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If you like Bill Russell's story, you might also like:
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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,
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Julius Erving,
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Bill Russell
 
Bill Russell
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Bill Russell Interview (page: 3 / 8)

Cornerstone of the Boston Celtics' Dynasty

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The Lakers and Celtics met again this year, but the Lakers didn't adjust.

Bill Russell: Well, you see now that's the other thing. Sometimes coaches listened to me. I had one coach, he lost a bunch of playoff games and he said, "I can't stand it. We can't beat anybody in the playoffs, but I always hear you've got to make adjustments." I said, "You have to make adjustments, but you can only make adjustments that your particular team can make." You can't say, "We've got to do a great job defensively," if you don't have anybody that can play defense. You can't say, "We have to do a better job rebounding," if you don't have any good rebounders. So what you may have to adjust is tempo -- up tempo or maybe slow down, so that you can make a better rebound team. You can play the game so the rebounds become less important to the outcome. Those are the kind of adjustments that your team can make. But you have to know your team.


A lot of times you hear fans talk about, "The coach does this, and the coach is gonna do that." Unless they're privy to practice and conversations that go on within that team, they have not the slightest idea what they're talking about. Because I remember once Shaquille O'Neal, who's a dear friend of mine, and a guy was telling me about he was watching Shaquille play, and he said he saw when Shaquille O'Neal went to the free throw line, he knew exactly what he was thinking. And I said, "That's a crock. You cannot possibly know what he's thinking." I remember myself, I went to the free throw line and I wondered -- I'm getting the basketball and I'm wondering -- "Is the babysitter feeding the kids?" Because sometimes you do not want to think about the task at hand. What I mean by that is this: We had this game, seventh game, and it was a series against Philadelphia. They had gotten up three to one.


Was this the 1968 series?

Bill Russell: 1968.


They had gotten up three to one. And the next three games, two of them would be in Philadelphia. So everybody says, "They can't win three games in a row," and I told my team, I says, "We don't have to win three games in a row. We just got to win the next one, then we worry about the next one. If we talk about winning three games, well, that's got nothing to do with anything. All we got to do is win the next one." So we get down to the last game, and we've gotten a two point lead and this is no three point shots, okay? So they fouled me deliberately because I'm the worst free throw shooter on the floor. And I just got to make one free throw and it's over because it's like eight or nine seconds to go in the game. So I get up and I shoot the first one, I clank it. I missed the hell out of it. So I'm sitting there getting ready to shoot the next one. Sam Jones walks up to me and says something to me, then walks away. I shoot, I make the free throw, we win the game. So everybody says, "What did Sam say? Did he tell you how important, how big a shot this was?" No. All Sam said to me was, "Do you know why you missed that free throw?" Why? "You did not flex your knees on the shot. When you flex your knees you're a good free throw shooter. When you don't flex your knees you don't shoot good. So just flex your knees and don't worry about it." Now that's the kind of guy Sam was. On his shots, everything was programmed, so he was not thinking about the importance of the shot, all he was thinking about was how to make the shot.


You told Shaquille O'Neal once not to worry about his free throws so much and concentrate on the strengths that he had.


Bill Russell: What we always did with the Celtics was, when we hit a bad streak, we would not worry or concern ourselves about what we did poorly. We would go back and consider, "Against this team, what did we do well?" And that's what we're going to do the rest of the game. And so, when I told Shaquille that, there was a writer there that said, "You've got to learn to make a free throw," and I said, "Listen, I would never say that to you. Of course you should shoot better free throws, of course, but do not let that be the dominant theme of your improvement. If I was going to tell you about anything to improve, make yourself the best passing center in the league." Because in the way the game is played today, the single most important skills a team can have is be a good passing team. Because with these zones, and man-to-man zones, and two and three and all that crap, there are always passing lanes open. And to be able to know what kind of pass to use in a passing lane. Players, for example, we should practice peripheral vision, so that I can see both my hands now, okay? But when we're shooting a pass it's like a beam of light, you narrow it so that you can do that. Now if I narrow my vision to pass to you, someone could stand one foot outside that and you cannot see them. They can reach in the lane, but if they step outside your narrow vision you can't see them. And you really, this is actual, they can't see you. So you can actually hide in plain sight.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation


Even when you're really tall?

Bill Russell Interview Photo
Bill Russell: Yeah! So we just took on the vision, understanding that the good players, one of the things they have mostly is good vision. And another thing they have is stamina.

You said good feet also.

Bill Russell: Yes, yes. You've got to take care of your feet, because everything starts there. Everything. No matter what you're doing, it starts with your feet.

Before we leave 1968 altogether, can we talk about game seven for a minute? In 1968 you limited your friend Wilt Chamberlain to two shot attempts in the entire second half of game seven.

Bill Russell: That's not true at all. That was a coach's decision. I was the coach, okay? There was an adjustment we had to make.


There was a forward on their team named Chet Walker, and he was hurting us badly, okay? So I had my backup center, it was a guy named Wayne Embry. Now Embry had been in the league seven or eight years, and he played against Wilt all those years. So at half time I said to him, "Wayne, I'm going to try something. It's not new. I want you to guard Wilt. Okay? I have to take care of Chet Walker." And see, when I made that substitution everybody thought it was trying to stay out of foul trouble, something like that, which was to me the best part of that because I made adjustments that they didn't know what I was doing. So they couldn't make a counter adjustment. You see if you make an adjustment, and they know what you're doing, well they can just counter it. But I made an adjustment, they thought it was to get off of Wilt. They didn't know it was to get on Chet. Now Wilt had a game plan, but his game plan was counting on me trying to guard him. When we put Wayne on him, he guarded him a completely different way.


He was used to you guarding him.

Bill Russell: Yes. To me, the pretty part of it was -- I hate to use the word beauty -- is that Wayne had enormous experience guarding him. So it wasn't like you took some guy out of the stands and put him on Wilt. Here's a guy who's been guarding him for years. That adjustment was for Chet Walker, it wasn't for Wilt.

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This page last revised on Sep 02, 2008 12:55 EDT
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