Sunday, April 7, 2013

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.

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