In today’s era of nonstop information and updates, being a sports fan is great. No matter what time of day or year it is, you can always find some sort of story or update about whatever sport it is you are interested in. In addition to the major networks and enterprises like ESPN and ABC, there are also infinite amounts of people like me who just want to spread even more information and/or opinions.
That’s great and all (and sometimes really fucking annoying), but with sports journalism, much like other areas of journalism, there’s nothing like a great book. Growing up I wasn’t an avid reader, so if I read anything it was most likely about sports, and over the years I’ve read some good ones, including favorites Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich by Mark Kriegel, The Fab Five by Mitch Albom, The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons, and most recently The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith. If you like basketball I highly recommend all of these books.
However, before Rules, I read what is considered to be possibly the greatest basketball book ever written, The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam. Written in 1981, Breaks covers the late 1970s Portland Trail Blazers teams, particularly the seasons that came after their one and only championship in 1977, whose team is still considered to be one of the greatest of all time. Among learning about the players and coaches that were part of the Portland organization, the book also discusses issues and topics that pertain to that time period that still exist today, like race, the length of the NBA season, greed, and teamwork. It’s everything you would want to know about a team, and Halberstam does it with the kind of smart writing you don’t usually see in a sports book.
Here are a few excerpts from Breaks:
Referring to Bill Walton, who in 3 years of playing at UCLA won 2 NCAA championships and wound up finishing with a college career record of 86-4.
‘In his senior year Walton talked with Wooden about his need to smoke marijuana after a game. He asked for permission to go back to his motel room or his apartment after a big game and smoke. He needed this, he said, to relax. It took him hours to come down from the excitement of competition. Wooden said he was absolutely against it. Walton insisted; he was so tense after a game it was costing him sleep and affecting his readiness for succeeding games. Finally, reluctantly, Wooden had given his permission. All right, he had said, but don’t tell your teammates about it. ‘
While stuck at an airport due to poor weather, one of the assistant coaches was trying to get Dick Bavetta, one of the most recognizable NBA refs of all time, onto a flight.
‘He was talking with one of them, Dick Bavetta, about George Gervin, the San Antonion guard, slim, graceful, known as The Iceman. Ice had scored fifty points the night before. ‘A few weeks ago I refereed a game with San Antonio,’ Bavetta said. ‘We were ready to start the game but the ball didn’t feel quite right. A little soft, you know. So I threw it to Gervin. ‘How’s it feel, Ice?’ I asked. Ice bounces it once or twice, throws it back and shrugs. ‘A ball’s a ball,’ he said. Scored forty-five points that night. It doesn’t look like he’s doing it, and you think to yourself, Ice isn’t doing it tonight, and then you check at the end of the game, forty-five points.”
The Philadelphia 76ers were a rival for Portland, being the team they would beat to win their only championship in 1977. During those years Philly remained tough, and they are often referenced in the book.
‘There was Daryl Dawkins, the man-child, his fifth year in the league, only twenty-three years old, 6’11”, 265 pounds, all, it seemed, muscle. His game had not caught up to his body but the potential, was always there…They thought Dawkins limited by a fatal tendency towards kindness and happiness. He had invented an imaginary planet and called it, of all things, Lovetron. He still loved to dunk, and earlier that year had done so with such force that he shattered a glass backboard in a game against Kansas City. That had sent a rival player, Bill Robinzine, running, his hands over his face as the glass fell. Dawkins, who liked to give names to his dunks, had named that one his “Chocolate Thunder Flyin’ Robinzine Cryin’ Teeth Shakin’ Glass Breakin’ Rump Roastin’ Bun Toastin’ Wham Bam Glass Breaker Am Jam.”
‘But it was not just the leaping ability. It was The Doctor’s hands. They were huge and yet surprisingly delicate, with extremely long fingers. It was odd, Gross (Portland player) suspected, for a player to be so fascinated with another player’s hands, but Julius Erving had beautiful hands. They allowed him to hold the ball lightly and yet still control it, to do tricks with the ball, to drive past the basket and then at the last minute to score by putting all sorts of different spins and reverse spins on the ball in ways denied mere mortals with mortal hands…There was only one thing a generous God had denied Julius Erving, Gross thought, and that was a great jump shot. He had a good one but not a great one. Everyone who played against him was thankful for that.’
