It gets harder and harder to get up for each game. The surge and sound of the crowd and the splash of color and the familiar smells of the dressing rooms aren't enough anymore. Every game night during the season I sit there on the training table with all my torn and ripped ligaments, and while Buddy is taping me back together I think about what I am going to do. Across the room, behind the swinging door, Bill Russell is hunched over and is throwing up in the toilet. He has himself keyed to the pitch that when he throws up before a game he is really ready.
"Who are you playing tonight?" I ask myself. " Wilt Chamberlain? That Wilt. Remember the last time. He outfaked me and embarrassed me in front of all those people. Remember?" And then I pretend to get madder and madder at Wilt until I start to feel pretty ferocious. But a cooler, portioned-off section inside my head says, "Come on, Heinsohn. Who do you think you are kidding? You're not mad. Not really. You know what you are doing to yourself." But I manage to block off that sensible section and go on and on getting myself fired up until we run out on the court and I look like I've got one eyebrow growing right across the top of my forehead and my face is a storm.
"That Heinsohn," they say in the stands. "Now, there is one mean guy. The meanest you ever saw."
But really, Heinsohn is not all that mean. I am intent. I am caught up in the swirl of basketball, and I am a man feeding on it because it fires me full of pride and satisfaction. To me it is science—my kind of science—on a dead run, and I am learning to be master of myself. Mean? Not me.
After all, ask any little old white-haired lady.