Top positive review
One of the Best NBA Books Ever
Reviewed in the United States on February 25, 2017
The 1977 Portland Trail Blazers were one of the more memorable teams to win a title and then not successfully defend their crown. The squad's unselfishness and team play during its championship run thrilled basketball purists, and many fans across the country believed more championships were on the way for the Blazers. Instead, Portland fell prey to the major pitfalls that can unravel a championship team, and by the third year following their magic season they had a losing record and barely made the playoffs. Famed author David Halberstam chronicles that 1979-80 season in "The Breaks of the Game."
Blazers head coach Jack Ramsay is considered one of the best coaches in the history of the NBA and was later inducted into the Hall of Fame, but he had his work cut out for him in the seasons following the 1977 championship in trying to lead a declining team. Injuries, player selfishness due to no-cut contracts, salary complaints, team chemistry problems, and the diminishment of the power a coach had in regard to his team all made their presence felt in Portland in the late Seventies.
Halberstam profiles Ramsay and the important players on the 1979-80 Portland squad in the course of the book, as well as some of the other key figures in the league such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Red Auerbach. Bill Walton meant as much as anyone to the '77 team, and the author recalls how injuries and other struggles led to his falling out with the franchise and departure to San Diego in 1979.
The author looks at many issues, some topical and others timeless, that were affecting the NBA in the late Seventies such as race, team chemistry, the business side of pro basketball, drugs, trade and contract rumors, important but unsung players, television and television advertising, and the relationship of college basketball to the pro game. Halberstam describes how the league was in trouble when he wrote, to the extent that the Finals that year between the Lakers and 76ers were tape-delayed, but later in the 1980s the league enjoyed a boom in popularity that finally gained it a wide, enthusiastic following across the country.
Longtime followers of the league will note that the problems of NBA overexpansion and the wave of similar, cookie-cutter arenas that Halberstam decried in "Breaks" repeated themselves in the late Eighties and early Nineties. Another constant of the NBA across the decades that Halberstam broaches which overexpansion has just made worse has been that of the top half-dozen or so teams being highly watchable and the bottom half of the league distinctly uninteresting, save for a period in the mid-to-late Eighties when about two-thirds of the teams were compelling.
Through Halberstam's description of the ups and downs of an 82-game regular season and one-miniseries-and-done playoff run of a declined team like the 1979-80 Trail Blazers, basketball fans get a more realistic picture of what NBA life is like for most teams than they do by reading one of the many books written about teams that won titles. The forward by Bill Simmons rightly notes that this is one of the best basketball books ever, and "The Breaks of the Game" is one of the premier case studies of how precarious success is for pro basketball teams and how quickly franchises can fall.