In a split second he was gone and we as a community of sports fans lost what most consider a literary genius. Pulitzer Prize winning author David Halberstam died Monday afternoon, the victim of a car accident in Menlo Park, California; just south of San Francisco. Halberstam, 73, was on his way to interview Y.A. Tittle for his upcoming book about the 1958 NFL Championship game between the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts.
To many a fan, Halberstam will be remember for numerous and sometimes obscure entries into the sporting world. His first venture was “The Breaks of the Game” in 1981 which was about professional basketball. Prior to this, he had won the Pulitzer Prize in 1964 at the age of 30 for his reporting from Vietnam. He would also be the runner up in 2002 for his ’01 best seller, “War in a Time of Peace”. All together, he wrote over 20 books ranging from the Korean War to Olympic amateur rowing and culminating is his latest published account on New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick.
One of his most endearing books was truly from the heart. Halberstam and wife Jean lived in New York City next to a fire station, Engine 40, Ladder 35 which lost 13 of 14 men on September 11th, 2001 in the attacks on the World Trade Center. In a moving tribute, Halberstam wrote “Firehouse” which is an intimate look at the men who lost their lives as well as an inside account of the strong bond between firemen.
For some reason, the average blue collar fan fell in love with Halberstam’s style and persona. The way he looked, the way he dressed, the way he spoke, and the way he wrote gave the impression of a stuffy and privileged old guy who wouldn’t know a pick and roll if it hit him in the hip. But in the mode of Peter Gammons and Vin Scully, we looked to him to cultivate us and give us an intelligent but readable trip into his view on any given topic of sports. In many cases, he “dumbed it down” to our level knowing damn well that he didn’t have to in order to sell his books.
This was not some senseless drunk driving incident or a case of road rage; it was simply a tragic accident. No, this was just a tragedy of monumental proportions that took the life of a great author as well as injuring three others. Halberstam had given a speech Saturday evening about the concept of turning journalism into history which was described as truly inspiring by Orville Schell, the dean of UC-Berkley’s graduate school of Journalism.
This was nothing new for Halberstam who was well known for his kindness when it came to helping out anyone who was studying journalism. His wife said that she would remember him for so many reasons including his “unending, bottomless generosity to young journalists”. Evidence to the end was the fact that he was being driven to the Title meeting by a young man named Kevin Jones who is a Berkley Graduate student. I am sure Halberstam was sharing his experiences and answering any question Jones may have asked along the way. Jones was treated and released from Stanford University Medical Center Monday afternoon.
Halberstam, who graduated from Harvard in 1955, endeared himself forever to baseball fans by writing numerous works including “October 1964”, “Summer of ‘49”, and “The Teammates: A Portrait of Friendship”. If you have not read all of these, in a tribute to this man, do yourself a favor and go check them out at your local library, you will be glad you did once you have read them.
Condolences and prayers go out to the Halberstam family from everyone at AHP.com.
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