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Lyrics by Bill Bradley, talking about a process of putting a ball through a hoop. The tone could be that of John F. Kennedy, talking about the presidency very near the end of his life and invoking a Hellenic definition of happiness: full use of your powers in an effort to achieve excellence.
Bill Bradley experienced excellence, and fat cigar smokers in Philadelphia's Palestra felt it with him. He sculpted hook shots, and ladies from Camden stepped back to admire the work. And the growing Bradley cult could be smug in the knowledge that he could, anytime, be vastly better. "I could have scored more," Bradley acknowledges, "but would that have been better? We were a young team and had to develop. If I'd shot more I suppose we could have won the Ivy League anyway. But to be the best we had to be a team."
The smugness of the cult was vindicated ultimately in the final eight minutes of Bradley's final game, the NCAA consolation against Wichita State. With victory secured, Bradley expected to come out. He lacks, he says, the "killer instinct" and never had a taste for running up a score on an outclassed opponent. But Coach Bill van Breda Kolff would not shortchange the cult, and when Bradley's teammates began returning the passes he gave them, he had little choice but to shoot. By the end of the game he had scored 58 points and the NCAA tournament record book was outdated, but the numbers were of secondary significance. If a basketball shot is an art form, this was the first public exhibition of the Bradley Collection.
Bradley made sets, long and short, jumps, hooks with both hands. And there were others that defied description. The footage of those minutes, included in a film produced at Princeton, is a demonstration of excellence fully realized.
Yet this game seldom enters the dialogue about " Bradley's greatest game." Opinion is usually divided between his 40-point effort as a sophomore in an 82-81 defeat by St. Joseph's and a 41-point performance in an 80-78 loss to Michigan in the Holiday Festival of 1964. His own choice, however, reflects the sincerity of his dedication to the team. "Our best game," he says, "was against Providence." Princeton was a heavy underdog in that third round of the NCAA last year, and the best the cult could hope for was that the result wouldn't be too embarrassing in Bradley's last game, on TV and all. It was embarrassing, all right—to Providence. Princeton won by 40 points. "Bob Haarlow shut out his man," Bradley says. "The guy had a 10- or 12-point average and Haarlow shut him out. We had them right from the start. I think they led 6-4, but after that it was all over. Yeah, I guess we had a killer instinct for that one. It was an exception. We had something to prove."
Bradley himself had nothing to prove after the Holiday Festival. Though Princeton won only the first round, he was chosen Most Valuable Player over Michigan's Cazzie Russell. Against the best, before a basketball grand jury, he had answered all the questions, including some quibbles: great shooter, sure, but would he be strong enough under the boards, or tough enough? Only 205 pounds and not big in the shoulders—big enough? In the opening game he almost nudged a Syracuse player into the seats after he had become "handsy." The player had no way of knowing that Bradley not only knows how to play the game rough, but with limitations, likes it that way. "I think there should be contact allowed," he says. "Especially when a guy doesn't have the ball." Bradley encountered all the contact one man could use as opponent after opponent rigged defenses for him and many tried to jostle him into the retaliation that would hasten his exit. "I learned a lesson about that when I was a freshman," Bradley says. "We were playing Manhattan, and we got ahead 17-2. It got close later, about two points, and a guy did a real dirty thing to me. I lost my temper and really gave it to him—not anything dirty, but hard, you know? That was my fourth personal, and a little while later I fouled out. We lost by two points."
For the rest of his college career Bradley was "aggressive enough," but he never lost his head, as Rudyard Kipling counsels. (Bradley knows the words to If and thinks they should be set to music.) He averaged 30.1 points a game, and his conduct against the gang jobs was tough enough for the fat cigar smoker but neat enough for the lady from Camden.
After the Michigan game in the Holiday Festival, Bradley had nowhere to hide. The cult increased a hundredfold that week, and he became a public issue. Whether the public wanted to know or not, it had to be told how many left-handed hook shots Bradley took in warming up, how many inches behind his right foot he positioned his left for a foul shot and to what extent his jump shot was an imitation of Jerry West's. Bradley got through such interviews with only a mild case of ennui, because he likes to talk about basketball. But then he had to move on to the next phase—the one that makes him relish being at Oxford, an asylum of anonymity. Reporters peeked under uniform No. 42 and found a human being the likes of which they had never seen in a locker room. First of all, he called everybody Mr. This is not unprecedented. Ron Fairly, for instance, did it for almost a week after he got his bonus from the Los Angeles Dodgers, but Bradley continues to do so even when he is asked not to ("it's like biting your fingernails: a hard habit to break"). He was a guy wise for his years without being a wise guy, religious without being an evangelist. He seemed, in a four-letter Anglo-Saxon word long dulled by misuse, good. It couldn't be that simple, but reporters kept failing to uncover flaws. Replying to questions, with a firmness so gentle that few noticed he wasn't answering at all, his soft answers turned away wrath like James Stewart in Harvey, saying, "What did you have in mind?" When asked what he meant when he said he wanted to be of service to his fellow man, Bradley said:
"Don't you think sir, that there are some things a man ought to keep to himself?" He was telling reporters to mind their business, and they were charmed by his manner.
"Beautiful," said one veteran New York newspaperman after his first interview with Bradley. "Of course, there isn't anybody like that." Said another, usually not given to praise: "In 25 years or so our Presidents are going to have to be better than ever. It's nice to know that Bill Bradley will be available."