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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.