The following are exerts from a piece in Sports Illustrated written by Frank DeFord.
Fourteen times in Russell’s career it came down to one game, win you must, or lose and go home. Fourteen times the team with Bill Russell on it won.
Russell: “It’s better to understand than to be understood.”
Tom Heinsohn: “Look, all I know is the guy won two NCAA championships, 50-some college games in a row, the Olympics, then he came to Boston and won 11 championships in 13 years.”
Some years Russell would be so exhausted after the playoffs that, as he describes it, “I’d literally be tired to my bones. I mean, for four, five weeks, my bones would hurt.”
Russell: “To be the best in the world. Not last week. Not next year. But right now. You are the best. And it’s even more satisfying as a team, because that’s more difficult. If I play well, that’s one thing. But to make others play better…”
What do you remember your father told you, Bill? “Accept responsibility for your actions...Honor thy father and mother...If they give you $10 for a day’s work, you give them $12 worth in return.”
The Celtics really did get along the way teams are supposed to in sports mythology. Russell threw Christmas parties for his teammates and their families. In 1962 he took the astonished rookie Havlicek around town to get a good price on a stereo. “All of us were strangers in a place far from home,” Russell says. “But we made it into a unique situation. Cousy started it. He was absolutely sincere about being a good teammate.”
Russell was a great admirer of Cousy, though, and the two led together. If they called a team meeting, they’d start of by soliciting opinion on how they – Russell and Cousy — were lacking.
Russell’s simple key to a successful team was to encourage each player to do what he did best. “Remember, each of us has a finite amount of energy, and things you do well don’t require as much. Things you don’t do well take more concentration. And if you’re fatigued by that, then the things you do best are going to be affected. You must let your energy flow to the team.”
And sometimes, of course, you simply must sacrifice. For instance, one of the hardest things Russell had to learn to accept was that if he filled one lane on a fast break and Heinsohn was on the other flank, Cousy would give Heinsohn the ball – and the basket. Every time. “He simply had so much confidence in Heine,” Russell says. “So I had to discipline myself to run that break all-out, even if I knew I wasn’t going to get the ball.”
Unashamed, he sought to play the perfect game. “Certain standards I set for that,” he says. “First, of course, we had to win. I had to get 25 rebounds, eight assists and eight blocks. I had to make 60% of my shots, and I had to run all my plays perfectly, setting screens and filling the lanes. Also, I had to say the right things to my teammates.”