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A Fan's Notes

There were other obsessions besides Watergate and Biaggi.

From the May 14, 1973 issue of New York Magazine


While the Knicks have been taking on Baltimore, Boston and Los Angeles in their quest for the championship of the National Basketball Association, Knicks addict David Halberstam has been on tour promoting his book on the Vietnam war, The Best and the Brightest. The problem of keeping up with the Knicks at long distance was clearly painful—as shown by these notes from the diary Halberstam kept while on the road. We join him on the day of the first game of the playoff between the Knicks and the Baltimore Bullets. . . .


Friday, March 30. En route from Minneapolis to Chicago. Dr. Atkins is still high on the charts and Louis Nizer is rising, but I am worried about Baltimore. The Bullets. Unseld and Hayes. Since Archie Clark came back they have been playing the best basketball in the league. In contrast, we have not; our groove this year has not been particularly good, the moments when we have played fine team basketball have been all too sporadic. Lucas is not shooting well, and Reed's timing is bad. In addition, I am worried about my own availability for the playoffs; my book—and the by-products: appearances, lectures, fund-raisers, lunches with big spenders who want to talk about a musical version—have all gotten out of hand, and may knock me out of key playoff games. The whole thing has gone on for more than four months (the high point, an appearance with Jerry Lucas on the Cavett Show; he seemed very nice and between breaks we talked about his conservation of energy as a player. Very crafty). Just yesterday someone called to ask if I can make a fund-raiser in two weeks. I check the calendar—yes, if it is over by 7:45, but nothing any later. But it is harder with previously booked engagements: how can I tell the good people of the First Unitarian Church of Minneapolis that I will miss their lecture on Morality in Government because I want to stay home and watch basketball? I can't, but my heart is not in the questions (Question: can a good and moral man survive in our government?) when what I am really thinking about is whether Earl Monroe can handle Archie Clark. After all, Monroe always has trouble with fast, small guards. I rush to the airport after the lecture, fly to Chicago, have a late drink with Michael and Alice Arlen and we phone a local sports desk for the score. The Knicks have won. I knew it all the time.

Sunday, April 1. In Chicago for a meeting of the Stevenson Institute. Wanted to cancel to watch the game but was haunted by guilt. Have tickets for the Sunday game, but must take an 8 a.m. out of Chicago to insure safe arrival in N.Y. Eight a.m. is canceled, which slices the margin of circling. I sit next to George Plimpton on the flight, and talk guardedly since Plimpton, while an estimable and obsessed fan, is an obsessed Celtics fan. Finally, with some misgiving, I tell him my draft plans—if nothing good is available in the first round, the Knicks to draft George McGinniss. Plimpton impressed by my wisdom and promises not to tell Red Auerbach. He tells me of taking publisher Tom Guinzburg's young son—a devoted Knicks fan—to final Knicks-Celtics game; they visit Knicks dressing room before the game and an angry and snarling Holzman throws them out. Thence to the Celtics dressing room where Havlicek and Heinsohn are perfectly charming. Has Plimpton converted young Guinzburg from Knicks admiration to the Celtics? No way. Our flight makes it in time. Dick Steadman and I make the game and it is just lovely. I have, like many real Knicks fans, been somewhat uneasy with Monroe: his brilliance is often marred by a high number of court mistakes and he has a tendency to push the ball too hard. But today he is absolutely superb, original, flashing and yet totally disciplined.

Wednesday, April 4. I am lecturing in Philadelphia. Book and author lunch, Sigma Delta Chi in the evening. My cab driver assures me the game will be on TV and because he is black I assume he knows. He knows nothing. So my concentration that night while assaulting the press policies of the Administration seems somewhat lifeless, at least to me. My heart is elsewhere. I thought of canceling the lecture and taking the train back to N.Y. and then returning for a TV show the next day but it is too much. I have an idea where the obsession comes from. Certainly basketball is the sport I know best and played best (a brief moment when I went out for the Harvard freshman team and Floyd Wilson the coach said I was quite fast. But I was also out for the Crimson and kept falling asleep in the library and finally opted for the Crimson). So this is in part my own fantasy world: which brings up the question—if the Knicks are our fantasy world, what is their fantasy world? Part of it I think is also the decline in football's excitement; too many teams and too many computers have balanced the talent pool and robbed teams of their identity, while the Knicks share, to a remarkable degree, a continuity; the same players year after year, with faces and characters. And of course they are a real aficionado's team; when they are right they play the game as it was imagined—each player has that rarest quality, the ability to make other players better. Anyway, a late call shows that the Knicks have won their third.


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