Another reason we got along so well is that Wilt has a fine mind. He is quick to grasp ideas and offer his own suggestions. He is no grunt. But sometimes his logic becomes a little too exotic for me. I remember that first season in San Francisco, when the team and Wilt were following our plan and scoring less. There was a lot of talk almost right away about "the new Wilt," the one that was taking fewer shots.
It was more than a month into the season before we came into New York to play Cincinnati in the first game of a doubleheader. Early in the game I noticed Wilt wasn't going to the hoop much and called time to remind him that Cincinnati was a team he always scored well against. I told him to go for the basket. The same thing at halftime and even into the second half, before I finally stopped bothering. Wilt hardly shot at all—even for the new Wilt—and the Royals beat us easily.
When we got back to San Francisco, Eddie Gottlieb sought me out right away and said, "Alex, I owe you an apology. I should have told you that Wilt was sure not to shoot in New York. With all that talk about the new Wilt, he just had to prove to everyone, when he got to the big city, that he was the greatest playmaker there was."
Last December I really became exasperated with Wilt after we had played a game against St. Louis. In my opinion he just wasn't going to the basket enough, and I told a reporter so. I added that I thought that Wilt might have lost some of his moves simply because he wasn't using them anymore.
The next morning, on the airplane, Wilt came to me with a copy of the paper. "Did you say this?" he asked.
"If it's there, I guess I did," I replied. Remember, this was the morning and the wrong time to get into any debates with Wilt. He mumbled something from under his beard and went back to his reading. The next night, though, he went for 68 against the Bulls, and then we went on to Seattle for two games, and he scored 47 and 53 there. It was the only time all year he did anything like that.
Coaching is almost always a bewildering experience, never precise or predictable. Sometimes you make one little remark and you get the most amazing results. Other times you can talk yourself blue in the face to no avail. You see your whole team get cold, you try everything and everybody and they're still cold. All right, coach, what now? Well, I'll tell you, the first thing a pro coach should be is glue. You must hold things all together, or you just can't do anything else.
I suspect that operating a whole franchise is probably much the same as running a team. There are more elements to consider, but the principles are the same, and I am applying them at Oakland, on the floor and off. I looked forward to this opportunity and chased it all over the country, thought about it and planned it and dreamed it for too long to start doubting or changing my basic premises. If you get everyone involved and working together and understanding, then, at the least, they're going to have to come to you to see how you take the challenge.
In a way, maybe I was lucky that I couldn't do much with the ball myself and had to learn to get it to somebody who could. That way maybe you learn to look around a little more, and you're ready when that ball comes off the bangboards.