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Summer Reading: “The Breaks of the Game”

Jay August 9, 2011 Uncategorized 2 Comments

If you can recall the book review series we did for Tim Donaghy's book last year here at Redsarmy, then you'll know what these posts will be about.  Basically, I take any Celtic-related excerpts from a basketball related book and give a few thoughts and comments about them.  There are several good books out there for all hoop fans to read (not just Celtics books) and sometimes they have some interesting tidbits regarding the green.

This review will be on David Halberstam's excellent book: "The Breaks of the Game." Essentially, it's the inside access to the Portland Trailblazers organization from their championship season (1977) through the 1980 NBA season.  Halberstam is one of the best authors of our time and was given amazing access to the team during those years.  Clearly we're not all hardcore Blazers fans, but this is a must read for any die-hard basketball fan.  Throughout the book, there is Celtics intel sprinkled here and there.  For the next series of posts, I'll share some of them with you.

One of the long standing taboos in NBA culture is the effect that players wives or girlfriends (or both) have on the locker room culture, contract negotiations and overall team chemistry.  While it's not exactly clear when the genesis of this was, Halberstam gets into the topic and it seems as if it became more and more of an issue when modern day free agency began to take its current shape.  There are several reasons as to why a championship team (especially a young one with a lot of talent) can fade quickly.  One huge reason was Bill Walton's broken foot, and incessant health issues following that.  Another was players getting too impressed by themselves and using every angle to get a better contract or demand a trade.  The female relationship factor played into it as well, and it was not absent in Boston:

 Beginning on Page 138, Halberstam describes how it became increasingly difficult to keep such a talented championship caliber team together:

The new salaries had made it all more difficult.  It had heightened natural tensions between teammates as it increased the differences  in status that always existed.  Nor did the pressure come from the players alone.  Much of it came from wives and girlfriends.  Even when the players were reasonably casual about the differences, wives and girlfriends often were not.  Their status was derivative and usually had no actual achievement to support it. 

In their own minds, they were stars as well, celebrities to their neighbors by virtue of their relationships with these heroes.  It was, Pat Washington (Jay's Note: Pat Washington is the wife of former NBA player Kermit Washington) thought, as if the wives thought that theyshot the fouls and got the rebounds and made the key baskets.  They conceived their own pecking order: the wife of the superstar was the queen bee, and she set the tone; then there were the wives of the starters and, lower down, the wives of the substitutes.  This was true on all teams.  All general managers were made nervous by the wives, by the tensions they could create, knowing that they could easily hound their husbands to ask for more money, to push for greater statistics.  Even on the Boston Celtics, the classic team in terms of sharing, it was believed by connoisseurs that some of the tensions which began to sap the strength of the team came not from the players but from the wives, most particularly because national television always seemed to fix its camera on Beth Havlicek, the wife of John, pert blonde, the cheerleader incarnate, with the kind of face that sports cameras loved (they would have picked her out of the crowd even if she had not been his wife), and there would be the voice of Brent Musburger, just as John was about to shoot a foul, saying "There's his lovely wife, Beth."  That would provoke a groan from other wives, mostly black.  "She's on the television again," one would say to the other.

Prior to the arrival of Larry Bird, the Celtics teams in the late 1970's (following their championship in 1976) were some of the most abysmal in team history.  Clearly having players like Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe didn't help, and neither did the ownership fiasco that nearly led to Red Auerbach taking the job in New York for the Knicks.  But it's interesting to see how these seemingly minute details can be so damaging, even to a team like the Celtics were in those days.

Today it's even more of a mess with the evolution of social media and reality TV shows like "Basketball Wives."  It's not just players competing in games to win, for personal stats, card games on team planes or posting the most clever planking picture.  Often times it's also the wives and girlfriends pressuring not just players, but coaches and general managers as well.

Halberstam pointed out that this became a growing issue in the late 1970's.  Today, with current free agency and rules along with the unresolved CBA, I'm sure it's only escalated since then.  It doesn't stop there however since other family, friends, agents and other entourage members contribute to the madness.  So remember, it's not just basketball or stats when it comes to building and maintaining a championship caliber team.  It does make you appreciate this current version of the Celtics even more and emphasizes how it would not have worked out as well had Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen all been at earlier stages in their respective careers.

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  • http://profile.typepad.com/jacobnoble Jnoble Celtics

    AWESOME READ!!! I WAS GOING TO DO THIS STUFF ON MY OWN SITE TOO!
    I am almost done with the Book of Basketball and im glad i read The Breaks first because Simmons has a lot of references to it.
    Fantastic read, i love the stories about Lucas, Walton, Monroe, Kermit, etc!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/mrtripledouble10 MrTripleDouble10

    Thanks! Yeah I read Simmons’ book as well and 50% of it is him referencing this book and his own columns throughout the years. Decent read, but “Breaks” is much better.
    You’re right though, tons of great stories.