The Breaks of the Game
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The Breaks of the Game

4.14 of 5 stars 4.14  ·  rating details  ·  3,701 ratings  ·  148 reviews
"Among the best books ever written on professional basketball." The Philadelphia Inquirer

David Halberstam, best-selling author of THE FIFTIES and THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST, turns his keen reporter's eye on the sport of basketball -- the players and the coaches, the long road trips, what happens on court, in front of television cameras, and off-court, where no eyes have fo...more
Mass Market Paperback, 467 pages
Published February 12th 1983 by Ballantine Books (first published 1981)
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Community Reviews

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Jeff Kelly
The late, great David Halberstam followed the Trail Blazers during the 1979-1980 season, two years after their acclaimed victory over the Sixers.

The Breaks of The Game, the book that resulted, remains one of the best sports books I have ever read and a work that has easily stood the test of time.

The author of more than 20 books on topics as diverse as the Vietnam War, the modern civil rights struggle, the decline of the American auto industry, and the history of American media , Halberstam ret...more
Kyle
"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, Nicholas 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...more
Bill
Fascinating book! It's a conversational history of the NBA until 1981, told through the lense of the 1979-80 season of the Portland Trailblazers. As the team's season touches on various characters and issues, Halberstam pauses to explore them. Great character sketches/bios of most of the great players up until that point, the most interesting discussions I've read of the defining issues of the NBAs early years (race, TV rights, team ownership etc), as well as plenty of basketball content -- team...more
Christian Holub
I told my dad I was reading this book because its reputation precedes it as one of the best sports books ever written. His matter-of-fact answer: "well, that's because Halberstam is one of the best writers ever." 362 pages later, I can't help but agree. He may not be a hoity-toity modernist prose stylist like those names more often thrown around as candidates for that prestigious title, but he does possess a unique gift to seamlessly interweave logistics and information (about everything conceiv...more
Yofish
Halberstam is a really good writer. He follows the Portland Trailblazers through the 79-80 season, talking extensively with coaches, players, etc. Tells a pretty compelling story. Remember that this is when Magic and Bird are just coming into the league, and noone was sure whether/how long the NBA would survive. Long, interesting story of the history of the TV contract. (Started with ABC/Arledge. He feels screwed when he feels the league unfairly moves to CBS. Invents Superstars to dig into thei...more
Chris
I bought this book because I read somewhere that it was one of the greatest sports books ever written. Halberstam is a good writer and a master of the vignette. He does a great job of giving a sense of his subjects in just a few pages. Still, I'm not that interested in Bill Walton, who figures large, and I wasn't familiar with a number of the players. I did, however, become a fan of Kermit Washington's career.

I was surprised how dated the book seemed; the NBA of the late 70s was all black/white...more
Christopher Mezzetta
This book is a masterpiece. It's the best sports lit/sports history book I've ever read. So much was changing in the NBA in 1979; it was the birth of the modern league. Young David Stern. Magic and Bird were rookies. Incorporation of the four ABA teams and its players. Transition to a more "black" sport, or at least a less white sport. Crazy salaries for the younger players, while older players and coaches miss out on the money. Television contracts. Expansion teams. Everything was changing and...more
Matthew
Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game chronicles the turbulent season of the Portland Trailblazers two years removed from their Championship season.

The book doesn't tell the story of the cohesive team as much as the individual stories that make for a tediously long NBA season.

Incredible insight into the responsibility these grown men feel being paid a princely sum to play a child's game. From the coaches to the general manager to the lead scout the player personnel feel the pressure of the surmoun...more
Alex
In Breaks of the Game, David Halberstam explores the 1979-80 Blazers. Explores might be a strange word choice, but I'm not sure what else to call what he does. In telling the story of their season, he provides backstory on everyone from the President on down to the janitor. He gets to know the players, their wives, their agents, their 4th grade teachers. It is amazingly comprehensive, and gives what might be a rather blasé season (a first round playoff exit) an epic lens, since we know what is a...more
Schuyler Wallace
Although this is a review of David Halberstam’s ‘The Breaks of the Game,” I’ve included a lot of material about Halberstam and his works in general, somewhat unorthodox in the world of reviewing So let’s get right to the actual review first, and you can then shut down if you don’t want to know anything else about his iconic writing.

