Summary and book reviews of Playing For Keeps by David Halberstam

Playing For Keeps

Michael Jordan and The World He Made

By David Halberstam

Playing For Keeps
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  • Hardcover: Feb 1999,
    448 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2000,
    255 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

"David Halberstam has written a remarkable book about the changes in American society over the last twenty-five years. On one level, it is about basketball and the game's greatest player, Michael Jordan. On another level, it is about how an entertainment culture envelops Jordan and makes him its own. But on its deepest level, it is a story about working to overcome the odds, honoring parents and family, and striving to become a positive social force. This book is a must read for basketball fans, admirers of Jordan, and anyone who seeks to understand sports in America today." --Bill Bradley

Excerpt
Playing For Keeps

In the fourteen years that Michael Jordan played in the NBA, no one other than a handful of players benefited more from the league's rising affluence and the shift in power from owners to players than David Falk. A relatively junior sports agent in the beginning of the era, Falk was by 1998 not merely the most affluent agent ever to represent basketball players but one of the two or three most influential men in the sport of basketball, a man whose power was said to rival that of David Stern himself. If the legal, economic, and technological changes that took place in the eighties and nineties had been good for players, they were arguably even better for agents. Since he first surfaced as an agent, he had split twice with partners: Early on, even before he was part of Jordan's team, he and Donald Dell split from Frank Craighill and Lee Fentress, and eventually he split off from Dell in what was considered a rather bitter professional divorce. In 1998...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
Publisher's Weekly

Halberstam has written an excellent book about the game of basketball and its greatest player.

Kirkus Reviews

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.... a transcendent sports biography.

People Magazine

[A] thoughtful and fascinating study of Jordan's far-reaching impact on American culture, compiled by one of the most doggedly analytical authors around.

Entertainment Weekly

[S]olid and compelling....zeroes in on Jordan's defining moments, on court and off....the whole book takes shape as a paradoxical parable.

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