Here are Red's theories on what it takes to win in basketball and the art of motivation.
I had a theory back when I was starting out, and what it came down to was this: Basketball is like a war. When you go into a war, you go in to win it, because you don't know what's going to happen to you if you lose. You could become a slave. Or a POW. You might even get killed. It's the same when you're a coach in sports. What happens to you if you lose? As far as your career goes, you're dead. So I'd spend hours asking myself: What will it take for us to win? They're coming at me with all of their offensive weapons, shooting from every direction. What will it take to stop them? How are we going to win this war? One answer, I decided was defense. You see, defense is just hard work. There'll be nights when the ball won't fall in, no matter how well you execute your plays. Your touch will fall off just a bit and there won't be anything you can do about that. It happens. I't something you can't always control. But you can play good defense if you put your mind to it; that's something you can do every night. So I made up my mind that any team of mine was going to be a team that played tough defense. That was one way to win the war. But even that would be dependent on another factor: Motivation. Motivation! Getting your people to give you their best efforts. Night in and night out. Game in and game out. Motivation, that was the key. Looking for reasons to win. You have to do that when you play as many games as pro teams do, particularly against a weaker opponent. Sounds like that should be a cinch, right? Far from it. I've told this to many college coaches. You have to motivate your players for the so-called easy games. The big games take care of themselve; they're self motivating to a large extent. It's the game which catches you off balance in which you've got to bust your humps. So you have to treat every game as a separate entity, and then come up with a logical reason why we must win this one tonight. If there was a secret to the success I enjoyed as a coach, that might have been it right there. I'll bet I came up with 2,000 reasons why we had to win. But sometimes outside factors did the job for me. Like the night in Cincinnati when the management there handed out 5,000 cigars to customers as they filed to their seats. It was a key game, and the Royals were one of our big rivals at the time, so the idea was to have everyone light up and blow smoke in our faces after we'd gone down to defeat. It was a takeoff on my cigar bit, you know? And I'll admit, it was a pretty cute idea, but it backfired on them. Talk about motivating speeches! I might have given the best one of my life that night. There was no damn way we were going to lose that one. I had the team so hopped up we went out and kicked the hell out of them. Some nights, though, I'd just try to appeal to everyone's common sense. "Look, you guys are already chalking this one up as a win, right? But, remember, no one's ever won a damn thing on paper. You still have to go out and get the job done. Now there are two ways you can go about this. If you really bust your balls at the start, we might win this thing by the third period and then you can sort of take it easy and have some fun going down the stretch. If you don't do that, you're going to end up having to play 48 hard minutes and try to eke it out at the buzzer. I don't have to tell you, a win over these guys counts just as much as a win over LA, but you can make it an easy win or you can sweat your fannies off. It's your choice." See, part of motivation is putting ideas into people's heads, getting them to see things a certain positive way. There was the night, for example, when we were getting ready to play Philadelphia in one of those Game 7 showdowns at the Garden. The minute I walked into our dressing room I could sense something was wrong. It was too quiet. Everyone was too serious. We had been champions for a long, long time, but now everyone was starting to wonder: Is this the year it ends? Is it finally someone else's turn? I stood there for a moment, looking around, trying to spot some life, some enthusiasm, some reaction. Nothing. Just silence. So what did I do? I started to laugh, right out loud. Everyone looked at me like I was nuts - but now I had their attention. "You guys have to be kidding me," I said. "If you're worried about playing them, how do you think they feel having to play us?" Then I walked out. Satch Sanders later told me everyone began looking at one another, and they all started laughing, too. By the time the knock on the door came, they were having a party. Then they went out and kicked Philadelphia's ass. You have to be careful. You can motivate too much. It's a hard thing to guage. There are inner forces you can appeal to, giving a guy something to think about, and there are outer forces. But what you don't want is a guy who becomes too hyped up. After all, we're talking about a game of touch here. It's like a tennis player. He can get sky high. That means he's mentally in shape and has a strong desire to win, but it doesn't mean the ball's going to land where he wants it to. If he gets himself psyched up too much, he'll be hitting the balls all over the place. You can outsmart yourself, too. I did that once in Detroit and some of our old guys still kid me about it. It was New Year's Eve. We'd won 17 in a row, tying the league record my Caps set back in 1946-47. The next day we were facing Cincinnati, one of the worst teams in the league at that time, in the first game of a double header. If we won, we'd make history. So instead of letting the guys go out to a movie or do whateve they'd normally do, I had them all come up to my room. No celebrating whatsoever, I ordered sandwiches and Cokes and we played cards for awhile, then we just stood around looking at each other until I sent them all to bed. The next day Cincinnati blew us off the court. It wasn't even close."