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PLAYING FOR KEEPS by David Halberstam


Michael Jordan and the World He Made

by David Halberstam

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-679-41562-9
Publisher: Random House

As astute and objective an examination as we’re likely to get of the rise and professional career of basketball and media superstar Michael Jordan. Halberstam (The Children, 1998; The Fifties, 1993; etc.) hits the mark when he connects the phenomenon of Michael Jordan to both the ascendancy of Commissioner David Stern and the birth of ESPN. Jordan left the University of North Carolina in 1984 after his junior year, According to Halberstam, it was Coach Dean Smith’s idea—and decision—that he do so. Famously picked a mere third in the NBA draft behind Hakeem Olajuwon and the forgettable Sam Bowie, Jordan got the huge contract, and Nike had named a shoe after him before he’d played his first game, something that was unheard of. No less a light than Larry Bird expressed awe at the young man’s ability and predicted the greatness to come. While Jordan received plenty of notice, he also served notice in 1996 in a playoff game against the powerhouse Boston Celtics, embarrassing Dennis Johnson, the best defensive guard in the game, by scoring a record 63 points. As Halberstam notes, Jordan quickly became an international superstar, a product, in part, of Stern’s genius in promoting a moribund league into international prominence. It is also significant that ESPN, purchased by ABC in 1984, came of age the same year that Jordan came into the league and Stern became commissioner. The heart of the book is Halberstam’s asides, tangents, and profiles of Coach Smith, Stern, Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, and general manager Jerry Krause, and others. His analysis of Phil Jackson’s greatness as a coach and re-creation of the Bulls’ incredible march to six championships are among the highlights. Given only limited access to his subject (he speculates that the ever-competitive Jordan “wanted to save his best stuff for his own book”), Halberstam, one of our premier social commentators, still manages to compose a transcendent sports biography.