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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
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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

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"Fellas," said Powles, "I know most high school kids occasionally get mad during games. But remember the spot you're in here. If you get mad and start a fight, it isn't just a fight. It's a riot. And you'll be the ones who are blamed. I'm not telling you not to get mad. But if you do get mad, use it to play better." It has stuck with me through the years.

My first experience with big-time, massive mob psychology came when the University of San Francisco was on its wild, 60-game winning streak in my college days. We were a great team—make no mistake about that—but once we got this terrible "unbeatable" monster idea loose, all we had to do a lot of times was show up at the gym and we had the game won. I remember the Christmas season of 1955 and the Holiday Festival Tournament in Madison Square Garden. These are critical games; careers are made and broken in this tournament. Well, here was UCLA, ready to meet us in the finals. UCLA had to be an awfully tough team to get that far. They were no patsies. In fact, there were those who were saying, "Here is where Bill Russell and San Francisco will get their lumps."

Somewhere out in this great land, maybe even today, there must be some tourney committeeman still kicking himself for what happened next. First, both teams were quartered at the same hotel. This is not the grandest thing in the world for two keyed-up college basketball teams. And, through a second terrible mistake, we both got assigned to the same dining room for our pregame meal.

There was the UCLA team around the table. Their coach had a rule, I think, that they had to eat in perfect silence; the idea was that they were supposed to brood on the game or something like that. Then we walked into the room like a big birthday party. We were laughing and shouting and throwing dinner rolls at each other and gagging it up and disturbing everybody in the place. We were also eating like crazy and, out of the corners of our eyes, we could see the Uclans coming apart. "Look, they're not even worried," those guys were thinking to themselves. "They're not in the least worried about us, about the title."

The game that followed wasn't much; the meal was one of America's great moments in sports. Honestly, we could have just thrown our sneakers out there on the floor and those guys would have jumped this high. We beat them 70-53.

Things are a lot tougher than that in the pros, of course, but psychology is always a help. Say we are playing Baltimore, and Walt Bellamy, as usual, is giving me trouble. Well, I do not breathe hard around Bellamy; he knows this psych. I breathe easily—to throw him off—but then I do not run down the court on the fast break, to throw him off again. He thinks I am tired but trying not to show it. When I feel he is relaxed, I burst down on the break, and we murder him. But this works just once and two points do not win a ball game. Now we are ready for our No. 1 play, which demonstrates that options are really psychological weapons.

K.C. Jones gives me the ball at the top of the key. He rolls up alongside me, and we both stand stock still for a split second; we are setting up a double screen for Sam Jones. Around comes Sam, and I hand him the ball and he is safe behind this fence that K.C. and I have built (assuming we have done our jobs correctly). Sam jumps and plops in an easy one. Baltimore seems to be getting anxious—which is just what we want.

Next time we get the ball, K.C. gives it to me at the top of the key. He rolls up alongside me, and we both stand still for a second. Here is Sam, going to beat hell, and he starts around us. Now. If we have played our parts right they are overplaying Sam. I quickly hand the ball back to K.C, who wheels and cuts in for the basket, all alone, and drops it through. Sure, you can call this plain old-fashioned basketball tactics. But we have so many options to this play that when K.C. gives me the ball at the top of the key, our team and their team start a series of split-second thinking matches, with fakes and switches and sleight-of-hand moves all over the place. I call it psychology.

Now, over on their bench, the coach leaps up and yells, "Who the devil is guarding Jones?" and they all look a little embarrassed, including those who are not sure which Jones he means. I don't suppose we can take credit for that, but it helps, too.

I also have my own little game called block-that-shot. I've always said that I can block only from 8% to 10% of the shots taken against me—even if I'm lucky. The secret is in knowing which 8% or 10% I'm going to go after. Put it another way: if I block only 8% of the shots you take but 90% of the ones I go after, whose shooting is going to be affected?

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