After Bill's initial success at visualizing himself making a move, he grew even more excited about the game and his newly found talent for it.
On the All Star tour through the Northwest, I suddenly knew that I could do on the basketball court what I had not been able to do with painting. I got the details right, and repeatedly they fell into place. Whenever I pulled off one of McKelvey's moves I'd try to review what I'd done while running back up the court. I could see the play I'd just made, and if there were an extra jerk in my arm or a faulty twist in my body, I'd try to correct it the next time. The important thing was that I could see what was wrong and what was right, and that my body responded to what I saw. For the rest of the trip I was nearly possessed by basketball. I was having so much fun that I was sorry to see each day end, and I wanted the nights to race by so that the next day could start. The long rides on the bus never bothered me. I talked basketball incessantly, and when I wasn't talking I was sitting there with my eyes closed, watching plays in my head. I was in my own private basketball laboratory, making mental blueprints for myself. It was effortless; the movies I saw in my head seemed to have their own projector, and whenever I closed my eyes it would run. I had fantasies too, of course, such as visions of soaring high enough to dunk the ball with my feet, but most of what I saw was within the realm of possibility. With only a little mental discipline I could keep myself focused on plays I had actually seen, and so many of them were new that I never felt bored. If I had a play in my mind but muffed it on the court, I'd go over it repeatedly in my head, searching for details I'd missed. I'd goofed because I'd overlooked a critical detail in my mind, so I'd go back to check my model. If this didn't work, I'd have to wait until I saw McKelvey or one of the other players make the move again, and then compare what I saw with the model in my head. It was like working a phony jig saw puzzle: one piece in the completed picture was slightly imperfect, and I had to find out which one it was. Many a night on the Greyhound I dozed off right in the middle of my detective work. Whenever I did find myself running out onto the court, it was like the movies, except that the sounds were so much brighter: the squeaking shoes, the thumping rhythm of basketballs bouncing, the breathing, shouts and grunts of the players, the whistles of the officials. Once I got used to these sounds I could concentrate on my movies. Usually I'd have two or three new moves in mind to try out each day, and I'd want to make adjustments in several of the old ones. I'd practice them during the warmups. Most players spend warmups limbering up with their favorite shot. I spent mine working on moves, one at a time. It was always exciting to try one for the first time. In a split second, while walking away from the bucket with a practice ball, I'd think of a move and run it through my mind. Then I'd try it once, twice, three times. Usually I'd make adjustments after each try, but occasionally I'd get it right on the first go, and to me that was like being able to slap a Michelangelo right on the canvas. I'd say to myself, "I've got it! That's another one." Then I'd try another. During warm-ups I seemed aloof from my teammates, but I was really paying tribute to them by practicing their techniques. Although Bill Treu played forward, he handled the ball like a guard, and it didn't take me long to figure out that some of his moves were not suited to a player of my size. I couldn't dribble through crowds the way he did, or twist my way to the bucket at high speeds. I was too tall for so much dribbling; the ball would be stolen or I'd throw it away. On the bus at night I'd still watch Treu go through his paces in my mind, but it was fruitless for me to insert myself in his place. It was frustrating to think that some of the images I had assembled were useless, so finally, more or less as a lark, I started imagining myself in plays with Treu. He'd be spinning in for a lay-up and I'd be shadowing him on defense. Since I knew his move so well, I'd imagine myself as his mirror image, I'd take a step backward for every step he took forward, and so forth. It was as if we were dancing, with Treu leading. When I saw him go up to lay the ball in the basket, I'd see myself go up and block the shot. I enjoyed the two man show in my mind, so I expanded it. I sketched out scenes of Treu and me fast breaking together. Any way he bent, I'd bend with him. The first time I pulled one of these defensive moves on Treu in practice, I was ecstatic. Not because I liked to match Treu's standard of play, nor because I had a premonition that defense would become my calling card in basketball. I was happy because those defensive moves were the first that I'd invented on my own and then made real. I didn't copy them, I invented them. They grew out of my imagination, and so I saw them as my own. The very idea that I could innovate in basketball thrilled me. It came so soon after I discovered that I could copy offensive moves and thereby make progress. A few weeks earlier I had not even been able to walk on the floor smoothly. Actually, I hadn't really wanted the ball to be passed to me because I didn't know what to do with it. What I'd really liked about the game were running, jumping, grabbing rebounds - just being out there. Now, as our tour rolled through the snow to a string of small cities in Canada, I was not only learing the game but was also adding to it. Every day turned into an adventure, and I wondered why the game had only started coming to me now, when I had only a few weeks left in competitive basketball. I blocked a lot of shots on that tour, mainly because it was fun to carry out some of the designs I had made up to use against Bill Treu. Nobody, including myself, thought of the blocked shot as much of a defensive weapon; in fact, nobody thought much about defense at all. We were in a different era of basketball, when people thought of defense as a time to rest when you didn't have the ball. A blocked shot provoked only yawns or criticism. There had been a time when blocked shots were a potent weapon, and the early seven footers in the game camped under the basket to bat shots away from the rim. But this had brought on the goaltending rule against touching a shot in its downward flight. After that, players tended to forget about blocking shots because they didn't want to give the opposing team an automatic two points. It was too risky. Players who tried to block had to leave their feet and were likely to foul or be left behind as the shooter scooted around them. For all this risk the blocker could hope only to knock the ball out of bounds. The idea of blocking a shot and keeping the ball inbounds was unheard of, as was the more difficult move of tipping the blocked shot directly to a defensive teammate. In our minds a blocked shot had about the same impact as calling time out; it stopped the clock and gave the ball out of bounds to the team that already had possession. Like the jump shot and defense in general, blocked shots would take some time to work their way into favor with the basketball coaches. But even in those days they were fun to watch and to do, and on the Northwest tour we were playing for fun. An acrobatic block might draw and ooh or an aah or even a handshake from your teammetes. (This was before the palm slap. Black players never slapped each other on the ass back then, and we were shocked when we saw the white ones doing it.) IU blocked so many shots after a couple of weeks on the tour that my teammates began referring to them as Russell moves, which pleased me. They were acknowledging that I had a trademark they admired, and this was the first sign that my basketball personality would be built around defense.
For all this risk the blocker could hope only to knock the ball out of bounds. The idea of blocking a shot and keeping the ball inbounds was unheard of, as was the more difficult move of tipping the blocked shot directly to a defensive teammate.
More than one of Wilt's coaches tried to get him to keep his blocks in bounds.
I imagine a lot of coaches have tried to get their shot blockers to keep them in bounds. Russell's discoveries about the game were incredible. I really was fascinated by this book which is why I have wanted to share parts of it with other fans who may not have seen it.