SI Vault
 
THE PSYCH...AND MY OTHER TRICKS
Bill Russell
October 25, 1965
As they begin pursuit of their eighth straight title the stars of the world champion Boston Celtics are beginning to show their age, are more injury prone and have lost one of their longtime key colleagues, Tom Heinsohn. They will have to rely, more than before, on their savvy and cunning. The biggest star of them all tells how he uses such tactics to intimidate and bamboozle his opponents
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
October 25, 1965

The Psych...and My Other Tricks

As they begin pursuit of their eighth straight title the stars of the world champion Boston Celtics are beginning to show their age, are more injury prone and have lost one of their longtime key colleagues, Tom Heinsohn. They will have to rely, more than before, on their savvy and cunning. The biggest star of them all tells how he uses such tactics to intimidate and bamboozle his opponents

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5

In our league I promise you that any team can beat any other team on a given night. The difference a lot of the time is all psychological. We use every little trick, every pressure, every mental gimmick we can. And there are certain rules that I live by. We'll call them Russell's Laws.

Russell's First Law: You must make the other player do what you want him to do. How? You must start him thinking. If he is thinking instead of doing, he is yours. There is no time in basketball to think: "This has happened; this is what I must do next." In the amount of time it takes to think through that semicolon, it is already too late.

Russell's Second Law: You got to have the killer instinct. If you do not have it, forget about basketball and go into social psychology or something. If you sometimes wonder if you've got it, you ain't got it. No pussycats, please. The killer instinct, by my definition, is the ability to spot—and exploit—a weakness in your opponent. There are psychological subrules in this category.

To wit: always try a rookie. If you score on him and he thinks that maybe you scored because you are Bill Russell the superstar, he is yours forever after and you can wear him like a bauble on a charm bracelet.

To wit, further: always try a veteran. In my first year in pro basketball I came up against veteran Johnny Kerr, now with Baltimore. I blocked so many shots on him that first night—perhaps you remember—that he was wild with rage. He was so fired up they had to take him out of the game. That is frustration. That is also psychology. (And I might point out that as soon as he calmed down enough that season Kerr deliberately changed his style of shooting when he played against Boston. That is a kind of reverse psychology.)

Russell's Third Law: Be cute but not cuddly. I mean, you should be nice at all times, but there is a lot to be said for an elbow in the chops when all else fails. This is forceful psychology. Last resort stuff.

Russell's Final Law: Remember that basketball is a game of habit. In getting good at it, we develop certain habits. Therefore, if you make a player deviate from his habits—by psyching him—you've got him.

Right about here I would like to insert another psychological situation. In every game there is a crucial turning point, right? It comes when you are eight points up on the opponent and they have the ball. Now. If they score, they are only six points down. If you score, you're 10 points ahead and you have broken the game open. Right?

If you believe the above statement to be true, you have just been psyched. A lot of players figure this to be true, but it ain't necessarily so. If you start believing in things like turning points, you are lost. You play your best. All the way.

In my own life there are some psychological high points. For example, at McClymonds High School in Oakland, where I began playing the game, I got a quick cram course. It boils down to this: never allow yourself to get angry while playing. In those days we had an all-Negro starting five, and those were explosive days, racially. Our coach, George Powles, knew it and we knew it, and one day before a game he called us together.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5