Tag Archives: Boston Celtics

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

Russell Rules: 11 Lessons on Leadership from the Twentieth Century’s Greatest Winner By Bill Russell, David Falkner

Longer write-up and full notes can be found below. Worth reading in its entirety if you want a great perspective on leadership, mastery, “team ego” rather than personal ego, and so much more

Drive: The Story of My Life by Larry Bird

Summary

  1. Bird discusses his childhood, college years, and life as one of the all time great NBA players

Key Takeaways

  1. Magic Johnson gives the foreword and says there are 3 reasons he respects and fears playing against Bird – his dedication, guts, and poise under pressure
  2. Baseteball just ‘clicked’ in his mind. Whatever he practiced he would pick up quickly – he also practiced more than anyone
  3. Didn’t care how much he scored or was the main player, as long as his team won
  4. Extremely competitive and grew up going at it with his brothers – family was always a united front
  5. Blessed with a good memory and was able to remember every instruction – was given the nickname ‘Kodak.’ My memory has always helped me to quickly up on things that I’m interested in. I think I’ve surprised people sometimes when they become aware of my recall capacity. Once, when I was doing a network interview, the producer ran a videotape of a previous year’s NBA championship game so I could comment on the game. When they stopped the tape randomly, they were trying to figure out at what point of the game it was, so I told them right away, “It’s the fourth quarter with fie minutes and forty seconds left.” The producer asked me how I could possibly have known that exact time and I told him I could tell from the fight song that was playing. He asked, “What fight song?” I explained, “I remember in the game the fight song was played three times. The last time they played the song the crowd was going absolutely crazy. Houston had come back from being 17 points down and I remember looking up at the clock at that point and there were five minutes and forty seconds to go.” I went on to describe the rest of the plays for the producer before they appeared on the tape. I guess it’s things like that that earned me the nickname of “Kodak” from Coach Bill Fitch.
  6. Never treated rookies badly – always took them under his wing
  7. His life motto was: I’ll deal with it when it comes. Never over thinking things or wasting energy
  8. When looking for his agent, the key question his team asked of each candidate was, “If you don’t get the job, whom would you recommend?” Almost all of them replied, “Bob Woolf.” Bird was really impressed by that and ended up choosing him
  9. After he was drafted by the Celtics, he read up on their history Red Auerbach, and the rest of the team
  10. As a rookie, have to gain respect. Focused on consistency so the team knew they could count on him every night
  11. Maxwell tried to get reactions from others to get himself fired up
  12. A basketball team consists of 12 men – not five or six. If the team is going to function properly, every member must have a role and that includes off the court, as well as on. The problem is that the public only pays attention to the ones who play the most minutes. Eric Fernsten was perfect for our team because he did everything and anything Coach Fitch asked. What he wanted to do was practice. His games were like mine while I was being red-shirted at Indiana State. He lived for practices. You may find this difficult to believe, but he really didn’t care that much about playing in the games. Eric would walk into practice and say, “Today is my day.” Then he’d go out and give you a real battle. He made the players he practiced against better – and that includes me. If Coach Fitch told him he wanted him to tackle you – which happened about three quarters of the time – that’s what he’d do. He would get me so frustrated, he’d make me want to play harder. He would do everything to you that you hated in an opponent. 
  13. We all knew Danny Ainge had to start playing more, but when you’re a player you don’t think the same way they do in management. Danny had a tough time his first 2-3 years. He played a lot with one eye on the bench and I’ve always said you just can’t play that way
  14. Whenever I’m trying to improve my game, I analyze my weaknesses first and work on those relentlessly. When Michael Cooper made all those subtle changes on me, I knew I needed to come up with something new.
  15. Bill Walton wanted to get his points, just like everyone else on the team. We weren’t afraid to go to him, but we never wanted him to get to the point where he felt he had to score. I think there was a time that seasons when he felt he should score eight or ten points a game. I remember telling him, “Don’t worry about points. We’ll take care of that. Just make your move if you have it. If not, give it to someone who can shoot it.” Once he accepted that, we didn’t have any problems
  16. Magic plays basketball the way I think you should play basketball. We think the same way about the game. We look at such and such a player and say, “If he was on my team, I could make him a great player.” Well, maybe not make him one, but sort of bring out the best of his abilities. We’ve reflected on that experience when we played on the same All-Star team in college. Both of us want to bring out the best in our teammates. We also want the fans to be involved in the game. Without them reacting, it just wouldn’t be as much fun. Magic plays to the strength of every teammate. The Lakers have a great team and they would be very good without him, but he is the special ingredient that brings them championships. 
  17. The Lakers learned a lot from the loss in ’84. They’ve developed the attitude we used to have. When we had our great teams, we remembered every loss. The next time we played that team, we wanted to bust ’em. If we lost a game, the players would say, “What went wrong tonight? The next time we play them, it won’t happen again.” And it wouldn’t
  18. I play for the fans, but they don’t come first. The owners come first. Without them, none of us would have anything. Then come the Celtics, which means Red. He gets me more fired up to play than any other individual. My high school and college coaches were great, but Red is “Mr. Basketball” to me. Then come my teammates and somehow in there I include myself
  19. Leadership is getting players to believe in you. If you tell a teammate you’re ready to play as tough as you’re able to, you’d better go out there and do it. Players will see right through a phony. And they can tell when you’re not giving it all you’ve got. Leadership is diving for a loose ball, getting the crowd involved, getting other players involved – no more, no less. It’s being able to take it as well as dish it out. That’s the only way you’re going to get respect from the players. 
  20. As a kid I always thought I was behind and I needed that extra hour to catch up. Jim Jones once told me, “No matter how many shots you take, somewhere there’s a kid out there taking one more. If you dribble a million times a day, someone is dribbling a million and one.” Whenever I’d get read to call it a day, I’d think about that other kid. There are many times when you’re better off practicing than playing, but most people just don’t understand that. 
  21. Surround yourself with good people and good things will happen

What I got out of it

  1. Perseverance, hard work, freaky memory, honest and straightforward, empathetic, and the consummate team player