Saturday was one of those days that makes up for all the long, dull or trying days we all have in life. I thank KU men’s basketball for it, because on Saturday I met Bill Bradley.
I have long admired the legendary basketball player and former Senator for his skills on the court and for his political vision. Bradley was the guest of KU donor David Booth. Bradley attended the KU men’s basketball Saturday morning walk through. He spoke to the team in their video room before watching the game against Iowa State in the afternoon. It was an absolute pleasure to have been asked to photograph these events and being allowed to bring Laura.
My interest in Bradley began in my high school years. For my senior speech class, my final oration was on Bradley. That speech was based on the John McPhee book, A Sense of Where You Are, which traced Bradley’s college career. Proudly, I received an A.
Even as a high schooler in Missouri, Bradley seemed to have a profound sense of where he was and where he wanted to go. He trained diligently for hours and was considered to be the top high school player in the country in 1961. He chose Princeton over the many basketball powerhouses that sought him. He based his decision on the Ivy League school’s history of outstanding academics.
The 6-5 Bradley averaged over 30 points a game for his career and scored 58 points in the consolation game of the Final Four in 1965. An All-American throughout his career, Bradley played on the gold-medal-winning Olympic team in 1964. He holds school records far too long to list, but he also graduated with honors and was named a Rhodes Scholar and studied at Oxford.
It was Bradley’s professional career that truly made me a fan. Constantly moving without the ball and finding himself open for long-range jumpers or easy layups inside, Bradley was the perfect fit on the great New York Knicks teams of the day that prized teamwork over individual play. That unselfish attitude became the cornerstone of his post-basketball life.
Bradley served as a Senator from New Jersey for three terms starting in 1977 after his retirement from the Knicks. In 2000, Bradley made a failed attempt for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency.
His beliefs on universal health care, gun control, campaign financing reform, bolstering the education system through grants and teachers committed to teach in hard-to-staff areas in exchange for college scholarships all fall in line with my personal beliefs. Bradley championed the causes of those in need with special emphasis on children. To me, what could be more important.
Bradley stressed teamwork and resiliency in his talk with the players that honestly have no real recollection of his playing career. However, the players could easily relate to his stories of the NBA Championships the Knicks won. Bradley recounted winning the first championship when injured center Willis Reed limped onto the court to help inspire the team to victory in the seventh and final game over the Lakers.
That game is seared into my memory, but it was his story about game five that drove his points home to the players, coaches and me. Reed tore his abductor muscle in the first half of the game. In the locker room at halftime, Knicks’ coach Red Holtzman and the players created a new offense to make up for Reed’s absence. Then they went out in the second half, executed that offense and won the critical game.
After group photographs, Bradley and I spoke first of mutual friend, Associated Press photographer Charles Arbogast, who had covered Bradley’s campaign in 2000. That allowed me thank Bradley for his playing career and his service to our country. The appreciative smile on his face couldn’t come close to matching the beaming smile on mine.
Nothing sums up my admiration for Bradley better than the words delivered at Oxford University in 2003 when Bradley was called “an outstanding distinquished athlete, a weighty pillar of the Senate and still a powerful advocate of the weak…”
Yes, Saturday was an awfully good day for me.