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JUST A GUY AT OXFORD
Jack Mann
February 07, 1966
At Princeton, Basketball Star Bill Bradley learned to live under a microscope for a cheering nation. But Bradley had methods of defending—or concealing—his reed self. Now, in the anonymity of Oxford, where he is a Rhodes scholar, his defenses are breached for the first time and Bradley emerges as a person—a mixture of hero and antihero
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February 07, 1966

Just A Guy At Oxford

At Princeton, Basketball Star Bill Bradley learned to live under a microscope for a cheering nation. But Bradley had methods of defending—or concealing—his reed self. Now, in the anonymity of Oxford, where he is a Rhodes scholar, his defenses are breached for the first time and Bradley emerges as a person—a mixture of hero and antihero

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He had, but his shirt was totally unbuttoned, and the tails hung out. "Wanna know where I was 10 minutes ago?" Let us guess. In bed? "Yeah. It's a good thing I had my clothes hung on the door. It was 13 minutes to 9 when I woke up."

The expedition to London was to pick up the one trunk and two crates of books Bradley had shipped himself—about half a ton, or so it seemed, lugging them through the mud of the Worcester College campus. As well as things like Russian history, the shipment included a four-year agglomeration of the books he wants to read when he gets around to it. In what order? " Don Quixote , maybe. The Idiot. A lot of Shaw. But I don't know. Maybe I'll start with Catfish and Crystal. That's a history of St. Louis."

Bradley's touch of Missourian provincialism is irreconcilable with the scope of his international enthusiasms. His greatest thrill of an Olympic experience that thrilled him greatly was the closing ceremony, when the athletes, instead of marching in national groups, were allowed to straggle into the stadium with whom they chose. Bradley chose two Italian guys. (Forewarned that Oxford students often find themselves in more clubs than there are evenings in a term, Bradley was selective, joining only five. One is Cosmos, a United Nations group, another the Afro-Asian Club.)

Though the only Italian word Bradley seems to have learned is ciao (roughly, hello or goodby), the friendship with the Italian guys endured in mutually laborious French and forged the remaining link between Bradley and basketball. He commutes to the Continent to play for Simmenthal, a Milanese team sponsored by a meat-canning firm. It is an amateur team, and Bradley signed nothing but the equivalent of AAU credentials. If Simmenthal goes all the way in the European Cup eliminations, Bradley will have played 10 games.

The newspaper Il Giorno read as if Bradley's debut in Milan had taken place in La Scala: "A first-rank opera tenor would have envied the personal ovation that saluted him when his extraordinary personal recital ended." He scored 36 points as Simmenthal breezed 103-73 over Giessen of West Germany, but Bradley hopes the guys in the NBA won't think he's trying to kid anybody about the quality of basketball played for the European Cup. The guys will be happy to know Bradley's style hasn't changed. The man from Il Giorno, used to steady ack-ack by Italian stars, noted Bradley's "masterfulness in stirring the play of his teammates."

Had he safaried his books back from London in time—characteristically he had budgeted half enough time—Bradley would have practiced at an Air Force base 15 miles from Oxford. The Oxford University team practices once a week, and Bradley tries to make it. In eight weeks he succeeded once; of the first 10 games he played two, missing one because there was southern-fried chicken to be had elsewhere. The Oxford team is ultra-amateur: the guys chip in for transportation to places where they can find teams to play, and sometimes the teams actually show up.

Unless Bradley upsets the traditions of cricket, he can never win his Blue. Pete Dawkins of West Point made it in Rugby, and Mike Smith might, but basketball is only a Half Blue sport.

"A Blue what?" In no Oxford gathering is this a bright question to ask, and the questioner is often made to feel like Oliver Twist.

"Well, a Blue helps a chap get on, you know," the chap in the bowler said. "It's as important as a First, really." A First is Oxford's top scholastic rating for a B.A. You get your B.A. with a second, third or fourth, but you don't bring it up when you're standing for Parliament.

A Blue is nothing. It is a varsity letter you don't get. It is the psychology of the Army-Navy game carried to an illogical extreme. Play in The Match against Cambridge and you're a Blue; miss it, you're a face in the crowd. It is as if Dick Kazmaier had pulled a hamstring each year and missed the Yale game. Sorry, Richard. You understand, old man. It happened this year to D. M. White, a Scot who was a whizzer for the Oxford Rugby team. He was hurt and missed The Match for the third year in a row. It's a bloody shame, you know, but he'll get no Blue.

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