Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World That He Made

Halberstam, David

Published by Random House, 1999
ISBN 10: 0679415629 / ISBN 13: 9780679415626
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Synopsis: In Playing for Keeps, David Halberstam takes the first full measure of Michael Jordan's epic career, one of the great American stories of our time. A narrative of astonishing power and human drama, brimming with revealing anecdotes and penetrating insights, the book chronicles the forces in Jordan's life that have shaped him into history's greatest basketball player, and the larger forces that have converged to make him the most famous living human being in the world.
        
From The Breaks of the Game to Summer of '49, David Halberstam has brought the perspective of a great historian, the inside knowledge of a dogged sportswriter, and the love of a fan to bear on some of the most mythic players and teams in the annals of American sport. With Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls he has given himself his greatest challenge, and produced his greatest triumph. The book is rich with Halberstam's professional signature: incisive, carefully woven human portraits of the major figures. We see the various players and teams the Bulls must overcome on their long, hard journey to six world championships, including Larry Bird and the Celtics, Isiah Thomas and the Pistons, and Magic Johnson and the Lakers. We get a rare insider's view of the dynamics between Jordan, the star, and the others who played critical roles in the championship seasons, including the shrewd, thoughtful Phil Jackson, the enigmatic Scottie Pippen, and the curiously shy Dennis Rodman. In addition, we see the bitter divisions between players and management on the Bulls, and the NBA's interior pressures and conflicts as basketball grows during Jordan's reign into a phenomenally successful big-time celebrity sport. This book is, as well, about fame in America, the forces that create it and its consequences. Among other things, we see how David Falk and Nike launched the campaign that sold Jordan to the world, abetted by a small Oregon ad agency, Wieden and Kennedy, and a struggling young Brooklyn filmmaker named Spike Lee.
        
The product of tireless on-the-ground reporting suffused with the wisdom and imagination of one of our greatest writers, Playing for Keeps is a book that, in defining Michael Jordan, also helps to define America in the Jordan Era.

Review: One of the finest nonfiction writers in any lineup, Halberstam likes to alternate what he's deemed his serious work--books like The Best and the Brightest, The Fifties, and The Children--with his sporting interludes, though in his hands, sports are much, much more than fun and games. Books like The Breaks of the Game and October 1964 use sports as a prism. Culture, race, society, and history are all filtered through it, and Halberstam refocuses--and interprets--what comes out the other side.

That he would now turn his considerable abilities to exploring Michael Jordan is not surprising. Halberstam loves hoops, and Jordan not only defines the game, he defines an era. His fame crosses international borders as easily as he dribbles past half-court lines. In focusing on Jordan--as athlete and force of nature--and his osmosis from a young hoop dreamer to product pitchman to the world, Halberstam is really examining intangibles like myth and legend, celebrity and fame, wealth and image, excellence and genius, race and style, the qualities of heroism and the pursuit of perfection. "That there had been even one Michael Jordan seemed in retrospect something of a genetic fluke," he writes, "and the idea that anyone would arrive in so short a span of time and do what he did both on and off the court seemed highly unlikely." But the phenomenon that is Jordan did just that.

Understanding, even admiring, what he did, how he did it, and what it means in a basketball context and a larger one is Halberstam's goal, and, despite Jordan's lack of cooperation--or maybe because of it--Halberstam's muscular prose and thinking scores powerfully. Yet, there is a wistfulness, in the end, to Playing for Keeps; the game doesn't seem as much fun and collegial as it used to for Halberstam, and Jordan, great as he may be, emerges with less of the historic grace exhibited by Jackie Robinson, Ali, and Arthur Ashe than with a quality that Halberstam deems the athlete-explorer "in terms of going beyond previously accepted limits of what was humanly possible, and somehow by dint of physical excellence and unmatched willpower, pushing those limits forward that much more." Dazzling, certainly, but not necessarily heroic. Playing for Keeps is also available on audiocassette. --Jeff Silverman

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the ...
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: 1999
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Fine
Edition: First Edition.

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