I started reading Pat Riley’s 1993 book, The Winner Within, and something about the present state of basketball stuck out to me.
If you’re not familiar with Riley and his illustrious career, he is one of the best NBA coaches of all time and is currently team president of the Miami Heat. He’s been the head coach for five NBA championship teams and was NBA Coach of the Year three times, as well as winning a championship as a player on the Lakers, amongst a long list of awesome accomplishments.
After writing this book on leadership and being a team player, he coached the Knicks to the 1994 Finals and beat Michael Jordan’s Bulls on the way, built the Heat up to glory, and orchestrated the Chris Bosh-Lebron James-Dwyane Wade trio.
“Until you change the way that you look at things, those things will never change.”
― Pat Riley, “The Winner Within” pic.twitter.com/XSgr7TR7ER
— Walls of Books – DC (@Wallsofbooks_DC) October 19, 2016
Anyway, enough about Pat. The Winner Within was super interesting because the majority of his basketball examples were pulled from a basketball era that we are not so familiar with. In particular, he spoke of how Magic Johnson helped turn the stagnant late-1970s Los Angeles Lakers into a championship team.
Prior to Magic’s arrival, the Lakers could best be described as a team that knew how to look good as individuals, but as a unit they were “only a competent, marginally exciting team”.
Sound familiar, New York?
This Lakers team had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was well on his way to cementing himself as the greatest scorer in NBA history, PG Norm Nixon, who was one of the guys leading the league in assists and steals, Jamaal Wilkes and Michael Cooper. The talent was there, but there just wasn’t the sort of teamwork that creates a championship team.
This is where the New York Knicks are right now. Knicks fans can’t really get more frustrated with the 2016 Knicks – who have started the season an underwhelming 4-6 – because they’ve become accustomed to their lackluster performance. I am constantly baffled by how the Knicks can be so bad, yet filled with so many good players.
Carmelo Anthony came out third from that star-studded 2003 NBA Draft with James, Wade and Bosh, yet hasn’t been able to fulfill his potential. Anthony is a phenomenal player that is comparable to LeBron in some ways, yet hasn’t been able to get close to a championship game, whereas I can’t even count how many consecutive Finals LeBron has been to on one hand anymore.
I’m not blaming Melo for the Knicks’ performance, but he can be likened to the Kareem of the late-1970s, who started to miss the excitement of basketball.
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) November 15, 2016
Throw in Derrick Rose, who was in a similar position as Anthony but riddled with injuries in Chicago, Joakim Noah and Kristaps Porziņģis, and you’ve mixed up the power dynamic of New York.
Writing another article putting down the Knicks isn’t taking the high road, and contrary to popular opinion I think the Knicks are very close to transforming. Porziņģis can be compared to the youthful spark that Magic was to the Lakers, but I don’t think the change the Knicks need can be made from the players.
— NBA (@NBA) November 10, 2016
The Knicks haven’t been able to unite under a consistent head coach since a four-year period with Mike D’Antoni (granted, they still sucked) and the previous five- and four-year periods under Jeff Van Gundy and Riley respectively.
Jeff Hornacek came on board in June to become the Knicks’ fifth coach in six seasons.
Look at some other championship-caliber teams. The Heat had Pat Riley from 2005-2008 and won a championship, and Erik Spoelstra from 2008-present and won two championships. The Spurs have had Gregg Popovich at the helm since 1996 and they have five championships.
— The Vertical (@TheVertical) November 15, 2016
The Knicks have the tools that should take them to the Finals – they just need to find someone to lead them to victory.
Whether that person is Hornacek, who arrived in New York after three seasons with the Phoenix Suns, remains to be seen, but stability is the key for the Knicks.