The following passage is from former Celtics great Bill Russell, in his book: Second Wind: The Memoirs of an Opinionated Man, Random House, 1979, pp 155-158. In it, he describes the transcendant experience that I call "The Well-Played Game"
so often a Celtic game would heat up so that it became more than a
physical or even mental game, and would be magical. That feeling is difficult
describe, and I certainly never talked about it when I was playing.
it happened I could feel my play rise to a new level. It came rarely,
and would last anywhere from five minutes to a whole quarter or more.
Three or four plays were not enough to get it going. It would surround
not only me and the other Celtics but also the players on the other
and even the referees. To me, the key was that both teams had
to be playing at their peaks, and they had to be competitive. The Celtics
could not to it alone. I remember the fifth and final game of the 1965
championship series, when we opened the fourth quarter ahead of the
by sixteen points, playing beautifully together, and then we simply
took off into unknown peaks and ran off twenty straight points to go
thirty-six points, and astounding margin for a championship series.
We were on fire, intimidating, making shots, running the break, and
just couldn't score. As much as I wanted to win that championship,
I remember being disappointed that the Lakers were not playing better.
We were playing
well enough to attain that special level, but we couldn't do it without
That mystical feeling usually came with better teams
in the league that were challenging us for the championship. Over the
years that the Celtics were consistently good, our rivals would change,
as teams would come up to challenge and then fall off again. First it
was the Hawks, then the Lakers, Royals, Warriors, 76ers and then the Lakers
again, with the Nicks beginning to move. They were the teams good enough
to reach that level with us some nights. It never started with a hot streak
by a single player, or with a breakdown of one team's defense. It usually
began when three or four of the ten guys on the floor would heat up; they
would be the catalysts, and they were almost always the stars in the league.
If we were playing the Lakers, for example, West and Baylor and Cousy
or Sam and I would be enough. The feeling would spread to the other guys,
and we'd all levitate. And then the game would just take off, and there'd
be a natural ebb and flow that reminded you of how rhythmic and musical
basketball is supposed to be. I'd find myself thinking, "This is
it. I want this to keep going," and I'd actually be rooting for the
other team. When their players made spectacular moves, I wanted their
shots to go in the bucket. That's how pumped up I'd be. I'd be out there
talking to the other Celtics, encouraging them and pushing myself harder,
but at the same time part of me would be pulling for the other players
At that special level all sorts of odd things happened.
The game would be in a white heat of competition, and yet somehow I wouldn't
feel competitive -- which is a miracle in itself. I'd be putting out the
maximum effort, straining, coughing up parts of my lungs as we ran, and
yet I never felt the pain. The game would move so quickly that every fake,
cut and pass would be surprising, and yet nothing could surprise me. Even
before the other team brought the ball in bounds, I could feel it so keenly
that I'd want to shout to my teammates, "It's coming there!"
-- except that I knew everything would change if it did. My premonitions
would be consistently correct, and I always felt then that I not only
knew all the Celtics by heart but also all the opposing players, and they
knew me. There have been many times in my career when I felt moved or
joyful, but these were the moments when I had chills pulsing up and down
But these spells were fragile. An injury would break
them, and so would a couple of bad plays or a bad call by a referee. Once
a referee broke a run by making a bad call in my favor, which so irritated
me that I protested it as I stood at the foul line to take my free throws.
"You know it was a bad call, ref," I said wearily. He looked
at me as if I was crazy, and then got so angry that I never again protested
a call unless it went against me. Still, I always suffered a letdown when
one of those spells died, because I never knew how to bring them back;
all I could do was keep playing my best and hope. They were sweet when
they came, and the hope that one would come was one of my strongest motivations
for walking out there.
Sometimes the feeling would last all the way to the end of the game, and when that happened I never cared who won. I can honestly say that those few times were the only ones when I did not care. I don't mean that I was a good sport about it -- that I'd played my best and had nothing to be ashamed of. On the five or ten occasions when the game ended at that special level, I literally did not care who had won. If we lost, I'd still be as free and as high as a sky hawk. But I had to be quiet about it. At times I'd hint around to the other players about this feeling, but I never talked about it much, least of all to the other Celtics. I felt a little weird about it, and quite private. Besides, I couldn't let on to my teammates that it was ever all right to lose; I had too much of an influence on the team. We were the Celtics, and our reason for being was to win championships, so I had to keep those private feelings to myself. It was good I did; if I'd tried to explain, I'd never have gotten past the first two sentences. Anything I confided would sound too awkward and sincere for Celtic tastes, and I could just hear Satch and Nelson. The next time we lost an ordinary game they'd have been cackling, "That's all right, Russ. It don't matter that we lost, because we had that special feeling out there tonight. Yeah, it felt real special."
Reprinted by agreement with Mr. Russell. Not
to be copied or duplicated. Please use this URL only: http://www.deepfun.com/russell.html
Reprinted by agreement with Mr. Russell. Not to be copied or duplicated. Please use this URL only: http://www.deepfun.com/russell.html