Bradley, Bill

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Bill Bradley


American basketball player

Bill Bradley has found fame in two very different careers, one on the basketball court and one in politics, by applying similarly high levels of determination and skill. Having opted not to play for a basketball powerhouse because of his academic interests, he made headlines as a standout on the Princeton team. As a dazzling shooter and deft freethrower, he led the Tigers to the NCAA finals and set two tournament records during the mid-1960s. Bradley went on to play with the New York Knickerbockers for ten years, becoming an important part of a star-studded team that won two NBA championships. He made a quick transition to politics in 1978, when he was elected U.S. Senator for New Jersey. Bradley later unsuccessfully challenged then-Vice President Al Gore for the Democratic nomination in the 2000 presidential election in a campaign focused on principles and policies.

Privileged Childhood

Growing up in Crystal City, a small town near St. Louis, Missouri, Bradley was relatively privileged among his peers, who mostly came from working-class families.

His father Warren was a banker and his mother Susan had worked as a teacher. They provided their only child with many material advantages and encouraged him to excel at school and in extracurricular activities. When he began playing basketball at age nine, Bradley was happy to have found a common interest with his classmates. He would skip the family's annual winter stay in Palm Springs, Florida and began pouring his energies into basketball.

Crystal City High School's Coach Popp broke with tradition when he put Bradley on the varsity team as a freshman in 1959. This earned his player some resentment, but it was soon dissipated by his contributions on the court. Not only had Bradley almost reached his full height of six feet, five inches, he showed exceptional shooting skills and a willingness to pass the ball. With a total of 3,068 points over the course of four years, he became known as the best high school basketball player in Missouri history, was twice named as an All-American, and led the Crystal City team to the Missouri State Final Four three times.

Picks Princeton

Basketball, however, did not eclipse Bradley's interest in his studies, or his parents' determination that he would succeed in other areas. A straight A student, he put academics first when choosing a college. Having received more than seventy-five scholarship offers, Bradley turned them all down to enroll at Princeton, where he majored in history and wrote a senior thesis on Harry Truman's Senate re-election campaign of 1940.

Bradley's priorities were not evident on the basketball court, where he had an enormous influence on the Princeton team. During his three years as a varsity player, the Tigers claimed the Ivy League championship. As a sophomore he averaged 27.3 points per game and hit 89.9 percent of his freethrows. During his senior year, he helped the team reach the No. 3 spot among 551 NCAA teams, overcoming the fact that Princeton had not been ranked during the season. Nor had any Ivy League team made it past regional competition during the previous twenty-one years. When the Tigers played No. 1-ranked Michigan, a spectacular drama developed. With just under five minutes left in the game, Bradley fouled out with the Tigers leading, 75-63. Forty-one of those points had been made by Bradley. Michigan went on to win by two points, but Bradley was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament. In a consolation game against Wichita the next day, a disconsolate Bradley had to be pressed into shooting the ball. The result was his breaking the NCAA record for most shots scored in a single game, with fifty-eight points.

Off the court, Bradley earned a reputation for gentlemanly, modest behavior. In a 1965 feature story for Life, Paul O'Neil noted that the young man's intensity, self-pos-session, and strictly model behavior had initially inspired a few sneers from his classmates, but that "a certain baffled pride" had since developed at Princeton. After graduating with honors in 1965, Bradley turned down an offer to play for the Knicks in order to get his masters degree at Oxford. When he returned to the United States, Bradley was on active duty with the U.S. Air Force Reserve for six months before he joined the Knicks mid-season in 1967.


1943Born July 28 in Crystal City, Missouri
1959-62Stars in basketball at Crystal City High School
1963-65Stars in basketball at Princeton University
1965-66Plays professional ball with Simmenthal of Milan
1965-67Earns masters degree studying at Oxford on Rhodes Scholarship
1967Begins NBA career with the New York Knickerbockers
1974Marries Ernestine Schlant on January 14
1976Publishes Life on the Run
1977Retires from professional basketball
1978Elected to the U.S. Senate
1995Announces he will not seek re-election to Senate
1996Declares candidacy seeking the Democratic presidential nomination
2000Drops out of presidential race in March

Highly-paid Rookie

With a contract worth half a million dollars, Bradley became one of the best-paid rookies in the NBA. He would not, however, repeat the leading role of his college days, but rather served as an important contributor among a team of stars. Playing with starters Dave De-Busschere, Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, and Dick Barnett, as well as with reserves Jerry Lucas and Phil Jackson , he was part of a team that twice defeated the Los Angeles Lakers to earn the NBA championship, first in 1970 and again in 1973. Bradley's demeanor and lifestyle once again set him apart from his teammates, who gave him the nickname "Dollar Bill" because of his frugality, saying that he probably had the first dollar he ever earned. Avoiding the notorious Manhattan nightlife that was enjoyed by so many players, Bradley used his spare time to support social and environmental causes.

