Some sad news: David Halberstam died last night.
He was on his way to interview YA Title for a new book he was working on and was blindsided by another car. He was 73 years old. What a shame.
I've read three of Halberstam's books: Playing for Keeps, The Education of a Coach, and The Breaks of the Game.
He was just a terrific writer. This is going to be said by much smarter people who knew the man and the author much better than me, but he was easily one of the best writers I ever read. He was so good that he made me disappointed in nearly any other sports book I read.
Two things struck me about Halberstam's writing: first, I could come across a random, unattributed paragraph - maybe even just a single sentence - and know without a doubt that Halberstam wrote it. His writing was that distinct and unique. I can't say that about too many other authors.
The other aspect came across after reading an entire book. The attention to detail and tireless reporting he put into his work really showed. His books are filled with these wonderful side stories and digressions from the main point, but they are never without purpose. He had just interviewed his subjects so thoroughly - and so many of them; seriously, look at the acknowledgements in the back of one of his books - that he has so much information to use. But what they end up doing is putting the entire story in terrific context. You remember these little anecdotes after reading the book and through them you remember the larger point Halberstam was trying to make.
I know he won a Pulitzer for his work with the Vietnam War, but I only know him through his sports writing. He wrote about some pretty important things, but sports is my connection to him. If that is all it ever is, then that is good enough for me.
And I hope that I can say I am doing something I loved when I am 73 years old. How many people can say that?
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Some sad news: David Halberstam died last night.
You know what I've never heard before? "Man, Inside the NBA is pretty good, but it is just missing something, ya know?"
I've also never heard, "Hey, I was watching Inside the NBA last night and I thought that they needed some one to the left of Ernie. I mean, there's all this space over there...why don't they use it?"
Similarly, no one has ever said to me, "Hey, don't you think Inside the NBA could use someone who talked very slow and methodically and made very broad, very obvious statements? I really think that could take the show to a whole new level."
It seems to me that it was a pretty universally agreed upon truth that Inside the NBA was the perfect NBA studio show. It won awards and stuff, right? Everyone loves it, don't they?
When you are settling in to watch that evening's NBA slate of games, and you flick to TNT, and you see Kyra Sedgewick fumbling through her purse (Seriously, what the hell is she always doing that for? Do the criminals in that show just tell her shit while she's digging through there?) and then you flick to ESPN to see Bill Walton's shit-eating grin, doesn't your stomach sink a little?
Ernie, Kenny and Chuck have stumbled upon studio show gold, but for some reason TNT thinks it's a marvelous idea to throw Magic Johnson into the mix. Where they got this notion escapes me, but they seem pretty geeked about it.
I've come up with two theories. First, TNT thinks Magic really brings insightful analysis to the table; his clever, engaging banter with the fellas helps the show flow smoothly from one segment to the next and viewers tune it just to see his charming smile. I quickly dismissed this as preposterous, however, and settled on theory number two: Magic hangs around in the Green Room and they just can't get rid of him.
I think when Kenny and Chuck walk into the studio, they walk past Ernie (who has obviously been there for hours already), he gives them The Look and they just know. Shit. Magic is here again. Then Magic comes bouncing out of the green room with two Diet Cokes and three plates full of snacks, grinning from ear to ear, trying to slap high fives and balance his food at the same time. The producers have tried to tell him that he isn't scheduled for next show, but he convienently forgets, and hey, since I'm here, I might as well go on! Right? Huh, guys! Right!?!?!
That has to be it. Because no one at TNT can watch the show with him and then watch it without him and possibly think that his presence makes the show better.
Listen, I like Magic Johnson. I think he's a good guy, has a passion for basketball, seems fairly knowledgeable about the game. He's been very successful in many other areas of his life: he is one of the greatest players ever, he is a terrific inner-city businessman; he inexplicably and super-humanly somehow defeated AIDS. But he's just not good with a microphone clipped to his collar. Doesn't mean he isn't an accomplished dude, just means he's killing one of the reasons playoff basketball is so great.
(But seriously, he defeated AIDS! That's impossible, right? Hell, if I did that, I would probably convince myself I could do anything I wanted to, too. He should try to scale Everest.)
It is just excrutating with him involved. Ernie will broach a new topic, then turn to his left, say "Magic, what do you think of that?" and then Magic will make the same point he's been making for a week, slowly and methodically, using his hands as much as possible, while everyone patiently waits for him to finish, like when the teacher accidentally calls on the dyslexic kid who reads the same line five times before some one has the heart to tell him to move on. Then Kenny and Chuck talk, and its like waking up from a terrible nap. Oh, there we go...people talking that I want to listen to...what just happened there? I blacked out for a minute.
Kenny and Chuck go out of their way to include him on the conversations, and hesitate to disagree with him. Ernie, Kenny and Chuck all argue with each other like they are brothers; with Magic, they are reticent to bust his chops too much, probably because they are afraid he won't get it. It's just all so akward, everyone handling him with kid gloves. The reason the show is so great is because of its spontaneity; with Magic, its like he gets his turn to talk and then the real show resumes.
Basically, he's ruining everything.
And even besides all that, he just looks stupid and out of place sitting over there by himself on the left. I like to think that when he shows up, the head producer belts out over the PA system, "Get out The Magic Desk!" while Ernie, Kenny and Chuck all mumble son of a bitch! under thier breaths.
Soon enough, they are going to be actively thinking of ways to get rid of him, kind of like ABC with Paul McGuire when they stuck him in that ludicrous roving ladder thing and he was somehow ever more annoying. Magic on a roving ladder would be a splendid idea, I think, if only because an in-studio wreck would be the greatest moment ever on Inside the NBA.
Hey, "in-studio wreck" pretty well sums up Magic to begin with, eh?