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.
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
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
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
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,
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?