Here is a story from Bill Russell's Second Wind about how he discovered basketball.
It was only by the sheerest luck that I developed an outlet for my confidence. There is a gray area between magic and luck, and my basketball career started off somewhere in the gray area. Looking back, I can see a whole string of unlikely events that had to occur. I can also remember moments when new skills seemed to drop out of the sky, and I felt as if I had a new eye or had tapped a new compartment in my brain. First there was George Powles. The white teachers at McClymonds tended to be the most bitter of a bitter lot, stuck there in an all black school. Powles was white, and he was also stuck with the junior varsity basketball team. At our first practice he told us he didn't know the first thing about basketball. The principal of the school had just stopped him in the hall a few days earler and informed him that he was the new coach of our team. Powles was a baseball coach by trade, but he said that he would learn with us and try to be fair. He did both. Among the teachers, Powles was generally unpopular for his pro-student attitude. He had the kind of idealism that could cause trouble if it infected students, and he was criticized as one who curried favor with kids by doing things they liked. That's exactly what he did for me, and I'll always be grateful to him. At the end of our tryout period I was clearly the worst of the candidates for the Jayvee team. I could run and jump, all right, but if there was a basketball within twenty feet of me, I went to pieces. There were sixteen of us. Powles was provided with fifteen game uniforms, but he told us he didn't want to cut anybody else. As the sixteenth man on the team, I was to share the last uniform with a boy named Roland Campbell. When he wore the uniform, I sat up in the stands. Every game we switched. Powles couldn't have been kinder to me. He even gave me two dollars to join the local Boys Club so I could gain some experience, and I burned up enough energy on those courts to light the city of Oakland. Powles knew less about basketball strategy than I knew about Emily Post, but he had a keen sense of psychology that helped us win. He used to pace up and down in front of us to lecture us on the race question. "We might as well face it, boys," he would say gravely. "You are a Negro team playing against a lot of white teams. If you fight in a game, they'll call it a riot. If the white team fights, they'll call it a scuffle. That's all there is to it. We can't help it. So I won't have any fighting on this team. If you want to beat somebody up, just beat them with the basketball." That's what we did. Powles was honest and straightforward, and he made sense. Nobody on our team forgot what he said, and we never fought. Often our white opponents started shoving hard if they fell behind, hoping to provoke a fight, but we'd just whip them harder on the court. One of us might say to a white player, "Hey, man, we can't have no rioting out here!" and then we'd all laugh. The coach taught us that in order to do anything well, you have to be something of a gentleman, and since we were black, he'd say, we had to be perfect gentlemen. Coach Powles moved up to the varsity for my last two years at McClymonds, and so did I. Our team was excellent, but I was mediocre at best. I was the kind of player who tried so hard that everybody wanted to give me the most improved award - except that I didn't improve much. I was an easily forgettable high school player. McClymonds was part of the Oakland Athletic League, which had only six teams. At the end of the season the newspaper published a First All League Team, a Second All League Team, a Third All League Team, and a long list of Honorable Mentions thta included just about everybody, except for me. I never made any of those lists. When I finished at McClymonds, luck struck again, in the form of the California High School All Stars. For the previous four years of so, a local basketball lover had gathered together a team of players and taken them on a tour of the Pacific Northwest, challenging local teams. The Oakland Jaycees and the Mohawk Athletic Club, of which I'd never heard, put up the money so the team could go barnstorming off to the North for about a month. Circumstances conspired to put me on this team, even though I was not of all star quality right there in Oakland, much less in all of California. First of all, the tour took place in January, right in the middle of both the basketball season and the normal scholastic year. It was designed exclusively for graduating splitters - students whose school year ran from January to January. This factor alone ruled out most of the good players. Secondly, the man who ran the tour was trying to build up the program, and he badly wanted to have a player from McClymonds, which had the best team in Northern California that year. I was the only graduating splitter on the McClymonds team, so I was picked. My more talented teammates at McClymonds kidded "All Star Russell" about being selected as their representative, but I didn't care. I was happier than if I'd found a thousand dollars under my pillow. The tour would give me the three wishes I would have put to any genie who came along: a chance to play basketball every day, a trip out of Oakland, and a way to avoid the burden of facing the real world and looking for a job. So in January of 1952 I said good bye to Mr Charlie and took off for the bus station. Getting to go on the tour was luck. What would happen along the way was magic.
Next up, the story from Bill about the magic on the trip that turned a mediocre high school basketball player into one who would become a legend.