SI Vault
Curry Kirkpatrick
March 18, 1968
Months after his heralded debut in pro basketball Bill Bradley often plays poorly—when he is not on the bench. Where is the superb performer of just two years ago?
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
March 18, 1968

An Answer To The Bradley Riddle

Months after his heralded debut in pro basketball Bill Bradley often plays poorly—when he is not on the bench. Where is the superb performer of just two years ago?

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4

But none of these men had big scoring years as rookies. Since Robertson and Baylor, only one 6'5" in-between type, Lou Hudson of St. Louis, has averaged more than 15 points a game as a rookie. Also, like every other first-year man, Hudson had the benefit of preseason work and the exhibition game schedule, which Bradley never had.

"The exhibition season is more important than people think," says Jerry Lucas, who sat out a year after college before joining the Cincinnati Royals. "During my year off I kept in good shape, and it didn't hurt me that much. But if I had stretched it out to 2� years, like Bradley, it would have made a big difference. In my first preseason Bob Pettit made a fool out of me every time I made a move. The exhibition games are invaluable in correcting your mistakes."

Oscar Robertson says the biggest problem in his rookie year was learning when to take the shot. "In college you could pass up one good shot and get another good one," he says. "In the pros if you get it, you take it."

Of the criticism that has fallen upon Bradley this season, the point that he doesn't shoot enough is the most bedeviling to him. When he talks about it, however, the occasional nervousness and more frequent indecisiveness he displays on the court take on a clearer meaning. "I don't consciously think about shooting," he says. "I think the whole subject is overdone. Like everything else in the pros, it is a matter of confidence and integrating myself into the team. I think I'm becoming more familiar with when to shoot now, but you never come up the floor thinking, 'Now I'm going to shoot,' or 'Now I'm going to pass.' What I don't do yet is wait. I don't wait long enough to see the play developing and to decide the best way to make it work. Too often I go off my feet too quickly for a shot or a pass. But I have to learn this. It's not a conscious reluctance to shoot. I am not really aware that I ever pass up good shots."

According to Bill van Breda Kolff, who coached Bradley at Princeton and now coaches the Lakers, it is precisely these "thought processes" that are holding Bradley back. "Bill had a preconceived idea when he came to the Knicks. He was going to be their leader, the quarterback, the catalyst, all that garbage. He had the subconscious idea he had to play that way," says Van Breda Kolff. "He's still not shooting like he can. He hasn't been shooting with authority. He thinks because it's the pros he has to get it off quicker. He should stop thinking and just go. Just go and play. I don't know if he's equipped physically to become a superstar. I imagine 17 to 18 points a game and a playmaker would be about right."

That is the consensus of most of the coaches in the league; but Alex Hannum of the Philadelphia 76ers goes further. " Bradley may not be as dramatic as Chamberlain or Robertson, but he is going to be a greater pro than he was a college player," says Hannum. "He's too unselfish to score 30 a game, because he is so dedicated to his team winning. But he will be the stabilizer of a great New York team."

Whether this happens may ultimately depend on how well Bradley can blend his particular qualities with those of Frazier, a player whose development may hold the key to the future for both of them. Frazier is extremely talented in precisely the ways Bradley was expected to excel. Both are big, fast guards, similar in build and in their approach to the game, and their most valuable asset is an ability to lead a team and give it guidance. It seems somehow unfortunate that both have come upon the Knickerbockers at the same time, an irony that possibly could prevent either from reaching the degree of stardom that would certainly be his on most other teams.

Frazier, who has had more time to learn, plays better defense than Bradley and penetrates deeper on offense, and Bill Russell says he would take him over Bradley right now. But, Russell to the contrary, Bradley is the one people come to see. However encumbered by his mid-season mediocre notices, Bradley's presence spurred NBA attendance wherever the Knicks appeared. On his first tour around the NBA, Bradley brought in what club accountants estimated to be an average of 3,000 to 5,000 extra customers. "People expected him to be God, and he's still a man," says Chamberlain. "But he's a great draw and that helps all of us."

"He's a draw and he's exciting," says Chicago Coach Johnny Kerr. "It's a real treat for those New York fans to watch guys like him and Cazzie. First Bill comes down and makes one, then Cazzie hits a layup on a pass from Bradley. The people tear the Garden apart. What the hell. It's Tom Swift and his partner, Koku."

When things are not going so Tom Swift-swell for Bradley, the slow progress of his learning does tend to get him down. He seems to enjoy his new life in New York, where he maintains an apartment by himself a few blocks from Carnegie Hall, and he reads voraciously and goes to movies often.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4