There is a quote from Bill Simmons on the cover of my copy of The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam, calling it “the perfect book about the perfect team.” Unfortunately, neither superlative is accurate.
Calling a book “perfect” is generally an overstatement, but it’s less often that an appraisal gets the subject of a book wrong. The problem is that The Breaks of the Game is a book about the 1976-1978 Portland Trail Blazers that covers the 1979-1980 Portland Trail Blazers.
The Portland Trail Blazers began the 1970s as a feeble expansion team, winning 47 total games in its first two seasons. They tried an array of players and coaches, but could never quite put it together—until, that is, a brief run at the end of the 1976-1977 season, when they won the championship, and the first 60 games of the next season, in which they went 50-10.
For that brief stretch, Bill Walton, a college star at UCLA who had struggled in his first two years in Portland, was the best rebounder and defensive center in the league; for that brief stretch, Maurice Lucas became a dominant offensive force; for that brief stretch, Lionel Hollins and Dave Twardzik were a dynamic guard combo. For that brief stretch, the team seemed perfect.
And then Bill Walton got hurt and the team pretty much fell apart. Continue reading