The Mind Games of Bill Russell

July, 30, 2008
7/30/08
1:15
PM ET

At the NBA's offices in Secaucus, New Jersey, they have a wall covered with old magazine covers starring NBA players.

One of those covers has a picture of Bill Russell, with a headline about the mind games he uses on opponents.

"Oh man," I thought to myself, "I should get that from the library and blog about it. Looks interesting." I jotted down the date and all the particulars in my notes.

That was a couple of years ago. Somehow, I didn't get there yet.

But in the interim, Sports Illustrated has opened its vast online archive, and Matt from Basketbawful was smart enough to find that article Russell wrote in October 1965.

It includes tricks like this one 6-3 Frank Ramsey used when, on a switch, he had to defend 6-11 Nate Thurmond, who could leap like a deer and had a nice mid-range jumper:

... 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, anyway?

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.

I also wanted to stand up and clap when I read this:

In every game there is a crucial turning point, right? It comes when you are eight points up on the opponent and they have the ball. Now. If they score, they are only six points down. If you score, you're 10 points ahead and you have broken the game open. Right?

If you believe the above statement to be true, you have just been psyched. A lot of players figure this to be true, but it ain't necessarily so. If you start believing in things like turning points, you are lost. You play your best. All the way.

There is plenty more good stuff, including talk of a memorable dinner psych out of UCLA, and a memorable talk from a high school coach about how to deal with anger on the court. Well worth a few minutes to read a few more thoughts from the greatest winner the League has ever known.

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