"Basketball is a game that involves a great deal of psychology. The psychology in defense is not blocking a shot or stealing a pass or getting the ball away. The psychology is to make the offensive team deviate from their normal habits. This is a game of habits, and the player with the most consistent habits is the best. What I try to do on defense is to make the offensive man do not what he wants but what I want. If I'm back on defense and three guys are coming at me, I've got to do something to worry all three.
First I must make them slow up or stop. Then I must force them to make a bad pass and take a bad shot and, finally, I must try to block the shot. Say the guy in the middle has the ball and I want the guy on the left to take the shot. I give the guy with the ball enough motion to make him stop. Then I step toward the man on the right, inviting a pass to the man on the left; but, at the same time, I'm ready to move, if not on my way, to the guy on the left. I'm giving away all my secrets."
"What Russell really does," says teammate Tommy Heinsohn, "is demoralize
. The other players are afraid to take their normal shots. Instead, they're looking to see what Russell will do." As Bill Bridges of the St. Louis Hawks said recently, " Russell told me I better bring pepper and salt to the next game. He told me I was going to eat basketballs." Indeed, the ball has come to be known by the pros as a Wilson burger, after its manufacturer.
"In my modest opinion," says Russell, who is not a particularly good shooter, "shooting is of relatively little importance in a player's overall game. Almost all of us in the NBA are All-Americas. We became All-Americas by averaging 20 points or more a game, so by the layman's standards all of us can shoot. It's the other phases of the game that make the difference. If you're going to score 15 and let your man score 20 you're a deficit. If your value to the team is strictly as a shooter, you are of very little value
. Offense is the first thing you learn as a kid in any sport: catch a pass, dribble, bat, shoot. You learn the offensive aspects of a game long before you learn there even are defensive aspects. These are the skills you come by naturally. Defense is hard work because it's unnatural.
"Defense is a science," Russell says, "not a helter-skelter thing you just luck into. Every move has six or seven years of work behind it. In basketball your body gets to do things it couldn't do in normal circumstances. You take abnormal steps, you have to run backward almost as fast as you can run forward. On defense you must never cross your legs while running, and that's the most natural thing to do when changing direction. Instead, you try to glide like a crab. You have to fight the natural tendencies and do things naturally that aren't natural.
"In rebounding, position is the key. No two objects can occupy the same place at the same time. Seventy-five percent of the rebounds are taken below the height of the rim, so timing is important
, because almost everyone in the league can reach the top of the rim. A really important part of rebounding is being able to jump up more than once. You have to keep trying for that ball. Sometimes you jump four or five times before you can get your hands on it. I used to practice jumping over and over again. When I was 6 feet 2, I could jump to the top of the rim 35 times, over and over.