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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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and Andrew Young

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Bill Russell
 
Bill Russell
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Bill Russell Interview (page: 4 / 8)

Cornerstone of the Boston Celtics' Dynasty

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  Bill Russell

Can you talk us through the last minute of the 1968 finals?

Bill Russell: It was a close game, but we were in charge. So they got to the place where they've got to foul us. So they fouled, and we make free throws and they go down, and they score and make three fouls. So they get down to 12 seconds to go. That's when the thing with Sam came up. It was going to that series. After we got down three to one...


I'm the coach, okay, and so I'm talking to my guys before the fifth game. And I says, "We're going to beat these guys, and this is how we're going to do it." And we had a rookie on the team who's now a judge in Boston, because he had an ailment, he had to retire, but he told me a few years ago, he said, "You know, I was in the locker room when you said that. That's the most disciplined situation I've ever been in my life, because I had to discipline myself from falling out on the floor laughing, when you said we're going to beat these guys." He says, "They're going to kill us!" And he says, "We haven't got a chance!" And he sat there and watched the whole thing happen. And he says that's one of the wonders of his life, because I said it with complete confidence. And then I said, like I said earlier, "We don't have to win three games in a row. We've just got to win one." You see, after we won two of them, the pressure completely shifts. The pressure is on them. You're up three to one, and how do you lose three straight?

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance


So it was basically routine.


I think that that move that I made at half time was the most important move I made as a coach in that series, because it worked, and we got accomplished what we wanted to get accomplished without them knowing what we were trying to accomplish. See everybody still talks about the fact that Wilt only took two shots. They still almost won the game, right? And the key was that Chet Walker had been killing us. And I knew that I could guard him. And the reason I knew I could guard him is his moves were very deliberate. As part of my teaching myself, I learned -- we had six plays and nowadays they number those positions. One is point guard, two is shooting guard, three is a small forward, four is a power forward, five is a center. Well, I made a point to learn how to play all those positions on all six plays. Now not that I ever wanted to or hoped to play in those other positions, but in knowing those positions I know the problems that go with that position. So that if my teammate needed help I can help. And on defense I watched these guys, how they play defense, and I know how to guard almost any position. And I physically took over Chet.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation


That must have been one surprised ballplayer.

Bill Russell: No, it was like, "What's going on there?" Everybody thought I was getting me away from Wilt. And I don't think it ever dawned on them, even today, that what I was doing was to guard Chet, because he was another one of those great players that nobody talks about in the Hall of Fame.

You made a pretty effective block against Chet Walker at the end of that game, didn't you?

Bill Russell: Oh, yeah. I hate to sound this way, but it was routine. I had him in plain sight.


The key to really being effective at blocking shots is for the shooter to think he's gotten away. And that way you can block it, you can control it. You don't knock it in his stance, you treat it like...when the ball leaves his hand you treat it like a rebound, you hit it to some place that you can get it. And so that block with Chet was part of the plan. You see the one thing that my coach and I, we used to always talk about, the least amount of things you leave to chance, the better off you are. And so we were -- offensively and defensively -- always on the attack, because Red used to say, "I don't need to scout, I don't need to scout." I said, "Red, why don't you need to scout?" "The hell with them. I don't worry about what they do, let them worry about what we're going to do."

[ Key to Success ] Preparation



I played in this dumb number of seventh games. You know -- the last game. Either you win, or if you lose you go home. And I have a perfect record. Won all of them, including college and the Olympics. And so I was talking with the kids at the NBA, and first they asked me, "Were you scared?" I said no. "You weren't scared?" No. So he comes in with five different ways of asking me was I scared. "Didn't this scare you?" No, I was not scared. "Okay, were you nervous?" No. "You weren't scared? You weren't nervous?" No. In fact, Sam Jones and I kid about it all the time. Every seventh game that Sam was there, I came to the seventh game, I had a black suit on. And he says, "Why do you always wear a black suit to these games?" I said, "Because I'm the undertaker. I've come to bury these people!" Sam and I used to kid about that all the time. He says, "You always wear a black suit." "Yep, I'm the undertaker. I come to bury these guys." So finally -- a guy kept asking was I nervous or was I scared. So finally I said, "Listen, there was no reason for me to be scared or nervous. I did not have to play against Bill Russell and the Celtics. What was there to be nervous or scared about?" You probably think I'm really modest, right?

[ Key to Success ] Courage


They didn't even count how many shots you blocked back in those days, did they?

Bill Russell Interview Photo
Bill Russell: No, they started counting blocked shots four or five years after I retired. Almost never does anybody get in the Hall of Fame based on anything other than their scoring average. So there's no stat for playing good defense. Everybody will tell you that to win you've got to play good defense, but they have no stat for what's a good defense. It doesn't bother me, because I know what I know, okay? Now the way I look at it is -- my junior varsity team in high school, the coach did not like basketball, but he was a great man. One of the most pivotal influences in my life was my high school basketball coach.

What was his name?

Bill Russell: George Powles. In fact, he coached at one time: Bill Russell, who was the first black coach in all of major sports; Frank Robinson, who was a teammate of mine in high school, the first black manager in baseball; Curt Flood, who changed baseball and sports forever, because without him there would be no free agency; and the great player named Vada Pinson. We were all in the same school at the same time.

What school was that?

Bill Russell: McClymonds in West Oakland, who just won the California state championship again this year.

Basketball?

Bill Russell: Yes.

The legacy continues.

Bill Russell: Paul Silas, he went to the same school. When he was there they won 108-some straight games. So we used to always call ourselves "The School of Champions."

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