Sports Illusion, Sports Reality: A Reporter's View of Sports, Journalism, and Society, by Leonard Koppett. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 288 pp. $12.95. The Breaks of the Game, by David Halberstam. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 352 pp.
These two books, in quite different ways, address the relation of the world of sports to American society today.
Mr. Koppett's study is neatly organized into four parts. The first half (''Sports Business'' and ''Journalism'') contains the background material that the author feels is basic to the arguments he puts forth in the second half: ''The Cultural Interaction'' and ''Immodest Proposals.''
In his attempts to clarify the position of sports in American society, Mr. Koppett raises many valid objections to sports at an amateur level. He cites a number of invalid yet commonly abused analogies between the rituals of sports and the realities of life. After weighing the numerous effects, pro and con, that organized athletics has on society, Mr. Koppett decides that ''the balance sheet comes out plus.'' However, despite all its charts and provocative ideas, ''Sports Illusion, Sports Reality'' fails to give the reader any sort of profile of the professional athlete and therefore fails to give its arguments a complete context in the sports world.
On the other hand, David Halberstam graphically conveys the world of NBA basketball - its community, disunity, big bucks, and jealousies - with humorous anecdotes and moving profiles of the players, coaches, and management of the Portland Trail Blazers. The author spent the 1979-80 season traveling with this troubled team, which just three seasons before had been NBA champions.
Mr. Halberstam's gift for telling a story and his obvious affection for a number of the players make for a penetrating and poignant study of the harsh world of professional basketball. Many players emerged out of ghettos, poverty, and broken homes by means of their basketball talent only to find a new, though golden, insecurity in the NBA. Team loyalty is an illusion; player envy is a fact, and careers can be sudden and brief. Former Trail Blazer Jim Brewer describes the end: ''Then one day it's over. The hard part is after the last game. That's when you need the attention the most and then suddenly it's not there. . . . You want to say, 'Hey, my career was too short. I can still jump!' ''
Mr. Halberstam also explains the role of television, the formation of the players' union, and many other factors that touch on the NBA's quick growth in the past 10 years and the precarious position it now finds itself in. But most of all, ''The Breaks of the Game'' is about the players, and that's the part that says: Don't miss it.