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Bradley, William Warren ("Bill")

BRADLEY, William Warren ("Bill")

(b. 28 July 1943 in Crystal City, Missouri), professional basketball player and Hall of Famer who was also a Rhodes scholar and U.S. senator.

Bradley was the only child of Warren, a banker, and Susan (Crowe) Bradley, a junior high school teacher, and he grew up in both Crystal City, a small town on the banks of the Mississippi about thirty-five miles south of St. Louis, and West Palm Beach, Florida, where the family had a second home. He was an outstanding student as well as one of the top high school basketball players in the country at Crystal City High School, where he scored over 3,000 points between 1957 and 1961. Bradley led his team to the Final Four of the Missouri state tournament three times and was voted All-State twice as well as Parade Magazine All-America twice. Initially he signed a letter of intent to attend Duke University, but he changed his plans and enrolled at Princeton University in the fall of 1961. Bradley had been to Europe and visited Oxford University, which had made a great impression upon him. He set his sights on a Rhodes scholarship and felt that his chances for obtaining one were much greater by attending Princeton.

Bradley began his varsity career the next year, as freshmen were ineligible for varsity play at that time. In his sophomore year he led the Tigers to the Ivy League title, averaging 27.3 points per game and just over 12 rebounds per game. Bradley, a versatile six-foot, five-inch player, was a great shooter, good ball handler, and deft passer who saw the floor well and involved all of his teammates in the game. He was voted All-Ivy in 1963 as well as the next two years. The Tigers made the NCAA tournament by defeating Yale in a playoff after the two teams tied for the title with 11–3 records (only league champions were eligible to play in the tournament then), but they lost in the first round to Saint Joseph's (Pennsylvania), 82–81. The next year, the Tigers were 12–2 in the league and again won the league title. They won their first-round game against VMI but lost to Connecticut, 52–50, before defeating Villanova in the Eastern Consolation round. (These rounds have been eliminated since the NCAA expanded its field to sixty-five teams from what was originally eight in 1939. There were a number of expansions of the field with sixty-four teams being invited starting in 1985 and sixty-five starting in 2000). Bradley was a First Team All-America player and won a slot on the U.S. Olympic team, of which he was subsequently named captain. Behind Bradley the squad continued its dominance in Olympic basketball, going un-defeated and capturing the gold medal in Tokyo in 1964.

Bradley and the 1964–1965 Princeton team had a story-book season. The team went 13–1 to again win the Ivy League title, then defeated Penn State, North Carolina State, and Providence to advance to the Final Four. Their opponent was Michigan. Earlier in the season at the Holiday Festival Tournament in New York, Princeton had led Michigan and its star, Cazzie Russell, 75–63, when Bradley fouled out after scoring 41 points. The Tigers lost 80–78. In the NCAA tournament, Michigan won by a greater margin, 93–76. At that time a third-place game was played, and Princeton met Wichita State. In that contest Bradley set an NCAA tournament record with 58 points, breaking the record of Oscar Robertson, as the Tigers won, 118–82. Bradley was named Most Valuable Player of the NCAA tournament and, later that year, became the first basketball player ever to win the Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States. In three college seasons, Bradley scored 2,503 points, an average of 30.2 points per game. He was again a First Team All-America in 1965 as well as Associated Press, United Press International, and United States Basketball Writers Association Player of the Year. Bradley graduated from Princeton with a B.A. in history in 1965.

Drafted by the New York Knickerbockers, Bradley instead chose to defer a professional basketball career and accept a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford, from which he eventually earned an M.A. degree (cum laude) in English in 1967. During his first year at Oxford, Bradley also played for the Olympia Simmenthal team in Turin, Italy, on weekends. In his second year Bradley played little basketball but reported to the Knicks in midseason in 1967–1968 after completing his degree at Oxford and nearly six months of active duty in the Air Force Reserve from July to December of 1967. He completed his service in 1973 with the rank of first lieutenant.

Upon joining the Knicks during the 1967–1968 season, Bradley played in forty-five games, averaging 8 points, 3 assists, and just over 2 rebounds a game. The statistics were not exactly auspicious, but Bradley had been away from the game nearly a full year, and the team finished the season at 43–39, their first winning record since 1959. The next season Bradley became a starter, with his old college rival, Cazzie Russell, coming off the bench. The Knicks went 54–28 and upset the Baltimore Bullets in the first round of the playoffs before losing to the Boston Celtics and Bill Russell, the eventual champions. Bradley averaged 12.4 points, just over 4 rebounds, and just under 4 assists per game. In the playoffs he improved to 16 points and 7 rebounds per game. Bill Russell retired the next season, 1969–1970, and the young Knicks became the best team in the NBA, with a 60–22 record. They defeated Baltimore and Milwaukee, the latter led by Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), to win the Eastern Division series, then edged the Los Angeles Lakers four games to three to bring New York its first NBA championship. Every starter on the team averaged at least 14 points per game. Bradley had 14.5 and was second on the team with 4 assists per game. The Knicks won the Eastern Division title again in 1970–1971 but lost in the second round of the playoffs to the Baltimore Bullets. In 1971–1972 they went to the NBA finals but lost to the Lakers before winning the NBA title once more in 1972–1973. During those three seasons, Bradley averaged 12.4, 15.1, and 16.1 points per game.

On 14 January 1974 Bradley married Ernestine Schlant, a college professor; they have one daughter. Bradley retired after the 1977 season with 9,217 points, an average of 12.4 per game. In 1978 he ran successfully for the United States Senate as a Democrat from New Jersey and was reelected in 1984 and 1990 before announcing his retirement from the Senate in 1995. In 2000 he mounted a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination but lost to Al Gore. In 1983 he was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Bradley's career with the Knicks is best captured in his book Life on the Run (1976). His autobiography, Time Present, Time Past: A Memoir (1996), focuses more on his senatorial rather than his basketball career. John McPhee, A Sense of Where You Are (1965), follows Bradley while at Princeton. Both the 18 Jan. 1965 and the 20 Mar. 1965 issues of Sports Illustrated have stories on Bradley and his Princeton team.

Murry R. Nelson

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