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You've Been Played: How Bill Russell won his rings and why Miami should adopt his ways

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What Bill Russell and Payton Manning know about winning comes from a military training classic.

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

How did a 40-year-old quarterback, Peyton Manning, on a 12-4 team, defeat a 15-1 team starring the NFL's 27-year-old MVP Cam Newton? The same way opposing teams felt after watching Bill Russell win eleven championship rings with the Boston Celtics. They knew they've been played.

Russell did things differently. Instead of spending time in the weight room or perfecting his own shot, he would study the habits of players, both on other teams as well as his own. Back in 2013, Bill Simmons on Grantland wrote,

"One time, we were discussing a revelation from Russell’s extraordinary biography, Second Wind, that Russell scouted the Celtics after joining them in 1956. Why would you scout your own teammates? What does that even mean?

Russell wanted to play to their strengths and cover their weaknesses, which you can’t do without figuring out exactly what those strengths and weaknesses were. So he studied them. He studied them during practices, shooting drills, scrimmages, even those rare moments when Red Auerbach rested him during games.

He built a mental filing cabinet that stored everything they could and couldn’t do, then determined how to boost them accordingly. It was HIS job to make THEM better. That’s what he believed."

According to a reddit thread, Russell had four core principles known as "Russell's Laws."

He starts out by saying, "In our league I promise you that any team can beat any other team on a given night. The difference a lot of the time is all psychological. We use every little trick, every pressure, every mental gimmick we can."

  1. Russell's First Law: You must make the other player do what you want him to do. How? You must start him thinking. If he is thinking instead of doing, he is yours.
  2. Russell's Second Law: You got to have the killer instinct. If you do not have it, forget about basketball and go into social psychology or something. If you sometimes wonder if you've got it, you ain't got it.
  3. Russell's Third Law: Be cute but not cuddly. I mean, you should be nice at all times, but there is a lot to be said for an elbow in the chops when all else fails. This is forceful psychology. Last resort stuff.
  4. Russell's Fourth Law: Remember that basketball is a game of habit. In getting good at it, we develop certain habits. Therefore, if you make a player deviate from his habits—by playing him—you've got him.

Draymond Green applied the Third Law in the playoffs. Then LeBron James sacrificed his body to help win a championship for Cleveland.

Pat Riley assembled a young core of players who can grasp the Heat identity faster than veterans who are firmly set in their ways. Not only are the new additions more athletic, they are more impressionable. Dan Craig learned that in his first season as the head coach in Sioux Falls, where his team picked up his principles very quickly.

While other teams sharpen their own skills in a vacuum, Miami must do the opposite, studying their opponents first and devising counter-punches. As Muhammad Ali said, "Float like a butterfly, and sting like a bee."

The Art of War puts that strategy best:

  • If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
  • If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.
  • If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

The surprise addition of Dion Waiters, at 6'4" and 220 pounds to the roster, adds another under-25-year-old dimension to the Heat's arsenal. Alongside the 6'7", 225-pound Justise Winslow, the two strong, young bulls can finish at the rim with contact and defend. Having Goran Dragic, 6'3" 190 lbs, Tyler Johnson, 6'4" 190 lbs, Rodney McGruder, 6'4" 205 lbs, and Josh Richardson, 6'6" 200 lbs, gives Miami the flexibility of a mix-and-match lineup that can change looks on the court during a game.

Waiters, Winslow and Richardson could form a FIFA-style midfielder line-up of 1-3-1, instead of the standard 2-2-1 basketball formation. Dragic would be at the point, Whiteside around the paint, while Waiters, Winslow and Richardson roam the middle in totally interchangeable fashion, sort of a mid-field triangle that adapts fluently as the situation demands.

NFL teams switch positions on defense at the line of scrimmage all the time to throw the quarterback's timing off. Cam Newton never did figure out what Denver was showing him for that one game.

Russell used to love out-foxing Wilt Chamberlain,

"Most guys have a spot they like to start from, and nothing annoys them more than to see you there first, waiting for them.

When I played Wilt, he used to get so annoyed when I would get to his spot because it meant he had to move me off his spot to start his game."

Hassan Whiteside and Richardson both use the phrase "You just played yourself." Maybe they're onto something, as the Heat walk off the court with a win knowing the other team just played themselves.