Born to Coach
By Rick Pitino and Bill Reynolds
The Knicks are not my team, but I really enjoyed the Knicks from the Pitino era because they were so fun to watch - the pressing, the running, the bomb squad, the pair of young point guards (Mark Jackson/Rod Strickland). Therefore, I was naturally drawn to this book.
I can't quite put my finger on it, but it wasn't all I hoped for. This book is from the first year out of Pitino's 2-year coaching stint. The previous season, he had taken Providence to the Final Four and took over a Knicks team that had been in a 3-year funk. They had won 24 games the year before and lost their top player, Benard King to free agency. They had a young potentially great center in Patrick Ewing, who had failed to impact the game the way some had thought (in a Bill Russell/Wilt Chamberlain type of way). They had a second center, Bill Cartwright, who was skilled, but had spent most of the previous two seasons injured. Outside of that, they had little else: a collection of players nobody wanted and a rookie point guard (Mark Jackson) who was considered too slow by the experts to be a big impact player.
Pitino came in with promises of making the playoffs and turning the team around with an attack focused on the full court press. The book goes into Pitino's background and his painful decision to leave Providence and let his ambition rule his reason. It goes into how he sold the team on his ideas and how they eventually came around and made the playoffs. It has a charming Cinderella story to it.
I don't really know why the story is not better, but here are some possibilities: 1) Pitino only stayed two years with the Knicks. Since this book doesn't cover the second season, when they won the Atlantic division, I really don't know what caused him to leave. 2) While he comes off as a genius, I can't help but think, "If he's such a genius, what happened at Boston?" When he became supreme dictator of the Boston Celtics, they remained a lousy team and all he did was alienate Red Auerbach and force Larry Bird to Indiana. When he quit, the players responded to Jim O'Brien better than Pitino. 3) He is a bit to "rah rah" college for my tastes, acting like he always accentuates the positive, and maybe he did, but I can't help but think about what happened in Boston. The book comes off as trying to perform a PR job for Pitino. Maybe he was that great and maybe I'm jaded.
The story is not bad, and it is really interesting to see how he turned the team around with so little to work with.
History: 1987 - 1988 (NBA timeframe)
Born to Coach: A Season with the New York Knicks. Rick Pitino and Bill Reynolds. New American Library. 1988.