O NE SUMMER my wife Chris and I were invited by friends to paddle down the Colorado River in an inflatable raft. Our expedition included many highly Successful people—the kind who have staffs to take care of life’s menial chores. But in the wilder rapids, all of us instinctively set aside any pretenses and put our backs into every stroke to keep the raft from tumbling over. At each night’s encampment, we all hauled supplies and cleaned dishes,

After only two days, the river became a great equalizer. People accustomed to being pampered and indulged had become a team, working together to cope with the unpredictable twists and turns of the river. I believe that in life—as well as on raft trips—several truths will make all our journeys successful ones.


The rhythms of teamwork have been the rhythms of my life. I played basketball alongside Hall-of-Famers, and the team I now coach, the New York Knicks, has rebounded from years of adversity to become a major contender in the 1990s. I’m persuaded that teamwork is the key to making dreams come true. We all play on a number of teams in our lives—as part of a family, as a citizen, as a member of a congregation or a corporation. Every team has a covenant, written or unwritten. It contains the values and goals for every team member.

For example, in the late 1970s General Motors plant in Fremont, California ., was the scene of constant warfare between labor and management. Distrust ran so high that the labor contract was hundreds of pages of legal doublespeak. GM spent millions trying to keep the facility up to date, but productivity and quality were continually poor. Absenteeism was so out of control that the production line couldn’t even start up on some mornings. Finally in the early 1980s, GM shut down the plant. GM became convinced that it had to create new production systems based on teamwork. In the mid-1980s it reopened the Fremont plant in a joint venture with Toyota, starting from scratch with a much simpler and shorter labor contract. It promised that executive salaries would be reduced and jobs performed by outside vendors would be given to employees before any layoffs were considered. Over a hundred job classifications were cut to just two. Instead of doing one monotonous job over and over, workers agreed to be part of small teams, spending equal time on various tasks.

Absenteeism dropped about 85 percent. Today the plant generates close to 4300 jobs and pumps $800 million a year into the local economy. The great paradox is that by sacrificing superficial self-interests for the sake of your team, you can reap bigger rewards all around.


A friend of mine learned this lesson well. At 45, Lew Richfield felt he owed something to his community, so he volunteered at a suicide-prevention center in his spare time. Professional counselors there told him he had a talent for working with people and encouraged him to develop it. Although he had a successful career as assistant to the chairman of a $140-million company, Lew’s one regret was that he’d never gone to college. So at 46, he sold his house, and both he and his wife, Gloria, entered college; after graduating, they went on to earn their Ph.D.s and become fulltime family therapists. Lew is the 2 author of two books on aging and relationships—and a very happy man. I truly believe that life is a series of constant changes, and while it may not be apparent at the time, they can help you learn and grow. For as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., put it: “Every now and then a man’s mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions.


There is a temptation to slack off when you feel good about what you’ve achieved —to let go of yesterday’s hunger and insecurity and to accept the illusion that your struggle has ended. Professional athletes know the dangers of complacency both in their professional and personal lives. Some reach their middle years and, when the adulation stops, settle into marginal careers. Some even hit bottom. Those who survive are the ones who prepare for their post-glory days—like Dave Bing, who played for the Detroit Pistons in the mid-1960s. He was the league’s leading scorer by his second year and is now considered one of basketball’s all-time greats.

Thinking ahead was part of Bing’s makeup. Before he played pro ball, he went to Syracuse University. Since he came from a poor background, his advisers figured him for a classroom dud and suggested he skip serious courses. Bing didn’t buy into their thinking. He even continued his education during his pro years, reading voraciously on road trips, hustling off—season jobs at a bank, at Chrysler and at a steel company, and educating himself in the skills of business. Today, one of the most successful black businessmen in the country, Bing is CEO of three multimillion-dollar companies and has over 300 people on his payroll. Any time you stop striving to get better, you’re bound to get worse.

As my friend Lew points out, “If you go to a baseball game and sit in the stands hoping a ball is going to get hit to you, you’ll have to wait a very long time. You’ve got to get out on the field.” Rem ember; attitude is the mother of luck. Every life has its setbacks. Facing those setbacks is what keeps you alive.

That’s a lesson Jan Scruggs began learning in May 1969 in South Vietnam when his infantry unit was attacked by the North Vietnamese. Scruggs had shrapnel wounds so serious he was sent home to recuperate. During his brief time in Vietnam, over half of the men in his company were killed or wounded. After leaving the Army and entering college to get a degree in counseling, Scruggs dreamed of building a memorial to his fellow soldiers—but he let the idea drop. All he could think of were his limitations: he had no organization and no money. Then in 1979 he saw The Deer Hunter, a powerful movie about the impact of Vietnam on a group of small-town friends. Scruggs couldn’t sleep after seeing it. Memories of

dead comrades came flooding back.

Now he was determined. He used his own money to register the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund as a nonprofit organization, and on May 28, 1979, ten years after he was injured, he held a press conference to announce his plans. Soon he assembled a tremendous volunteer force of fund-raisers.  In July 1980, the government set aside a site next to the Lincoln Memorial and gave Scruggs and his volunteers five years to raise money for construction. Veterans and families of those who died wrote Scruggs hundreds of letters of support and sent what money they could spare, mostly modest amounts of $20 or less. Three years ahead of schedule, on November 13, 1982, Scruggs attended the dedication services for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

I’m convinced that all great breakthroughs in life happen because they deny the crippling fear of failure. So listen to the inner voice that counsels courage, that affirms your life and your ability, and you will tap the power that makes a winner.


                                    Past Riley, coach of the New York Knicks.

                                         was named the National Basketball Association’s

                                         Coach of the Year for 1990 and also for 1993.



                                         Copyright @ 1993 by: Riles & Company, Inc.

          Published by:

G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y.10016


Copyright @ March 1994, (pgs. 176-178)

Vol. 144, No. 863, Pleasantville, N.Y. 10570

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