This is a review of his second basketball book, “The Breaks of the Game,” in which he recounts his stay with the 1979-80 Portland Trailblazers and superstar Bill Walt...more
Chris Perry
An expansive book ostensibly chronicling the 1979-1980 season of the Portland Trail Blazers, Halberstam (seemingly) captures the poetry of NBA basketball at the time. The best and most insightful parts came in discussing the minutiae of the game - what the trainer does day in and day out, how Weinberg, the owner, pursued negotiations with his arch-enemy and closest friend Howard Slusher (which may be the best name for a sports agent ever). I found the formatting of the book a little annoying. Wi...more
Michael
Amazing how topical a book can be 35 years after it was written. I happened to be reading this when Jack Ramsey passed. I love the way Halberstam writes, telling the main story, but leaving on tangents to give you mini biographies on all the bit players involved in the story, and then returning to the main story. One of these days, I will have to read one of his non-sports books (The Fifties, The Best and the Brightest, etc.).
Jacob
At this point in time, this is an interesting piece of history. It's even written in a manner that books, just 30 years later, couldn't be written. Some great NBA characters are presented in the book - Bill Walton, Jack Ramsey, Kermit Washington, but of the three only Washington really seems to be well understood by Halberstam.

As a historical artifact this covers the NBA as it was exploding from a league where money wasn't always enough to convince guys to play to what it is now. There's also a...more
Paul
A solid read, good, but, for a book high on many lists of the best sportswriting ever (why I chose to read it), it doesn't make that leap to greatness, at least for me. It's not that it's about a team that played 33 years ago; a good writer, and Halberstam is that, can make just about any topic interesting. It's just that there are long digressions that take you away from the flow of the story and sometimes their placement appears haphazard. Sometimes within those digressions and flashbacks ther...more
Dan Rimoldi
Can finally say that I read this one. As a basketball junkie, it was long overdue. Two basketball books have been all-time favorites of mine: Seven Seconds or Less: My Season on the Bench with the Runnin' and Gunnin' Phoenix Suns and Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine. But those books would likely not be possible without Halberstam's chronicle of the '79-'80 Blazers season. Halberstam helped legitimize the entire sport at a time when it needed all...more
Robert
The Breaks of the Game is a book I have heard about for a long time as one of the best-written sports books and now I understand why. David Halberstam was an excellent writer. He writes about sports in a way that makes it a compelling human drama unlike any other sports book I have ever read.

The book is set during the 1979-1980 Portland Trailblazers’ season, but Halberstam does an excellent job of moving back and forth from what is currently happening during the season to the backstories of vari...more
Ben
Books based on following a sports team for a whole season aren't necessarily a dime a dozen, but they aren't an uncommon trope either. But to call this book just the story of the 1979-80 Portland Trailblazers is to do a disservice to the incredible work that Halberstram has done here. While the main story focuses on the Blazers, he manages to paint a very well done picture of what the entire NBA was like at that time--a growing league, but also one in a very tenuous place. The discussion of the...more
Tom Gase
Look, David Halberstam is one of my favorite writers of all time, and I know a lot of people ranked this book very high (Sports Illustrated had it in its Top 20 off all time for sports books), but I just thought it was okay. Halberstam has done way better (See Summer of 49, The Best and the Brightest, Teammates) than this book, which chronicles a season of the 1979-80 Portland Trailblazers. Very well-researched as usual from Mr. Halberstam, but I thought this book strayed from the main point a l...more
Michael
It's easy to see why this book is so highly regarded by so many people "in the know"; it feels like a model of the form, often duplicated but rarely as successful. It's now SOP for a championship-winning team to have a book or two published about it by beat writers of the team's local papers, but somehow those always seem like disappointments, ephemeral and superficial. Perhaps you need someone who is not associated with the game to get a true perspective, to give the game its proper scope in th...more
Andy
Nov 28, 2010 Andy added it
Shelves: nonfiction, sports
I started paying attention to the NBA in 1993 when Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls faced Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns. Barkley, that year's MVP, became my favorite player and the underdog Suns became my favorite team. From then on, I was a die-hard pro hoops fan who knew every player on every team through the '90s until today. But after reading Bill Simmons' Book of Basketball, I realized I was missing decades of NBA history, particularly the '70s and '80s when the NBA transitioned...more
Pete Den Uyl

I have never read a more compelling piece of sports journalism.

After writing The Powers that Be (an excellent read), David Halberstam decided to take a shot at sports journalism. The Breaks of the Game did not disappoint.

