FIRST-PERSON: Talent, hard work & the intangibles

Baptist Press
Posted: Apr 04, 2014 4:52 PM
ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) -- The more I learn about the success of those who achieve some measure of fame, the more I understand no one is completely self-made.

While talent, hard work and passion are ingredients for success, intangibles also play a factor in every life.

Some see these intangibles as dumb luck or quirks of fate. In some instances, I prefer to view them as the unseen hand of God.

Legendary basketball coach John Wooden viewed it this way: "Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful."

It only seems fitting to look to the hardwood for an apt illustration of the intangibles that impact life.

The Los Angeles Lakers were arguably the most celebrated team in the National Basketball Association during the 1980s when they won five NBA championships. It wasn't just the winning that garnered attention; it also was the style in which the Lakers achieved success.

"Showtime" was the term used to describe the Lakers' mode of play. It was also what helped infuse fresh excitement to what was, at the time, a rather lackluster NBA.

Fans who remember Showtime associate the phenomenon with coach Pat Riley and players like Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

However, those who know the story credit a little remembered coach by the name Jack McKinney with being the inventor of Showtime.

"In short, McKinney was the perfect coach at the perfect time for the perfect team," Jeff Pearlman writes in his new book, "Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s."

Pearlman continues, "'He created Showtime,' said Norm Nixon, Los Angeles' All-Star guard. 'That should never be forgotten. You can talk about me and Kareem and Earvin and Pat Riley all you want. But Jack McKinney created Showtime.'"

McKinney came to the Lakers the summer of 1979 as an "obscure understated assistant with the Portland Trail Blazers who knew the game as well as anyone in basketball," Pearlman writes. But McKinney changed the philosophy of Laker basketball to: "A constantly running game.... I'd like a moving offense, rather than having everyone else standing around watching Kareem all the time.... We'll run every chance and under every possible situation."

The opening games of the '79-'80 NBA season saw the Lakers play what was described as an exciting brand of run and gun that brought spectators to their feet. It was dubbed "Showtime" by a select few Laker insiders, Pearlman writes. The Lakers organization seized on the success of Showtime on the court and made it into an experience that fans would relish.

If McKinney is credited by the Laker organization as the creator of Showtime, why is so little known about him? Credit that to an intangible.

Early in the '79-'80 season, McKinney was riding a bike to play tennis with Paul Westhead, his friend and assistant coach. Something happened during the ride and McKinney lurched head first over the bike's handlebars. McKinney's head struck the pavement and he sustained a serious head injury. Fewer than 20 games had been played in the season.

Westhead, who was hired by McKinney, was named interim head coach. Needing an assistant, Westhead approached Pat Riley, who was part of the Laker radio broadcast team at the time. An NBA journeyman, Riley had logged three seasons with the Lakers in the late '70s. His final year as a player was with the Phoenix Suns in 1976.

"Riley took the job only after broadcast partner Chick Hearn promised to take him back when McKinney returned," the Los Angeles Times reported in 2012. "I wanted to make sure I had a job," Riley told the Times in 2006.

McKinney -- the coach credited by the Lakers with inventing Showtime -- would not return to the Los Angeles bench. He never fully recovered from his fall, though he did return to coach a couple of NBA teams.

According to Pearlman, Westhead stayed true to McKinney's Showtime philosophy and the Lakers were the NBA champions for the '79-'80 season. Westhead was named head coach the next season. But he abandoned McKinney's Showtime philosophy for his own. It did not go over well with players or fans. He would last less than two seasons before being replaced by Riley.

Riley, an assistant for only a portion of the '79-'80 season, became the Lakers' head coach, and the first move he made, Pearlman writes, was to return to McKinney's Showtime philosophy.

The rest as they say is history. Riley coached the Lakers to four NBA championships in the 80s.

There is no doubt Riley was a talented coach who worked hard and was passionate. He also had great players to coach. However, if McKinney had not had his accident, Riley might be best known as a broadcaster and not a coach. The Showtime era of the Los Angeles Lakers well illustrates that no one experiences success or fame solely on their own ability. Intangibles often are part of the process.

And from a faith standpoint, the reality that intangibles impact who and where we are in life should produce in us a sobering humility. "But by the grace of God," the apostle Paul wrote, "I am what I am."

Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention's office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message (, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook ( and in your email (

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