The Breaks of the Game

“The first of the great commercial marriages in America in the postwar years had been between advertising and television, as the networks offered national advertisers an extraordinarily attentive national audience; the second great marriage had come in the late fifties and early sixties, as Madison Avenue, seeking ways to reach the American male, discovered live sports as a prime vehicle.”
“Overnight the pay scale changed, superstars—some of them mere rookies—were now being paid four and five times as much as the coaches. Even more important, they had guaranteed, no-cut, long-term contracts. How they performed on the court in the future no longer mattered; at least in financial terms, the future was already theirs. The leverage of the coach and of management to control players dropped accordingly. Since the ownership was now deeply committed to the superstar, if a problem developed (as it often did) it was not the superstar who departed. The superstar was the key to the gate, to season-ticket sales. It was the coach who departed.”
“The moment a team reached the top, the very mechanism that had worked to pull the players together began to work to pull them apart.”
“Ballet with a scoreboard.”
“Playing against boys two, three and four years older than himself, and hence a little bigger than he was, he did not play center, he played guard, and this was crucial to the breadth, depth and originality of his eventual style; he became the quick little man who brought the ball up. Most big men in basketball have always been big, which means they have always played as big men and seen the court as big men. Conscious of their own roles but not those of other players, they understood the end of a play, not the beginning. Walton, by contrast, developed a guard’s view of the entire court, and he could, as few centers could, see an entire series of moves even before they developed.”
“All of this happened within a decade. It was a perfect example of what television newscaster Daniel Schorr had once called the “greenhouse effect” of television—things observed by the cameras tended to grow abnormally fast and large, often unhealthily so. Certainly that was true of professional basketball. Its norms and economics were no longer the norms and economics of a simple sport played in small arenas in a few cities, but the norms of television and Madison Avenue. Moreover, as basketball people were eventually to learn, as quick as television was to seduce an institution, it was equally quick to turn against one with which it was disenchanted.”