Joe Lavin

May 23, 2000

Cruise to Lose


Two years ago, I wrote a scathing review of Success is a Choice, a motivational book by Boston Celtic basketball coach Rick Pitino. Now, I assumed that I was through picking on the man, but then last week I walked into the bookstore and discovered that Pitino has released a follow-up -- the humbly titled Lead to Succeed: 10 Traits of Great Leadership in Life.

I immediately flipped through it, and surprisingly it was so good that I just had to buy it. Oh, just in case you're wondering, in that last sentence, by "good," I mean "delightfully horrendous and appalling." By "buy," I mean that the store allows you to return any book you purchase within one week for a full refund.

You have to hand it to Coach Pitino. After all, who else would be arrogant enough to name his book Lead to Succeed, when the abysmal basketball team he coaches has won just ninety of the 214 games he has coached? He may have won a college basketball championship in 1996, but his Boston Celtics haven't even come close to making the playoffs since he started. What's next, Coach? Custer's The Drive for Success?

His books are supposed to help us learn how to lead, but of course they are mostly about Rick Pitino and how great Rick Pitino happens to be. After reading Lead to Succeed, I'm seriously not sure why he didn't just call the book I Rock by Rick Pitino. After all, that's pretty much his entire theme.

When he's not providing examples of his brilliance, he's issuing excuse after excuse for his recent losing. In fact, what's most amazing is his propensity to blame his players so bitterly. And he somehow manages to do this while simultaneously preaching the importance of having a positive attitude. At one point, he even reveals that he likes to perform background checks on employees and meet their spouses to make sure that they are "upbeat, positive people."

But how then to explain how Coach Positive can snipe at his players like this:

"As a leader, you must give loyalty. But you can't expect it back. Take Ron Mercer, for example."

"You have to recognize problems right away. ... My first year with the Celtics we had three of them: Dee Brown, Eric Williams, and Travis Knight."

"I get on Antoine [Walker] for his poor shot selection or for his lack of rebounding. I get on him when I think he's too heavy or is not working on his body diligently enough."

I'm not much of a leader, but don't you think that writing a book and using your own employees as examples of bad behavior might not be the best method of -- oh, I don't know -- leadership?

The book is divided into ten chapters with each chapter focusing on one of the "ten great traits of leadership in life." Just so you don't have to buy the book and give this guy any more money on top of the $7 million a year he's already getting from coaching badly, I've decided to list all ten traits right here. You know, as a public service. Because I care.

1. Have a concrete vision. ("There always are going to be people who say 'I don't like this,' or ' I don't understand this,' or 'Why can't we do things the old way?' They cannot be tolerated.")
2. Be your own messenger. (A guy named Bill Reynolds is the co-author, by the way.)
3. Build a team ego. (This is very important to Pitino, though maybe it wouldn't have to be if he didn't spend so much time belittling his players. Even in this chapter, he finds time to complain about young people, "many of whom don't listen very well anyway.")
4. Act with integrity. (And this is from a man notorious for bending the truth. Basically, in the past three years, if Pitino has said he likes one of his players, it's a sure bet that the player will be shipped out of town in a matter of days.)
5. Act decisively. (In chapter four, he writes, "You must always speak the truth." Here, he writes, "You must manage the crisis. And you do that by putting your 'spin' on a situation." Hmmn, can we say contradiction?)
6. Be adaptable. ("Not only must you be flexible, but so must the people you are leading. This is crucial in today's highly competitive world where the technology is exploding all around us and companies are downloading and streamlining." Well, Coach, it's a good thing all those downloading companies aren't also exploding, huh?)
7. Be consistent. (Er, except when you're being adaptable.)
8. Maintain focus. (I was going to put a quote here, but I wasn't really paying attention to this chapter. Sorry.)
9. Live for the future, not in the past. (Despite this advice, he still manages to mention the national championship he won in 1996 ad nauseam.)
10. Act selflessly. (Wherein, you guessed it, the Coach shows us examples of his very own selfless behavior!)

So what does it take to be a leader? Well, damned if I know. The book is full of the banal advice you would expect, but, with all his contradictions, Pitino still doesn't show anyone how to be a leader. The closest he gets is in the introduction when he tells us that "[l]eaders are only effective when they effectively lead the people of whom they're in charge." Well, gee, Coach, thanks for clearing that one up.

Of course, I'd love to tell you more about the book, but unfortunately I just don't have the time. You see, in order to get a refund, I have to get it back to the bookstore by tomorrow, and if there's just one thing I've learned from Lead to Succeed, it is this:

I certainly don't want to end up spending any money on it.


©2000 Joe Lavin

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