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?”

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