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.