Red and Me: My Coach, My Lifelong Friend by Bill Russell

Summary

  1. Russell describes the amazing relationship that him and coach Red Auerbach were able to cultivate over decades.

Key Takeaways

  1. Russell was ingrained from a young age always stand up for himself to never let anyone impose their will on him – to be committed, loyal, and devoted, and these characteristics all came through when he became a Celtic
    1. Russell’s father instilled in him a sense of pride in his work. Whatever you do, be the best at it. This is the road from journeyman to artist that we should all strive for
  2. It is far more important to understand than to be understood
    1. Russell said this several times in the book and seems to be a driving force for him
  3. Russell had such an unorthodox game – blocking shots, being mostly vertical rather than horizontal – that people didn’t understand his game or really understand how good he was. Even after he won a national championship his junior year of college and averaged 20 points and 20 rebounds a game, people still didn’t think he was very good they gave the national player of the year award to another player
    1. Fascinating to think back to that time and the blind spot people had because Russell didn’t fit the image of what people had for a center! One of the greatest players of all time was “misdiagnosed” because he was different
  4. Red and I shared a superpower – always knowing what was important. We were willing to buck conventional wisdom in order to win. We over me and always looking at trying to find ways to help people better contribute to the team
  5. Story of how Red made sure nobody selected Bill ahead of the Celtics in the draft is awesome. Red deeply understood human nature and was able to take various perspectives to understand what people wanted – creating a win/win for everyone involved
  6. Another of Red’s superpowers was his ability to listen – he had “great ears”
  7. Red treated everyone as equals and with respect, as men on a shared mission to win basketball games 
  8. The guiding light that drove every decision and action was how do we increase the odds of winning as a team? This was the driving force and aligned everyone to achieve this goal
  9. Russell deliberately studied every one of his teammates and competitor’s strengths and weaknesses so he knew how to best help his teammates and be most effective against his competitors. He could visualize in his head how every player in the league moved and how he would defend against them
  10. Red worked through collaboration rather than a dictatorship. He asked everyone questions and got their input making them co-owners of the team and integral to every decision, creating buy in and an aligned and cooperative team
  11. One thing that stood out to me was that Red seem to have no preconceived notion‘s
  12. Red never cared about other players. His focus was solely on the team he has and not the team he wished he had – these are the guys I’m going to war with. How do we win win with what we got?
  13. Russell always aimed to play the perfect game. This included all the normal metrics like rebounds and shooting percentage but also conversation he had with his teammates because of the power of language and psychology
  14. Russell and Red didn’t care what anybody else thought they simply did what they thought was right for them and their team
  15. Red never imposed anything. He set up a system and got people to buy in so that they felt ownership and responsibility for it
  16. Another great example of Red’s psychological mastery was with Frank Ramsey. It used to be that you were either part of the all-star first team or the lowly second team. Red helped Frank understand that he was their “sixth man” – the sixth starter, the first guy off the bench.  The role that used to be looked down upon was now an honor and Red helped build the culture and the game around Frank’s incredible shooting skills so that he always brought a burst of energy and was sa potential game-changer when he did come in.
  17. One of Red’s masterstrokes as a coach was knowing how to treat each player differently yet maintain the cohesiveness of the entire unit
    1. Surprising to me that a team like this had “rules for Russell” and “rules for everyone else.” Red must have masterfully balanced this hierarchy/differentiation in order to keep the rest of the team calm and bought in 
  18. Play like a child, but not childish

What I got out of it

  1. Beautiful to hear the relationship that Red and Russell built over the decades. Much of it was unsaid, and that’s the amazing part of it. They came from such different “tribes,” as Russell said, but they instinctively understood each other and came to respect and trust each other. They both were willing to do whatever it took for the team to win