The story details the 1979-1980 NBA season with the Portland Trailblazers. Highlighted by successes, failures,damaged reputations, eccentric personalities, and failing knees, the storylines for this team were endless. Halberstam does an excellent job of putting this team an

...more
John Diaz
A tremendous book, not just a tremendous sports book. Halberstam traveled with the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers during the 1979-80 season, and it was a really interesting portrait of how a professional basketball team operates whether it be the coaching staff, front office, or the locker room and the players.

The players deal with injuries and not just that, but deal with pressures from the team to get back on the floor and deal with pressures from other players trying to take their spot. Other p...more
Joey H.
I read this book (shamelessly) because Bill Simmons is in love with this book. I did like the book, but I'm not a huge basketball fan like Simmons is. It is very well written, but it is also, in my opinion, not very logically broken up. The book has 4 parts/chapters with the third being about 360 pages long. In those 360 pages you come to know many basketball players, owners, coaches, and league officials, but it all comes flying at you in one big chunk. I also mistakenly thought (the book jacke...more
Max Milander
At first glance, The Breaks of the Game seems like just another sports book for the many sports fanatics out there. After all, the book explores the Portland Trail Blazers' anything-but-pretty 1979-80 season in the NBA, and it was written more than 30 years ago. Who besides the buffs would want to look at it, you ask?

The answer is everyone. This book still has the potential to appeal to a wide audience because of the stories about the people. Halberstam does a terrific job of making sports figur...more
Scott
When you look at David Halberstam's massive output ("The Best and the Brightest," "The Coldest Winter," "War in a Time of Peace"), the idea that the great author wrote about the Portland Trail Blazers a couple of years after winning the NBA title seems a little odd. Let's not wonder why - let's just celebrate Halberstam's wide-ranging interests. "The Breaks of the Game" may be the best book on American sports I've ever read.

In 1977 the Blazers won the NBA title with a legendary mix of youth, spe...more
David
What's the word for the quote that precedes the content of a book?

Great one here, totally appropriate to the subject matter, delightfully dated. OJ Simpson -- that great American philosopher -- is quoted saying "Fame is vapor, popularity an accident, riches take wings. Only one thing endures and that is character." Not originally his statement, but something he saw someone say on TV once and stuck with him.

This was a pretty entertaining read, many interesting characters empathically studied at a...more
Mitchell
This book is about the Portland Trail Blazers' 79-80 season, the year after Walton left in a cloud of accusations of malpractice. Two years before, Portland had won their only championship with a Walton led team that specialized in fast breaks started by superb outlet passes. The next year, they were 50-10 when Walton finally had to stop playing because of his foot, in which was later discovered to be a stress fracture. I got this book mainly because Bill Simmons references it occasionally as be...more
Daniel
This is the third book by David Halberstam which I've attempted to read, and the first that I've finished. "The Best and the Brightest" started well and bogged in the endless details, but I was so young and busy then; perhaps I'd finish it today. "Summer of '49" was a short experiment, too archival and remote to matter.

"Breaks of the Game" is as different from those books as it is from every other sports-book I've ever read--it's quick and lean, with clean characters whose essential natures jum...more
Matt
Sep 17, 2012 Matt rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: sports
Pulitzer-prize winning journalist David Halberstam tells the story of the National Basketball Association through the 79-80 Portland Trail Blazers, a team collapsing only two years after their championship season. The timing couldn't have been better. The ABA had recently merged into the NBA, which is the beginning of the modern era of the game, right as money, tv, and race were changing the face of the game, and players hadn't yet seen the media as a way to build their commercial image. I can't...more
Megan
I loved this book. It is now on my list of Fantastical Things to Do Before I Die to write the sequel, meaning I would follow the Trailblazers around for a season and write a book about it, just as Halberstam did two years after the Blazers won the NBA Championship in 1977. But... I'm sure I'll never do it. Even if sports journalism were my chosen field, David Halberstam is an amazing writer who weaves a hundred different lives into one coherent narrative so masterfully that I could never try to...more
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David Halberstam (April 10, 1934–April 23, 2007) was an American Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author known for his early work on the Vietnam War and his later sports journalism.

Halberstam graduated from Harvard University with a degree in journalism in 1955 and started his career writing for the Daily Times Leader in West Point, Mississippi. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, writing for...more
More about David Halberstam...
The Best and the Brightest Summer of '49 The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship October 1964

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