If you look at all
of him squarely, Bill Bradley seems too good—and too much—to be true. He is the
best college basketball player in the world (he won an Olympic gold medal and
was the best on the U.S. team in Tokyo); he is studious, religious, ambitious,
popular and respected by his peers; he is trustworthy, loyal, helpful,
courteous—he is, in short, Jack Armstrong and might also be Horatio Alger,
except for the fact that his father is a bank president and is paying for
Bill's room, board and tuition at Princeton.
have to look hard for a flaw—the quirk of a permanently arched left eyebrow
gives him a mischievous, almost Satanic, appearance, but that, too, is quickly
disputed by the sober, purposeful eyes, far more accurate gauges of this young
man's personality. Bradley is dark, angularly strong, with a few more than 200
pounds on a lithe 6-foot-5 frame. His smile from out of the opposite page truly
reflects his warmth, though he can hardly be called the happy-go-lucky type.
But it does belie his rigorous determination and self-discipline. Bradley
insists that he is not a natural athlete. Without detracting from the immense
effort he has put into basketball, few observers would agree with this
estimate. It probably is true that his more modest academic success is the
result of hard work rather than natural aptitude. Any Princeton student will
tell you that a man who studies as much as Bradley does should be better than a
B student—even if that would be A at most other schools.
Despite the fact
that Bradley and Princeton get along marvelously, there is still mild
astonishment that the best player in the country should be matriculating at Old
Nassau, an institution which has produced twice as many presidents as
basketball All-Americas, i.e. James Madison, Woodrow Wilson and William Warren
Bradley. But there are certainly no regrets on Bradley's part about his choice
of college. He picked Princeton in the 11th hour, leaving Duke at the very
altar and about 60 other schools and their coaches on the road to the church.
All had been attracted by a high school career in Crystal City, Mo. that
included 3,066 points and two years of prep All-America. One of the losing
coaches said sourly that Bradley could have been the greatest college player
ever, but performing in the relative obscurity of the Ivy League would deprive
him of that chance.
It has worked out,
of course, in reverse. The novelty of having such an athlete performing in the
shadows of ivy-walled Nassau Hall—without a grant-in-aid, without ersatz
courses of study—has only enhanced Bradley's reputation. In the unique setting
of the Olympic trials, where all of the best amateur players are thrown against
each other in direct competition, without the support of familiar teammates,
Bradley was the only undergraduate selected. Further, he had to make the team
as a guard, after playing almost exclusively as a forward for Princeton,
because the coaches thought he was too small for the forecourt in this
competition. When they discovered they were wrong, he went back to forward and
became the most valuable player on the winning U.S. team.
Bradley blends in easily though, basketball aside, he is still not a typical
undergraduate—he is more serious and less blas� than most. He plays basketball
with an air of nonchalance, however, and is treated with roughly that attitude
on campus. This delights him. He enjoys contrasting his reception after the
Olympics with the full-blown parade that the town of Princeton gave its
gold-medal winner, Diver Leslie Bush. "I flew back." he says, "and
took a bus from New York and finally got to Princeton about 9 one morning.
Thirty straight hours of travel. There was nobody to meet me. I just walked
down to my room. A few people said hello or welcome back, but that was about
Princeton does take a prideful interest in its All-America—in its own
fashion—and Bradley has had something of a lasting effect on the school. When
he arrived, games at snug little Dillon Gym (2,600 roll-out seats) were
characterized by the atmosphere of a public hanging. Students showed up mostly
to take out their wintertime frustrations on opponents. On one notable weekend
the visiting Harvard captain was driven into fighting with some of his
tormentors on Friday night, and on Saturday night the Dartmouth players were
pelted with rubber-band-propelled paper clips. An appeal by the coach and
captain during Bradley's sophomore year helped, but it was more his regal
presence on the floor that finally brought an urbane attitude to basketball
watching. "It's like—well. I don't think you could chuck garbage at anyone
on stage when Caruso's up there too." an undergraduate explains.
Sellouts at Dillon
were common enough, but after Bradley started playing, basketball seating had
to be restricted on the same basis as football. About 440 extra (and bad) seats
will be crammed in this year, but still only students, faculty, a few alumni
and opponents will be able to get in. It is no coincidence that Princeton has
finally become serious about building a much larger indoor athletic complex.
Plans are being speeded for a new arena that will seat upward of 7,000.
students hold Bradley's basketball skill less in awe than they do his
prodigious purpose. He studies in virtually all of his free time and seldom
gets more than six hours' sleep. Before one game last winter, when he was
completing an important history department paper on nativism in the U.S. after
World War I, he trained with four straight nights of about two hours' sleep
each. His teammates say that he plays so well on the road simply because travel
keeps him away from Firestone Library and obliges him to sleep more. Two hours
before every home game he goes back to his room in Dodge-Osborn Hall and is
able to drift right off for a 40-minute nap. "Well, you know, I'm so tired,
it's not hard," he says. He is so conscientious that he has been known to
ask roommates to wake him up from a nap at, say, 5:27 instead of 5:30. To save
other minutes he takes many of his meals at the student union, which is several
hundred yards closer to the library than his eating club, Cottage.
lives—after the library closes at midnight—with five roommates. The only other
basketball player among them, Bill Kingston, is perhaps as close to him as
anyone. "Getting to know Bill has been worth the four years here,"
Kingston says. "But always, I just wish he could be more outgoing."
Donald Mathews, a young instructor who was Bradley's advisor last year and
became a friend as much as a teacher, says: "He comes to generalizations
painfully. I think Bill is becoming more mellow, but he will never shoot the
breeze, as it were, without having done some studying on the subject."
restrained intentionally because of the special pressures upon him—he says
things like. "No one has to know my motives." and "I don't have to
wear my heart on my sleeve"—but he is also naturally reticent. "Of
course." teammate Ed Steube says, "it would be nice to have Bill loosen
up, but then, you see. it wouldn't be Bill Bradley."