Halberstam in ‘New York’: On Book Tour With the Knicks

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Halberstam in the newsroom in 1964. Photo: AP

David Halberstam, who died yesterday, is one of the very few reporters — you can count them on your fingers — who shifted the history of the United States. It was his field reporting for the Times, very early in the Vietnam War, that first sent the message home that this war was not going to be like the others, that Americans were heading into something deeper and murkier than they expected, something that they couldn’t wrap up tidily. That sort of legacy suggests a fierce and even dour sort of man, and in fact Halberstam was a very serious person. But when he brought his seriousness to bear on nominally more frivolous subjects, his depth gave them extra dimensions. (Even his odd, elliptical, semi-repetitive prose grew on you after a while.) In the seventies, he wrote occasional pieces for New York, and the most charming of them managed to touch on both his rising authorial fame and his love of pro basketball. It’s a diary of a month in 1973, kept during the book tour for The Best and the Brightest, detailing the extraordinary measures he’s taking to watch the Knicks-Bullets playoffs in a variety of hotel rooms and friends’ houses. You can read it here. “I am worried about our entire front line,” he says at one point, “which seems old and without rhythm.” It may have been true of the Knicks, or for that matter of the American generals then prosecuting an unwinnable war. But never of him. —Christopher Bonanos

A Fan's Notes: There Were Other Obsessions Besides Watergate and Biaggi [NYM, 5/14/73]