Thursday, June 10, 2004

So did anyone else read this Bill Russell column in the Wall Street Journal?....


See, since I only have time to read one paper every day, I choose the Journal. I choose the WSJ mainly because they don't pretend to be unbiased. The paper is primarily concerned with money, and what it's doing. You can elaborate, which the Journal does and say the philosophy behind the paper is Free Markets, Free people, and you would be right. It isn't a coincidence that those two go together. You could criticize it and say that it's conservative/republican biased. I would disagree. Albert Hunt bashes Bush worse than anyone in the New York Times. There is always a "this is good, but" media balancing act in every front page political briefing. Free markets, Free people, that's the only bias.

As a bonus, The WSJ somehow managed to get Bill Russell, the Hall Of Famer (who won 11 NBA championships with the Boston Celtics in 13 seasons (1957, 1959-66, 1968-69)) to pen a column about the beauty of this years NBA Finals.


I'm not exactly sure if I'm breaking any laws here, but I want to post the whole article, with a link to the original, because after the absolute beating the Pistons gave the Lakers tonight, it almost writes itself. Keep in mind that Bill Russell rarely, if ever even grants interviews, never mind writing his own column.

Enjoy.........and buy a journal or something....

An NBA Finals Victory
Begins With Team Defense


June 8, 2004; Page D14

As we saw Sunday in Game One of the NBA Finals (the most exciting time of the NBA season), defense is the tiebreaker. Tonight, as the Los Angeles Lakers meet the Detroit Pistons for Game Two, defense will continue to be the key.

I always would rather play in and win a close game with unrelenting defense and a final score of 84-83 than a game where one team scores 120 points and wins by 15. Dunks and great passes are always exciting, and even so-called low-scoring games have their share of them. But nothing compares to the subtle beauty of a winner absolutely taking away the other team's "game."

Defense is an action, not a reaction. Great defense attacks an opponent's offense vs. reacting to it.

When I was playing for them, the Boston Celtics won an unprecedented 11 championships in 13 seasons, from 1957 to 1969, by embracing a team strategy that I call "team ego." Team ego recognizes the collective alignment of everyone's individual talents for the benefit of the team. Team defense wins games. Team defense -- that is, the coordinated efforts of five individuals -- wins championships. From high school to the NBA, I played 21 years of organized basketball and won 18 championships, including the record 11 NBA titles, by focusing on our being the better defensive team.

How does one team become the better defensive team?

Game One of the NBA Finals.

The most successful defensive teams understand one critical reality: All players have patterns of play. Wilt Chamberlain was bigger, stronger and faster than almost any center to play the game. When his team was on offense, Wilt like every other player had one particular place he liked to start his offensive pattern from. By simply "nudging" Wilt a few inches (any more would have tipped him off to what I was doing) from that "starting" spot, I quietly took Wilt out of his comfort zone of play.

Great defensive teams study the offensive patterns of every team and every player they play against. Great defensive teams understand the predictability of their opponents' offensive patterns. All great offensive players are predictable. Still, it's inconceivable that any team can always take away its opponent's first shot option or favorite move or favorite starting offensive position. But in team defense, the core operating principle is to reduce efficiency. Our game plan never varied, we could let our opponent's star offensive player score 35 points, but if we could take away Jerry West, Oscar Robertson or Walt Frazier's preferred shot and cause him to miss three, four, five or six shots...we believed that we could convert those misses into Celtic points.

This week during The Finals, try watching the Lakers and the Pistons differently. Watch for the team that builds its defense around taking away its opponent's preferred shots (its first option) or preferred shooting positions. Watch Kobe Bryant or Ben Wallace try to force their opponents into their second or third options. As we began taking our opponents out of their offensive comfort zone, our team would subtly begin backing up each other to compensate for these defensive changes. This team defensive effort was singularly what created the Celtics' records.

The second characteristic of great team defense is a team that understands the power of invisibility. I can admit this now, some 35 years after my last game: I used to get this great joy from having my opponents "look for me." Why? Because it distracted them and took them out of their pattern of comfort. Defense is about breaking your opponent's offensive patterns, breaking its concentration and subtly modifying its offensive schemes. Blocking shots, stealing passes and causing turnovers all distract its concentration. Team defense is as much a psychological strategy as it is a tactical weapon.

In the end, an offense feeds off of its defense. And effective offenses begin with effective defense.

Our Celtic style of play is timeless and will always be relevant. I see a number of players and teams in the NBA who understand the subtle art and science of defense. Wallace of the Pistons comes to mind. Ron Artest of the Indiana Pacers clearly earned the Defensive Player of the Year award. And while both Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Bryant of the Lakers are known for their scoring ability, they also are among the best players in shutting down their opponent.

It is no mystery why the Lakers, Timberwolves, Pistons and Pacers were all within sight of The Finals. Four of the five players named to the All-NBA Defensive First Team made it to the Conference Finals -- Wallace, Bryant, Artest and Garnett. In fact, the past 15 NBA champions ranked in the top five in at least one of the two major defensive categories (points and field-goal percentage) during the regular season or postseason.

I don't know who will win tonight, or if it will be the Lakers or Pistons to emerge as the 2004 NBA champions. But I do know how the eventual champion will arrive at the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Since the Celtics transformed basketball, defense wins championships.

Mr. Russell, who played for the Boston Celtics from 1956 to 1969, was named Sports Illustrated's Greatest Team Player on the Greatest Team of the 20th Century and is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and the NBA's 50 Greatest Players.

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