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A Q&A with one of Princeton's greatest athletes, Bill Bradley

Princeton's motto is "In the nation's service and the service of all nations," and very few alumni have lived up to this statement as much as former Senator Bill Bradley '65 has. Bradley played on the basketball team while at Princeton and went on to play professionally for the New York Knicks before becoming a New Jersey senator, a position which he held for three terms. The Daily Princetonian sat down with the former Senator to reflect upon his athletic and professional careers at the dawn of his 50th Reunion.

Daily Princetonian: What was your favorite Princeton basketball moment?


Bill Bradley: Beating providence in the Eastern regional finals.

DP: What was your favorite thing about Princeton? What was your favorite memory?

BB: I have too many of them. Maybe if we’re going to pick one, my senior thesis with Arthur Link on Harry Truman’s reelection to the senate in 1920.

DP: Do you still follow Ivy League sports? How do you think they’ve changed since you were a player?

BB:I’m a big fan of the Princeton women’s team — basketball. Big fan; I think their coach is the best coach in America.

DP: When the women’s basketball team finished the regular season ranked 13th in the country but were only seeded eighth in the Spokane region for the NCAA tournament, there was a lot of debate on whether the NCAA takes the Ivy League seriously. Do you have a point of view on the issue?


BB: I don’t want to waste energy thinking about things that are beyond your control; I learned that a long time ago. I saw a couple of games, I spoke to the team after one game. I have tremendous respect for what they accomplished and more importantly for how they accomplished it, and Courtney’s incredible leadership and the team’s selflessness.

DP: How would you say Princeton prepared you for life beyond the orange bubble — both in your athletic and professional careers?

BB: It gave me a great education, broadened my horizons and gave me a lifetime of friends.

DP: I’ve been a Knicks fan my whole life, going back to the Patrick Ewing days, and I have to ask — do you really think your former teammate Phil Jackson can fix the Knicks?

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BB: If anybody can fix them, he can. He’s got a great basketball mind, he’s a fierce competitor, he understands human beings and how to get people to work together and he has a very clear idea of how the game should be played. Take a look, if there’s anybody who has more rings than they have fingers, you’ve got to listen to them.

DP: Who is your favorite active basketball player, collegiate or professional?

BB: Well right now, let me preface that: right now, meaning today, I like Stephen Curry.

DP: As a student, a professional athlete and a senator you were known for being very politically active. What do you think are the most important issues facing our country that Princeton students should be focused on?

BB: Well, I think the state of our economy for a large number of Americans is the number one issue, I think making diversity a strength and not a weakness is another challenge for us, and I think that understanding that our role in the world is a lot more than deploying military forces to some far distant land.

DP: Did your aspirations for public service develop at Princeton or did you have them before?

BB: I think it kind of developed in high school; I thought I wanted to be a diplomat and that’s why I came to Princeton, because of the Woodrow Willson school. Unfortunately, I didn’t do very well my freshman year so I gave up the idea of the Woodrow Wilson school and went into History instead. That was a great windfall for me. I came to love history, I still do.

DP: Many students and Americans are disillusioned with the political climate and the stalemates in Washington. As someone who chose a life in public service, what would you say is the case for students going into politics today and what encouragement would you give them?

BB: I think it’s the same as it always has been. That for people who want to make a difference, if you have power, you can make a difference in peoples lives. Otherwise you’re simply making nice speeches and talking. And I think that getting power is easier than it’s ever been before for individuals because of the internet and the ability to organize on social networks, so I would encourage people to take a look at the current structure of our democracy — the clear problem is money. And the answer is a constitutional amendment because the supreme court has already locked in billionaires financing campaigns and so you need a constitutional amendment leading that effort over a period of years; it would be an incredibly important service to the country and I think plenty of other areas ranging from race in urban areas, the environment, education, those are all areas —pensions — for example, people don’t always think about them, but they’re very important.