No. 1: Bill Bradley '65
The full scope of the legacy of Bill Bradley '65 isn't captured by his plaque in the Basketball Hall of Fame or his retired New York Knicks' jersey hanging next to Patrick Ewing's from the rafters of Madison Square Garden. It isn't even captured by the faded "Bill Bradley for President" magnet that still clings to the desk of Princeton director of athletics Gary Walters '67.
Instead, Bradley's legacy as an athlete and as a statesman is best captured by the words of Dallas Mavericks' swingman Jerry Stackhouse, who, in an Associated Press article earlier this month, chimed in on the controversy surrounding the NBA's recent crackdown on referee-baiting.
"It takes away from your natural reaction, the things that make basketball what it is," Stackhouse said. "You think Bill Bradley never hit the support after he was called for a foul? That's the model citizen of all former NBA players. It's just a natural thing to do."
Nearly 30 years after taking his final jump shot, Bradley continues to exemplify — with every step of his post-basketball career — the athlete's role as a member of the larger community. A Rhodes scholar and three-term United States Senator representing New Jersey, Bradley's career in public service peaked when he campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination prior to the 2000 election.
But what initially allowed Bradley to build his reputation, and that of his school, on a national and even global level was the immense store of athletic acumen, resolve and physical talent that make him one of the greatest individual figures in the history of Princeton sports.
Bradley arrived at Old Nassau from Crystal City, Mo., in 1961, in the days before freshmen were eligible for varsity competition. Few debut seasons have been more worth the wait, however, as Bradley immediately emerged as a national star during the 1962-63 season.
Along with new head coach Butch van Breda Kolff, Bradley led the Tigers to an Ivy League championship and an NCAA tournament berth just one year after they stumbled to a 13-10 record and parted ways with coach Jake McCandless. Bradley was a revelation, averaging 27.3 points per game for the season, more than any player in the history of Princeton basketball.
"I grew up in a small town," Bradley said, "so there was always something beyond the game I was striving for. In high school, the question was whether a small-town team could win a state championship. And then, at Princeton, it was whether a group of students could compete against the best."
It should come as no surprise, then, that the finest effort of Bradley's sophomore campaign came when his team was given the smallest chance of winning. In the Tigers' opening-round game of the NCAA tournament against St. Joseph's, Bradley established a Princeton single-game record with 40 points, doing all he could to stave off an eventual 82-81 loss to the favored Hawks.
The next season brought more of the same, as Bradley shattered his own school record by averaging 32.3 points per game. The Tigers again failed to come away with a win in the NCAA tournament, but that summer Bradley was selected to captain the United States team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, where he earned a gold medal.
"It was a great honor to represent my country and win a gold medal and stand on the medal stand with the flag waving and the anthem playing," Bradley said. "But in terms of the actual basketball, it wasn't the best."
Once his senior campaign opened, Bradley made sure to lead his team right back into the thick of the very best collegiate competition. Princeton established a school record with 23 wins in the 1964-65 season, next to just six losses.
Bradley, meanwhile, earned All-America honors for the third straight time and became the only Tiger ever to win the prestigious Sullivan Award as the nation's most outstanding amateur athlete in any sport. His place as a national media darling was secured when he graced the cover of "Sports Illustrated" on Dec. 7, 1964.
"Bill's accomplishments at Princeton certainly transcended basketball," said his former teammate Walters, who played point guard for Princeton that year. "What happened is that, increasingly, people saw that, hey, they could maybe come to the Ivy League and be a great athlete while also pursuing the very best academic programs and disciplines."
With the nation watching, the Tigers arrived at the NCAA tournament and made their way past Penn State, North Carolina State and Providence for a remarkable run into the Final Four.
Princeton was knocked out in the semifinals by Michigan, 93-76, but Bradley managed to turn the subsequent consolation game against Wichita State into one final show-stealing performance. The 58 points Bradley poured in against the Shockers was a career high and at the time represented an NCAA single-game record, postseason or otherwise.
"[That game] didn't have the impact or importance to me that I'd hoped the last game of my college career would have," Bradley said. "I was trying to pass the ball to my teammates early on ... but a few minutes into the game van Breda Kolff called a timeout and said, 'Look, this is your last game, shoot the ball.' And I did."
It was the 11th 40-point game of Bradley's career. No other Tiger has reached that plateau even once. The performance pushed Bradley's career NCAA tournament scoring average to 33.7 points per game, the second-highest mark in the history of college basketball's biggest stage.
With such an outstanding hoops pedigree, only a two-year Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University could delay Bradley's pursuit of an NBA career. After two seasons playing professionally in Italy — and leading his team, Olympia Milano, to a European Champions Cup — Bradley joined the NBA's New York Knicks, who had selected him with the second overall pick in the 1965 draft.
In 10 seasons in the NBA, Bradley never averaged more than 16 points per game, but those who watched him play found his impact on the game to be as great as ever. One of the slickest-passing forwards in league history, Bradley teamed with fellow Hall of Famers Earl Monroe, Willis Reed and Walt Frazier to lead the Knicks to NBA titles in 1970 and 1973.
In 1979, just two years after retiring from basketball, Bradley began his 18-year run as a New Jersey Democrat in the U.S. Senate. Following his 2000 campaign for the presidency, Bradley left politics for a career as a corporate consultant. He is currently a managing director at Allen & Company in New York City.
"The way he's conducted his personal life and his professional career, he's done so with impeccable integrity and dignity and class," Walters said. "From that point of view, it's just an incredible positive reflection on this university and the athletic program and the basketball program."
More than the greatest Princeton athlete or the gold standard for deportment in the NBA, Bill Bradley stands out as the model citizen for the whole wide world of sports.
In yesterday's paper: No. 2: Dick Kazmaier '52 Read the full series.
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