Senator Bradley

Bradley retired from basketball in 1976 and was elected to the basketball Hall of Fame in 1983. But when he decided to run for public office, the former NBA star downplayed his professional sports background. To the surprise of some, he did not begin his political career at the local level. In 1978, running as a Democrat, he was elected U.S. senator for the state of New Jersey. When Bradley took office in 1979, he was the youngest sitting U.S. senator, at just thirty-five years old. During three terms in the Senate he took special interest in the issues of Third World debt, race relations, tax policy, and the Soviet Union. Having published a tax reform treatise in 1982, he played an important role in creating the 1986 tax reform bill. His other accomplishments include expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and giving Medicaid benefits to more women and children.

In 1990 Bradley was shocked when political newcomer Christine Todd Whitman came close to unseating him. The experience challenged the senator's perception of American politics and led to his retirement in early 1996. Subsequently, Bradley served as a contributor to the CBS news division and as a visiting scholar at Stanford, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of Maryland. He also wrote Time Present, Time Past: A Memoir, reflecting on both of his careers.

Presidential Candidate

After initially denying his interest in running for president, Bradley became a candidate in 1999. He acknowledged that the timing of his decision had hinged on both political goals and personal circumstances. His wife, Ernestine Schlant, a professor of comparative literature at Montclair State College, had finished writing a book and their daughter Theresa Anne was graduating from college. He wanted to prove himself as the best candidate for president, in terms of both policy and ethics, and presented himself as a markedly different choice from Al Gore. In the words of a Newsweek writer, he was "a kind of Anti-Clinton: a legendary jock who doesn't crave approval, an intellectual who's not afraid to think big, a grown-up with nothing to hide." But Bradley had not won a primary when he withdrew from the presidential race in March 2000. He credited his loss in part to the interest voters showed in a Republican rival, John McCain.

The 2000 presidential campaign amplified an image that Bradley initially developed on the basketball court. In his dedication to his teams and his country, he is known as a diligent worker, a leader as well as a team player, and as someone who keeps his own counsel and lives by his own high standards. While Bradley does not often draw attention to his achievements on the court, his collegiate performance, including the standing record for most points in a Final Four game, still places him among the best in the sport. In a post-election interview, Sporting News writer Jeff D'Alessio asked Bradley to comment on changes in the sport of basketball. He suggested that college players be kept out of competition as freshmen and said that players no longer know how to shoot. The remarks reinforce the idea that while Bradley may have changed careers, his interests and values have stayed the same.

Awards and Accomplishments

1960-61Named Scholastic All-American
1963NCAA tournament record for best free throw percentage: 90.6
1964Captain of gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team in Tokyo
1964Named NCAA Tournament Most Valuable Player
1964-65Named to First Team All-America
1965Named Player of the Year by the Associated Press United Press International
1965Named to First Team All-Academic
1965Sullivan Award for top amateur athlete
1965-67Rhodes Scholar, Oxford University
1970, 1973Member of NBA championship team
1978Elected to first of three terms as U.S. Senator for New Jersey
1983Elected to Basketball Hall of Fame
1996Truman Award for public service

Career Statistics

NYK: New York Knickerbockers.


Address: Allen & Company, 711 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10022. Phone: (212) 832-8000.


Life on the Run, Quadrangle, 1976.

The Fair Tax, Pocket Books, 1982.

Time Present, Time Past: A Memoir, Knopf, 1996.

Values of the Game, Artisan, 1998.

CSIS Task Force on the Multilateral Development Banks, CSIS, 1998.

Where Is He Now?

At the end of 2000, Bradley was named as managing director for the New York City investment bank Allen & Company, introducing him to yet another profession. His other business activities include serving as chief outside advisor to McKinsey & Company and sitting on the board of directors for Willis Group and Eastman Kodak. But when Bradley appeared in New Hampshire in the spring of 2002 during a series of appearances to support Democratic candidates, a Gannett News Service report named him as a possible presidential candidate in 2004. Former aide Ed Turlington commented that Bradley was likely just helping his friends, but others saw him as clearly evaluating the possibility of running again.

The Journey From Here, Artisan, 2000.



Newsmakers 2000. Detroit: Gale Group, 2000.


"Bradley's Game." Newsweek (November 15, 1999): 37.

"Bradley After the Buzzer." Newsweek (March 20, 2000): 29.

O'Neil, Paul. "Bradley-Good Man and True." Life (April 2, 1965): 93-98.

"The Art of Being Bradley." Time (October 4, 1999): 44.


D'Alessio, Jeff. "Before he became a political name, Bradley had game." (November 6, 2002).

Sketch by Paula Pyzik Scott

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Bill Bradley

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