At the start of the 1980 season, Bill Walton was recovering from one of his many infamous injuries, which he would unfortunately endure for most of his career. However, when playing, he is referred as one of the best of all time, at that time.
‘In his first exhibition game against the Lakers, Walton played with great skill and almost embarrassed Kareem. That he could be away from the game for so many months and then come back and find his timing and rhythm so quickly was striking. But a few days later, in another game, his left foot began to hurt again and he took himself out….Irv Levin was no longer talking positively about having signed Walton. He admitted he might have been remiss in having him checked out more carefully before the signing. A local doctor named Richard Gilbert, podiatrist for the San Diego Chargers and a consultant for the Clippers, had not seen Walton’s feet until long after the signing. His feet were so bad, Gilbert told friends, that they did not have to be fractured for him to be out. What was amazing about Walton, Gilbert told colleagues, was that he had been able to play at all and have so remarkable a career. During all of this Walton was terribly subdued. ‘
The Fab Five was probably my favorite book growing up (I think I read it 6 times), and I really enjoyed and was surprised by reading The Jordan Rules, but I came away from Breaks like I did after I read The Godfather and Jaws – I just thought it was one of the best things I’ve ever read.
Wilma Amalia Ballis Roberts, age 91, of Forked River NJ died peacefully on Thursday November 27, 2014. She was the oldest child of Joseph and Frieda Ballis. Born in Elizabeth, NJ she lived there until she married. After raising her family in Piscataway, she retired first to Lanoka Harbor, then to her dream home in Forked River in 1985. After graduating high school (where she played the trombone and cello) she worked a series of jobs in New York City (taking the ferry over from Elizabeth) – Later, she was a manager of a physician’s office for 19 years. She exemplified a German/Lithuanian young woman while growing into a true Jersey Girl (as a youngster enjoying weekly trips to the Jersey Shore).
She would later meet her husband, James H. Roberts on a Labor Day Weekend, walking the Seaside Heights boardwalk. A story she never tired of sharing, where “Jesse” walked up to her and her girlfriends and asked “Are you girls from Elizabeth?” … “He just guessed!” – He was in the Navy and traveled while writing what she called the “epistles” – they were madly in love and would enjoy a full life together at home with family or cruising and sailing the blue seas. Bickering and laughing, always.
Wilma went full force into all that she loved, was a skilled seamstress who could sew, knit, quilt, and needlepoint. She would go on to create everything from baby booties, wedding dresses, draperies, slipcovers, pillows, even large canvas framed needlepoints. It didn’t stop there, as her thumb was green, her pots were worn and her songs were heard throughout the house. She loved fashion, music, driving, fine art, family photographs, fresh vegetables, delectable cuts of meat and fish, her soaps, and a mandatory shower before bed. Most importantly, it was about being close to those whom she loved. She was known for having a sharp sense of style and a quick wit, she loved to talk!
She was active in All Saints Lutheran Church in Piscataway, singing in the choir and playing piano. She was a member of the Altar Guild at Redeemer Lutheran Church and later, Village Lutheran Church in Lanoka Harbor, NJ.
Wilma loved the beach and ocean and enjoyed vacationing summers on Long Beach Island, with her family and husband, “Daddy” – she was a skilled surf caster, sploosher, fisher, and wearer of hats (nearly no wrinkles at age 91). Upon returning to Forked River she enjoyed flounder fishing in Barnegat Bay, on her boat, Aurora. Wilma did not shy of nature; she loved her pets (poodles and cats) and was very kind to her backyard birds. She was a big supporter of the Humane Society, the Lakota Indians, and our local Popcorn Park Zoo. She was an avid swimmer “25 miles a day!” and water & land aerobic enthusiast who participated in these activities with a group of her friends regularly. She swam into her late 70’s, until she “started to sink” – There’s that wit.
