6” or over. I had to play guard. Because I wasn’t quick enough I got burned often; when I had a chance to return to forward I was relieved. When writers asked Holzman how he could play me, a small 6’5” forward against men 6’9” he told them that a disadvantage was often an advantage. What he meant was that when an opposing team saw the difference in height they often forced the action toward my man, thus disrupting the normal flow of their offense, and forcing my man to take a bigger scoring responsibility. Often their hopes of taking advantage backfired when my man missed shots, or passes went awry when they tried to get the ball to him. Meanwhile on offense I was quicker than the bigger name and could maneuver for shots more easily. After Holzman used the small forward successfully, every team accepted his redefinition of the game and put men 6’4” to 6’5” at one forward position.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

the last book I ever read (Bill Bradley's Life on the Run, excerpt eighteen)

from Life on the Run by Bill Bradley:

DeBusschere throws me the paper opened to a story about a house owned by the Phoenix Suns’ Dick Van Arsdale, who was my roommate during my rookie year. He is a handsome man, 6’5” and blond, with a personality as sturdy as his durable legs. I had returned to Oxford after the 1967-68 season to take examinations for my degree, when one morning at breakfast I read in the International Herald Tribune that the Knicks had sent Van Arsdale to Phoenix in the expansion draft. It was my first contact with owner-controlled player movement. My reaction was sadness at losing a good friend, but, in retrospect, the more important effect was that I came to understand the power of owners. “They can send me anywhere overnight,” I thought. “How can you form close friendships if the next day you might be gone?” I had always seen trading from the fan’s viewpoint, but then I saw the human cost involved. I don’t like the fear their power over me evokes. I don’t like the idea of a man owning, selling, and buying another man as if he was an old car.

The Van Arsdale deal occurred during the off-season and Dick had time to relocate his family. If the trade had taken place during the season, Van, like any other player, would have had 48 hours to report to his new team, whatever the hardship. By signing a contract, players automatically agree to the possibility of a forced move without advance notice. Sportswriters jokingly refer to the movement of “horseflesh.” General managers point out how trades benefit all parties, as if they were the “invisible hand” of basketball. Owners call their control of players essential to the structure and integrity of professional basketball. After Van’s departure I realized that no matter how kind, friendly, and genuinely interested the owners may be, in the end most players are little more than depreciable assets to them.

the last book I ever read (Bill Bradley's Life on the Run, excerpt seventeen)

from Life on the Run by Bill Bradley:

There is terror behind the dream of being a professional ballplayer. It comes as a slow realization of finality and of the frightening unknowns which the end brings. When the playing is over, one can sense that one’s youth has been spent playing a game and now both the game and the youth are gone, along with the innocence that characterizes all games which at root are pure and promote a prolonged adolescence in those who play. Now the athlete must face a world where awkward naiveté can no longer be overlooked because of athletic performance. By age thirty-five any potential for developing skills outside of basketball is slim. The “good guy” syndrome ceases. What is left is the other side of the Faustian bargain: To live all one’s days never able to recapture the feeling of those few years of intensified youth. In a way it is the fate of a warrior class to receive rewards, plaudits, and exhilaration simultaneously with the means of self-destruction. When a middle-aged lawyer moves more slowly on the tennis court, he makes adjustments and may even laugh at his geriatric restrictions because for him there remains the law. For the athlete who reaches thirty-five, something in him dies; not a peripheral activity but a fundamental passion. It necessarily dies. The athlete rarely recuperates. He approaches the end of his playing days the way old people approach death. He puts his finances in order. He reminisces easily. He offers advice to the young. But, the athlete differs from an old person in that he must continue living. Behind all the years of practice and all the hours of glory waits that inexorable terror of living without the game.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

the last book I ever read (Bill Bradley's Life on the Run, excerpt sixteen)

from Life on the Run by Bill Bradley:

Russell never got as much recognition as he deserved. Race was one reason. During the early sixties no black artists got adequate publicity. Then, too, perhaps pro basketball did not have the national following sufficient to merit enormous press attention. Most probably, I think he was overlooked because his greatest accomplishments were in the game’s subtleties and in seeking to guarantee team victory in a society which tends to focus attention on the individual achiever.