The 1987 championship season followed a deeply disappointing year in which the Lakers lost unexpectedly in the play-offs to a fired-up Houston team. As if discovering mortality for the first time, the Lakers were depressed but determined to make up for the discouraging loss the next season. The “breakthroughs” Riley describes are the adjustments the team had to make to improve, both physically and psychologically. Once James Worthy and Magic Johnson got to know themselves and each other better, for example, the team drew closer to a very practical “breakthrough": the ability to defeat the Celtics in Boston Garden.
Sports fans usually see only the end-product, the skills demonstrated in game conditions. They do not often get a chance to examine the process by which these skills are developed, sustained, and blended. Riley spends much time chronicling games throughout a very long season, but the most interesting sections of the book revolve around behind-the-scenes looks at practices, discussions, and meetings to examine strategy and motivation.
Although Riley downplays his own role in the success of the team, it is clear that he is in most respects the perfect coach for the current Laker team. He is filled with a kind of “new age” faith in the importance of self-actualization, but he also possesses the shrewd managerial skills necessary to turn talented individuals into a smoothly functioning team. SHOWTIME describes the incredible abilities of basketball players but also their fragility and unpredictability. Riley focuses less on the X’s and O’s of coaching than on the rhythms of compliment and criticism, intimacy and distance,...
(The entire section is 415 words.)