Review: The Victory Machine

Apparently I have more confidence in your abilities than you do.

– Bill Parcells, NFL coach, trying to motivate an underperforming player without insult

I’ve always held admiration for professional sports, in its lessons around management and perseverance and teamwork and all the things that you learn as a kid are unambiguously traits of good character. We stand up professional athletes as role models, in large part, due to this reverence and expectation1.

The Victory Machine chronicles the Golden State Warriors, an NBA team whose dominance for the past few years has earned them “franchise of the decade” accolades across all of sportsdom. The author was a beat writer for the Warriors, a Bay Area local who caught a break in predicting—the only one to do so, as noted in the book’s autobiographical snippet—that the team would win a championship that first year in 2014–15. His book, though, doesn’t go as much into the basketball itself, but rather focuses on the machinery around the team as per the title suggests, the people and mechanisms and processes and factors that gave the team its rise and eventual fall2.

In this way, it’s a little analogous to one of my favorite management books, The Score Takes Care of Itself by former 49ers head coach Bill Walsh. Like that book, the focus on aspects outside of the court and field provides a wholly different perspective on the game, tidbits that normally don’t get much credit or attention. In particular, the chapter on coaching and how Warriors coach Steve Kerr eased into the role held the same themes around leadership and management as Walsh’s writing; the above quote was one of the lessons that the then-rookie coach Kerr absorbed to deal with the personalities and egos of his players.

But The Victory Machine isn’t a management book, and there’s a lot of other ground it covers: what NBA teams’ General Managers do; how sports apparel contracts warp incentives and in some ways overshadow teams; NBA team ownership and its impact. There was one chapter in particular that focused on Kevin Durant and his interactions with the author, whose purpose is to highlight the superstar’s fickle personality and inability to shake off social media toxicity; if reader reviews are any indication, the angle ended up more self-serving than necessarily insightful3.

That’s a minor quibble, though, in what is otherwise a unique take on sports writing. Most sports media fixate on the athlete’s accomplishments and biographies; few spend the effort to detail the surrounding cast and environment that makes those achievements possible. The Victory Machine is less a celebration of a Golden State Warriors dynasty—those books are surely coming—but more of the circumstances which enabled it to exist in the first place.

  1. The recent Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance is a timely reverberation of this elevation.

  2. That said, it’s not clear where the franchise will land in these next couple of years; the Warriors still have a number of really good players playing for them.

  3. I personally found the entire drama too close to celebrity gossip, though in some ways that kind of let’s-overanalyze-their-words-and-actions is what drives a lot of sports media nowadays, especially in the NBA where the personalities are a feature.

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