Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mr. Halberstam

It's been a terrible month for writers. After news of Kurt Vonnegut's death a couple of weeks back, last Monday brought news of the passing of Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and author David Halberstam.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I am only familiar with Mr. Halberstam's work through ESPN's Page 2, where he wrote short, eloquent pieces about athletes in the early part of this decade. Aside from covering serious matters, Mr. Halberstam had plied his talent in the world of sportswriting, where his work was eventually hailed as some of the best sports literature ever.

It reminded me of a post by Howie Severino last year, after Manny Pacquiao's victory over Erik Morales, where Howie rued the lack of quality sports writing that Pacman's accomplishments deserved. Mr. Halberstam's writing, even in a field that most other people of his talent and accomplishment would figure to be mundane, gave sports the treatment that he himself thought it deserved.

What stood out most, however, about Mr. Halbestram's writing was not so much his words, although he did craft the language of his work in much the same way that a maestro crafted their compositions, but the amount of knowledge that the author had about his subject. Take, for example, this 2001 ode to Allen Iverson, who was then leading his Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA Finals against a vastly superior Los Angeles Lakers squad. The piece chronicled Allen Iverson's transformation from the hip-hop poster child of everything that was supposedly wrong about the NBA, into the true People's Champion that even people like Mr. Halberstam could not help but admire.

Everyone on that team plays hard, and they play hard all the time. You cannot put the Sixers away. If the Lakers, early in the fourth quarter make a major run of 10 or 12 points, enough for most teams to be a dagger in the heart, the Sixers are immune. They are not intimidated. Back they come. They never think they are going out of a game.

Much of this, I think, comes from the psyche of Iverson. He seems to me to be lionhearted. He is supremely talented as well. He has not just played hurt, he has played very hurt. So have his teammates.

He has been the invincible man, refusing again and again, when faced with opponents who have superior ability, to lose. He has driven himself and his teammates to a level where they normally would not be. He has helped take a team that is, in a technical sense, not necessarily that talented, and not only lifted it to the Finals, but he has made it competitive with an L.A. team that appeared ready to roll over it just as it had rolled over everyone else lately.

He has given us a competitive Finals. That's worth admiring.

Cross-posted here.

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