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Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made

– tekijä: David Halberstam

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Examines the epic career of basketball superstar Michael Jordan, discussing the forces in his life that have led him to pursue excellence in all his endeavors, whether on the court or off.

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näyttää 5/5
Beautifully written book about a fascinating character in a sport I knew almost nothing about previously. Very impressively researched and as always with Halberstam, deeply rooted with a clear moral sense of who has done the right thing and who hasn’t. ( )
  Matt_B | Sep 13, 2020 |
I reserved this at the library back in April when ESPN started airing “The Last Dance” (along with everyone else in Iowa, apparently) and finally got it last week. It was startling to realize how much of the documentary’s narrative seems to have been lifted directly from Halberstam’s work, but that's not a knock on either "The Last Dance" or Halberstam's book. When you're talking about an incredibly artistic and athletic basketball player, there's no substitute for showing the pictures. And certainly the new interviews with Jordan and his former teammates and rivals were well worth watching all 10 episodes.

But the book was also worth reading even after all this time, simply because of Halberstam's deft skill at weaving together storylines. His writing here did more than anything else I've read to explain just what made Phil Jackson such a tremendous coach. Jackson's sensitive handling of Dennis Rodman was incredible, and a key to the Bulls' last three championships. The only lack (not Halberstam's fault, since the book was published in 1999 and he died in 2007) is the lack of information about Jordan's post-Bulls career, including his current ownership of the Charlotte Hornets. ( )
  rosalita | Aug 13, 2020 |
"The great strength of Michael Jordan, thought B.J. Armstrong as he watched that game, was that he had the most acute sense of the tempo and mood of every game of any player he had ever seen. A lot of players and coaches can look at film afterward and point to the exact moment when a game slipped away, but Jordan could tell it even as it was happening. It was, thought Armstrong, as if he were both in the game playing and yet sitting there studying it, completely distanced from it. It was a gift that allowed him to monitor and lift his own team with great skill and to put away other teams as well, when he sensed their moment of vulnerability."

Michael Jordan, considered the greatest ever to play basketball, had many gifts - tremendous eye-hand coordination, huge hands, a 6'6" height when no one else in his family came close, surprising speed, great leaping ability, and exceptional quickness. He also had a legendary hatred of losing and a never-ending will to win. His willpower led him to spend endless hours perfecting his craft, and strengthening and balancing his body to take the beating opponents routinely inflicted on him, in hopes of slowing him down and wearing him out. But for basketball junkies it is the quality B.J. Armstrong describes that is the most thrilling - his ability to understand the flow of the game, and to understand those junctures where a particular extra effort - a critical steal, a defensive stop, a drive to the hoop - would make the difference between a win and a loss. No one else in the game, except perhaps Bill Russell, had that vision of the game as if from the outside, the physical gifts to do what was necessary, and the tenacity to make it happen, no matter how tired he was. Even Bill Russell never won so many games at the end by hitting the winning shot. Jordan did so even though the other team knew he was going to shoot it, as he had so many times before, and was doing everything it could to stop him.

Although his end-of-the-game shot won a college championship for North Carolina, it took years for Jordan to reach that stage in the NBA. The first seven years of his NBA career were full of mind-boggling physical highlights, but no championships. Even what many cite as the beginning of Michael mania, his 63 point playoff effort against the mighty Boston Celtics in his second year, ended in an overtime loss. It is true that Jordan was surrounded by less than fearsome teammates during that time, but he also needed to learn what it took to win it all at the highest level, to learn that special skill of seeing what was needed and providing it. In his last six years with the Chicago Bulls (interrupted by nearly two years of pro baseball) the team won the championship every year.

In Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made, David Halberstam, who unfortunately passed away in 2007, does a wonderful job of using wide-ranging interviews and diligent research to help him describe Jordan's journey and the impact Jordan had, not just in helping to save the NBA, but in becoming a merchandising giant and beloved figure around the world. Halberstam comes from an older generation, and explains in the afterword why the project fascinated him:

"When I was a young boy growing up in the forties, the signature figures of American athletics were all white baseball players - Williams, Dimaggio, Musial, Feller - and the NBA did not even exist. How then, in my lifetime, had it happened that the most famous athlete in the world was a young black man playing professional basketball, who had graduated from a southern school he would not even have been able to attend when I was a young foreign correspondent?"

Halberstam is passionate about the topic, and places Jordan and others in historical context, including the disappointment of many in the black community that Jordan didn't take on more political causes. It's clear that Jordan was uncomfortable in the political arena, but very comfortable as a product seller, famously saying, "You know, Republicans buy sneakers, too." Although he experienced his share of racism and the n-word, he was raised in a strong family to essentially ignore color, developed friends from many different backgrounds, and was at ease talking to corporate leaders.

I can remember in the 70s having to watch the NBA finals on tape delay late at night, because the NBA was so little valued that it didn't warrant prime time, even for its championship games. As Halberstam recounts, at that time there was a perception of "too many black players" and rampant drug use. The total of all players' salaries was $40 million, a small fraction of the two billion or so dollars shared today, with players today averaging over $5 million a piece annually. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson had a big impact in helping to turn the perceptions of the NBA to positive, but it was Jordan, who entered the league in 1984, who drew in the general public, not just die-hard basketball fans. They all wanted to see and find out more about this Michael Jordan whose spectacular play was being talked about everywhere. As Halberstam says, it didn't hurt that Jordan was handsome and poised off the court, with a megawatt smile, and wondrous to watch on the court, with his graceful but explosive style and intelligence causing some to compare him to famous artists like Michelangelo.

Playing for Keeps takes the reader from Jordan's high school days to North Carolina to his early days in the NBA and the championship years. Written in 2000, it doesn't include later developments like his now being the principal owner of the promising (finally) Charlotte pro basketball team, and his Nike brand shoe sales still leading the pack after all these years.

Halberstam was a journalist, a well-respected one, and his somewhat plodding writing here wasn't destined to win any prizes. But he knows how to organize a story and give it an engaging flow, and his enthusiasm is catchy. He manages to marshal a remarkable range of detailed facts and telling comments into a compelling story of one of the amazing figures of our time. The reader always feels in competent and honest hands, and reading this book was a pleasure. Four stars. ( )
6 ääni jnwelch | Aug 14, 2014 |
There is no doubt in my mind that David Halberstam loved basketball. He may have even loved Michael Jordan even more. The care and consideration he gave both to the sport and to the athlete is exemplary. To be sure, you will also get biographies of the key people surrounding Michael Jordan's personal life and career path as well. From mama to coaches, from friends to agents, Halberstam details each and everyone one of them. You will learn about Michael Jordan, the driven kid; Michael Jordan, the aggressive ballplayer; Michael Jordan, the savvy salesman and everything else he was in between.
My only complaint - the chronology is a bit disorganized. Because the timeline is interrupted by different basketball games throughout out Jordan's career Halberstam's timeline isn't constructed in such a way that a reader could witness Michael Jordan's rise to success smoothly. The games lend a certain drama to the biography but the timeline suffers for it. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Mar 18, 2013 |
Read most of it but for some reason, lost interest about halfway through and never finished although I skimmed the 2nd half. Book was interesting but I guess I lost interest in the Bulls and Jordan and so never returned to it. ( )
  phyllis2779 | Aug 11, 2009 |
näyttää 5/5
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Examines the epic career of basketball superstar Michael Jordan, discussing the forces in his life that have led him to pursue excellence in all his endeavors, whether on the court or off.

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