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Bill Bradley - A Born Leader

The urbane and sophisticated Bill Bradley, whose name and image dominated headlines as he pursued the Democratic Presidential nomination is, in many ways, the same person he was when he starred for the New York Knickerbockers of the NBA.

But in one way he is definitely different.

Back then he was known as "Dollar Bill." It was a nickname he definitely deserved. While other National Basketball Association stars drove flashy cars and sported even more flashy clothes, Bradley lived simply and dressed even simpler. His apartment, a friend once said, "looked like a Holiday Inn room before the maid showed up." Bradley reportedly used paper clips when his cuff buttons gave out.

His contract with the New York Knickerbockers called for $500,000 for four years, a great deal of money for that time period. But the nickname Bill Bradley received was not for the money he earned, some said, but for the money he saved. Many players believe he saved the first buck he ever made.

There was a precedent for this behavior. While a Rhodes Scholar for two years at Oxford University, Bradley lived out of what was called "a large and appallingly messy suitcase." But he had more important things on his mind than style and consumer comforts.

Born July 28, 1943 in Crystal City, Missouri, Bill Bradley was a fine athlete almost from the start. An incredible high school basketball player, he could have probably gone to any college in America on a basketball scholarship. But he chose Princeton and paid his own way since Ivy League schools did not offer athletic scholarships.

He led Princeton to three Ivy League titles, averaged 30.1 points a game and was a two-time All-American. The only junior, he was the captain of the 1964 gold medal winning U.S. Olympic team.

Not many realize that the Red Holzman coached Knicks took a "gamble" and drafted Bradley when he graduated from Princeton even though there was a two year wait for him while he completed his Oxford University studies.

His Knick coach Red Holzman remembered Bradley this way: "Bill could be funny by design but he was never an oddball, even though his tastes and interests were far different from the other players. He liked museums, shows, books and his friends were intellectual, busy guys. But Bill was as tough as they come on the basketball court, a really irritating player on defense."

Bradley led New York to NBA titles in 1970 and 1973. In his time as a Knick, Bradley never did a commercial. He was very conscious even then of his image. He even had a special clause in his contract that said he did not have to do any endorsements. Bradley always had his eye on the big picture, the big prize.

His old coach died last year. Back in 1985 when I was writing his autobiography, "Red on Red," Holzman told me, "Even when he was a Knick, Bill was intensely interested in politics and arranged many meetings and appointments on community matters. Danny Whelan (the trainer) and I made a deal with him. Whenever Bill wanted time off, Danny and I collected chits from him. We made Bill promise that when he became President of the United States, he would give us good jobs. I've still got one of those IOUs around the house somewhere...."

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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

About the Author:

Harvey Frommer is in his  38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

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Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

 

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