David Halberstam, one of my all-time favorite writers, died yesterday in a tragic car accident in Northern California. When I was twelve I remember my grandfather reading "The Best and Brightest," Halberstam's phenomenal book about the Nixon Administration. I had little interest at the time in reading a long political tome, so he bought me "The Breaks of the Game," which had just come out (around 1980). I went from reading "Flubber" and "The Outsiders" to reading a serious, fascinating book about life in the NBA, that was not just about sports, but also social history and politics.
My copy of "Breaks of the Game" is undoubtedly the most dog-eared book in my book collection (I've read it at least three times). There was a quote at the beginning of "Breaks" which always stuck with me. I even recited in my Bar Mitzvah speech.
“Fame is a vapor, popularity is an accident, and money takes wings. The only thing that endures is character,” said a football player.
“Where’d you get that from?” his teammate asked.
“Heard it one night on TV…Brought me right up out of my chair. I never forgot it.”
The person who recited this quote: OJ Simpson.
Halberstam also wrote "Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made." For me, David Halberstam writing about Michael Jordan was like Shakespeare writing about Julius Caesar. Nobody captured Michael Jordan or any other athlete, social or political figure like Halberstam.
Halberstam wrote a poignant column on ESPN.com on the 9/11 aftermath and the role sports plays in society:
In truth, our lives are what we make of them. We work hard and, at the end of the day, in a world that is often mundane, the ability to watch one or two sports games a week is a kind of blessing, a relief from what is often a difficult routine. But if we want any kind of real emotional balance, we must get it from our loved ones, family, friends, co-workers.
RIP, David Halberstam.