Just play like Bill Russell

I’m a believer in sticking with fundamentals and keep an eye on your goals. Flavor of the day management just leads to zigzag results with up not an option. So I was particularly pleased to read what Scott Berkun, author of The Myths of Innovation, gleaned from the management  style that led the Boston Celtics to an NBA title.

I found some parallels between the Celtics, who had their own dark days and lean times, and the newspaper industry.

Berkun gives Boston General Manager Danny Ainge credit for risking it all and trusting his employees. Maybe one thing that’s wrong with newspapers is there are not enough Danny Ainges to go around.

While Berkun didn’t mention him, the management and work ethic espoused by his post reminded me of Celtic great Bill Russell, the center of the Boston dynasty in the glory years and a player renown for playing great defense and elevating the defensive play of his teammates rather than showboating dunks.

Berkun found five big themes in Boston’s success that can be translated elsewhere, like say newspapers in the midst of a double-team by a sick economy and industry-wide structural change.

His starting five:

  • Great managers hire great talent.
  • Focus on the fundamentals.
  • Reward team based behavior.
  • Trust your people.
  • Use the past as power.

Heard them before, I’m sure. But they are paritcularly appropriate, I believe, for newspaper companies.


  1. “1. Great managers hire great talent.
    2. Focus on the fundamentals.
    3. Reward team based behavior.
    4. Trust your people.
    5. Use the past as power.”
    Great advice. In my past corporate lives working for some great, highly successful, and wealthy business managers, I have learned all of these, with some slight variations:
    1. Great managers put ego aside and hire people smarter than themselves.
    2. Stick to your knitting.
    3. Being a team player also means playing your position. (That one was actually mine.)
    4. Trust but verify (i.e. measure).
    5. It’s not about what you MIGHT do for me later, it’s about what you HAVE done for me lately.

  2. Actually, I think the management strategy that led the San Antonio Spurs to 4 titles in 9 years is a much more important strategy than what the Celtics did this year, which was basically buy a championship through free agency (spoken as a Boston fan from the 80s).

  3. Hey – thx for the link.
    Love the Bill Russell reference. Although I wonder what kind of contract he’d earn in the league. That kind of attitude isn’t as well rewarded as flash, but I suppose he wouldn’t care. Ben Wallace fit the Russell mold, but I think he, like Russell, needed the right environment to shine. If Wallace had stayed in Detroit I suspect he’d have less of a financial empire, but more rings on his fingers.
    And Bryan is right too – I’d model San Antonio with few complaints. The real test for Danny Ainge will be the next two seasons and his ability to keep it all together with the egos and tensions that come with success.

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