The Breaks of the Game

Anyone who has read The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons has already become aware of The Breaks of the Game there. Simmons, who wrote the foreword in this edition of Halberstam’s book, called it the best basketball book of all time.

The Breaks of the Game

The book is about the 1979/80 season of the Portland Trail Blazers. That Halberstam chose that season may seem a bit odd at first glance. After all, the Blazers had already won the NBA title in 1977 and Bill Walton had already left for the San Diego Clippers in 1979. The Breaks of the Game however, is much more than the story of one season. Halberstam tells the story of the Portland Trail Blazers here and the story of the NBA as a whole. He always managed to find connections to the 1979/80 season and used them to derive little stories about the history of an entire sport.

Halberstam also uses his book for short biographies of individual players. Not only Bill Walton or Jack Ramsay are given a closer look, but also role players like Kermit Washington. Washington was associated at the time (and still is) primarily with a situation that permanently destroyed his reputation. On December 9, 1977, while still playing for the Lakers, he struck down his opponent Rudy Tomjanovich (who won two titles as head coach of the Houston Rockets in 1994 and 1995) with a fist punch. Tomjanovich suffered such serious injuries that his life was in danger at times. Kermit Washington was considered a persona non grata in the NBA after that and slowly tried to straighten out his reputation. Halberstam shows a different side of Kermit Washington in “Breaks of the Game.” He describes him as a shy and sensitive young man, a stark contrast to his public image.

An important part of the book describes the end of the relationship between the Trail Blazers and their former superstar Bill Walton. Walton could have gone down in NBA history as one of the all-time greats if his body had not failed him. In his third NBA season, he won the title with the Blazers and was voted Finals MVP. A season later, despite already sitting out more than 20 games due to injury, he was voted regular-season MVP. His two All-Star nominations would unfortunately remain his last. In the period from the end of the 1977-78 season to the 1982-83 season, he made, in more than four years, only 14 games in the NBA. “The Breaks of the Game” is also the tragic story of one of the most talented players of all time, whose body was not made for the sport at that level. The breakup between Walton and the Trail Blazers was very painful; today it might be called a “mud fight.”

Halberstam also describes the sometimes strained relationship between former teammates and good friends Walton and Maurice Lucas after the split. Walton named his son Luke (who was an NBA player himself and later became head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings) after Maurice Lucas, who was only called Luke by his teammates.

Whether Breaks of the Game is the best basketball book of all time, as Bill Simmons wrote, is hard for me to judge. Simmons has probably read way more basketball books than me. But I can appreciate that assessment. For me it’s also the best NBA book I have read so far. This is not just a book about one season and one team, but much more. The individual character sketches are beautifully written and the historical background is very interesting.

Get The Breaks of the Game at Amazon


 Save as PDF


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *