The first thing I
am not about to do is look up the definition of psychology in the dictionary.
Why bother? I mean, dictionaries are nice and all that, but did old Daniel
Webster ever have to stand there at the top of the key and define five sweating
monsters rushing down at him? He did not. Well, then.
I will not confuse
you with Webster's words, because my definition of psychology is something else
again, and I have been practicing it for a whole flock of years now and I ought
to know. In my psychology you wear short pants and tape and sneakers, and this
is the kind of thing you do:
Say I am standing
next to a rookie who has just come into the game—some hotshot college
All-America who is not yet used to his rookie role. The action is swirling all
around him, and I say to him, casually, "Hey, what's the matter with you,
baby? Don't they ever pass that ball to you? What are you, a nothing on this
club?" Oh, yeah, they laugh it off. But you can see them thinking about
what you said.
Or I find someone
who is new in the league, and I stand next to him and hack and cough it up.
Sometimes I feel I should get an Oscar for this. I know they're watching me out
of the edge of their eyes, and they are figuring, "So this is the great
Bill Russell. Hell, he's just a tired old cat. And here I am, as fresh as can
be." They don't know that I have a reserve tank.
You say these are
minor league tricks? Maybe. But you'd be surprised at how often they work. The
thing is, you have to pick your spots. Let's say you are playing center
opposite Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia 76ers, and it is one hot and
heavy game. The score is just about even, and it is the middle of the second
quarter—the time when you're most tired before getting your second wind. Tired?
Listen, you are so tired that your leg muscles burn, and you know in your heart
that Wilt is as tired as you are. But you are both breathing shallowly so as
not to give any sign of how you really feel. Now. Wilt is on defense, and he is
leaning on you with all of his 250 pounds and you have your mouth up close to
his ear and you say to him, pleasantly, "Hey, baby. I never thought I'd see
the day when a great big guy like you would be pushing an old man like me
So what does Wilt
say to you? Wilt says, "Don't give me that old psych, baby." (I have
cleaned up that quote. I have also shown that psychology does not work every
time. The trick is in knowing who to talk to under the basket.)
I have enough of
these situations cataloged inside my head to do a master's thesis on The
Psychology of Basketball, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Spook the
Opposition. As a matter of fact, this is my thesis, and the next case is a
psychological horror story.
This thing first
happened years ago. Frank Ramsey, the star of the situation, is in retirement,
but we still pull his old trick, often with K.C. Jones in Ramsey's role. Now.
Here we have Nate Thurmond, 6 feet 11, of the San Francisco Warriors, who has a
dandy little jump shot from about 15 feet out from the basket. He comes
barreling downcourt, he stops short and he goes way up into the air off those
powerful, springy legs. Things are tough already, right? But to make it worse,
because of a switch, Thurmond is being guarded at the moment by little Ramsey,
who is just 6 feet 3. Now. Frank has been all over Thurmond like a swarm of
gnats, but what is he going to do about that jumper half a mile over his head?
Does Ramsey try to jump with Thurmond? He does not. Ramsey runs at Thurmond,
full blast. Then, as Thurmond goes up into the air, Ramsey squinches down and
runs right under him. He doesn't touch him, just runs right under him, fast and
low, going toward the opposite basket.
So here is
Thurmond, hanging up there in the air with a head full of terrible worries.
Things like: 1) My God, am I going to come down on top of Ramsey and hurt
myself? 2) Wait a minute! Ramsey is supposed to be guarding me. Where does he
think he's going? 3) How can I hit the basket with all this nonsense going on,
That was the idea,
of course. Then, about the time Thurmond was pushing the ball away, he would
suddenly realize where Ramsey was going. Frank was going for the far basket,
that's where. And Thurmond knew, with that little stab of pain in his stomach,
that if he missed the shot I would probably grab the rebound and fire off a
long pass to Ramsey for an easy layup. This situation does not exactly figure
to fill a shooter with an overwhelming mood of confidence. It would spook
Thurmond something awful.