She was devoted to her family and stood as a beacon of hope and help to those of us who came to her with our troubles and triumphs. She truly loved and honored her role as Mother and made all feel welcome when beside her. Wilma is predeceased by her husband, James H. Roberts, her brother Robert Ballis, and her parents. She is survived by her children, Paula Marie of Bar Harbor, ME, Norman Roberts, Adrienne Andrews of Forked River, NJ, and Joseph Roberts of New Plymouth, New Zealand. As a Nana, she was cherished by 5 grandchildren; Nathan, Heidi, Ashley, Jasmine, and Isabelle. Along with her great grandchild, Samuel Andrews, and her beloved friends, Marilyn, Ruth, Eleanor, John, Adrienne, Joe, Dolly, Steve, Nate, Sonia, Emma, and many furry friends. We find peace in knowing we will be forever warm under quilts and afghans. She inspired us all by the way she lived and through the examples she set.
A memorial service will be held for Wilma at Village Lutheran Church on Western Blvd in Lanoka Harbor, NJ on Thursday December 4, 2014 at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. Family and friends are invited back to the house for refreshments, memories, and food.
If there’s anything that last season taught us, it’s that teamwork matters. Even with the greatest player of our current time in LeBron James, the Heat couldn’t overcome the San Antonio Spurs in last year’s Finals. Better yet, they didn’t really come close, and that’s no slap in the face to the Heat, who had a loaded cast. But those days are over, and the 2014-2015 season is about to begin.
There’s no reason for me to predict or argue which teams will be the most competitive this year; like every other season it’s obvious before the first game even begins. Teams like the Wizards and Warriors and Suns and Raptors will be tough and can win on any given night, but the real contenders are the Cavs, Bulls, Clippers and Spurs, all complete squads that have the right pieces to be successful basketball teams. (And the Thunder, but I just don’t see it happening. Trading Harden will probably haunt them forever, unfortunately. Yet like every other hoops fan, I’ll always root for Durant.)
Rather than get emotional and try to convince everyone (again) that the Bulls are ready to win it all this year, I’d rather share some pictures that Ashley and I took of Derrick Rose at a recent meet and greet at a Foot Locker in Chicago. Adidas was promoting the new D Rose 5.0, so they had Derrick come to a Foot Locker to meet with fans to sign autographs. Ashley and I were in town on a shoot coincidentally, so we couldn’t resist the chance to possibly meet him. I wore my Pippen jacket, went to Foot Locker, and after the first 50 fans were able to get inside, we got close enough to flash my ABC media card. Surprisingly, it worked immediately, and the friendly folks at Foot Locker let Ashley and I inside to take pictures. Like I expected, he was friendly, sincere, and spoke with every fan who approached him.
I was lucky enough to also meet Leon Rogers, a local radio DJ and comic who was the MC of the event. I didn’t know it at the time, but after doing quick research I’ve learned how successful Leon has been in his career and how important he is to the local community. He was recognized as soon as he stopped to talk with me out on the street; a great guy who was also moved by the event.
Right before I left, I made sure to shake Derrick’s hand and thank him, as it’s been nothing less than an honor to watch him play for the Bulls. He exemplifies everything that you’d want in a professional athlete, and after everything he’s been through he deserves all the success in the world, truly.
As far as the rest of the NBA is concerned, let’s all enjoy it. It’s a long season, but there’s a lot of good players and teams and people to root for.
Maybe not as much as Derrick, but there’s still a lot to see. I can’t wait.
it’s what we’ve always done, what we will hopefully always do, drag our dogs and ourselves up to the beach, and share hopes, secrets, and lots of laughs. love my girl and her new puppy, jasper. it was his first time at the beach and at one point chased after a bird and ended up in the ocean .. he got pummeled by a wave but recovered just fine. stinky on the other hand, tried to keep up with the energy, but just couldn’t … he is an old man and slept the entire day after our play date.
as quickly as mandy came, she went. but it was the exact spark of creative energy we both needed.