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During his time as an NBA player, Bill Russell built up a resume that would make any athlete jealous. The Boston Celtics great won 11 NBA titles (he added two more rings as a coach), took home five MVP crowns, and 12 All-Star nods, establishing himself as one of the greatest players ever to set foot on the hardwood.

With all of that success, you’d probably think that the big man’s memory bank was overflowing with iconic moments. And while championships would probably overshadow things for most people, Russell had a different take on things.

In fact, one of his “favorite competitive moments” didn’t even take place during the playoffs. It featured a regular-season game against the LA Lakers, which was apparently won with the help of a clever “mind trick.”

Let’s check it out.

Bill Russell once baited Archie Clark into shooting, then blocked his shot and helped the Celtics seal a win

Bill Russell (L) and Red Auerbach (R) embrace after winning an NBA championship.
Bill Russell won plenty of championships, but he never forgot a regular-season moment. | Bettmann / Contributor

Given that he stood 6-foot-10 and weighed in at approximately 215 pounds, Bill Russell had plenty of physical tools to dominate on the basketball court. The big man also had a less-obvious weapon in his arsenal: his brain.

Not only was the center happy to out-think his opponents, but he relished in the opportunity. Allow Dan Shaughnessy, writing in his book, Wish It Lasted Forever: Life With the Larry Bird Celtics, to explain.

“In an interview at the Boston Globe in the 1990s, Russell told me that one of his favorite competitive moments came when he was able to win a mind trick against Lakers guard Archie Clark,” the veteran scribe recounted.

And what exactly was that mind trick? Allow Bill Russell himself to explain.

We were behind by two points with just a few seconds left, and they had the ball. All they had to do was dribble out the clock. Now I know that Archie Clark is a scorer and would not be able to resist a chance for an easy basket. So when they inbounded, I created a path to the basket for him, knowing he’d go for the easy points. Sure enough, he went for the hoop, and I came up from behind and blocked it. We got the ball back and scored and won in overtime.

Bill Russell

Over the years, Russell won nearly 700 games. That victory over the Lakers, however, stood the test of time.

That memory displays a key element of what made Russell so great


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When you stack a single regular-season win up against the rest of Bill Russell’s career, you might wonder what made that moment so memorable. Without knowledge of what was inside the legend’s head, his anecdote does sound like a rather fitting summary of the big man’s career.

Let’s pull the threads apart.

  • The memory features a blocked shot, and defense was a key part of Russell’s game. He was especially known for his ability to keep the ball in play and recover it rather than simply swatting a shot into the first row and giving the offense a chance to regroup. While that detail wasn’t included in this story, it’s safe to assume the blocked shot gave the Celtics possession since they scored with only a few seconds left to play.
  • The idea of the “mind game” also strikes a similar chord to Russell’s ability to block shots without showing off. Was it the most physically dominant play to bait Clark into a shot? No, and it probably would have looked more impressive if the center produced a more conventional steal. But the move was a savvy choice that benefited the team rather than inflating the big man’s ego.
  • Lastly, the Celtics won the game, and that victory came against the Lakers. Russell’s career was defined by his winning ways, and many of his most-memorable Ws came against Los Angeles.

And, if we return to Dan Shaughnessy, he agreed that the memory was pure Russell.

“The big fella delivered his trademark cackle when he was done telling that one,” the writer remembered. “The vignette perfectly explains the man and the team.”