A Sense of Where You Are

Maybe it had to do with the end of the college basketball season or my recollection of a phone call with Bill Bradley after a letter criticizing his tax reform proposal appeared in the Elizabeth Daily Journal which titled it “Phony as a Three Dollar Bill” but I finally got around to reading John McPhee’s take on Bradley’s Princeton days.

“When you have played basketball for a while, you don’t need to look at the basket when you are in close like this,” he said, throwing it over his shoulder again and right through the hoop. “You develop a sense of where you are.” (page 22)

Ivy League basketball teams play on Friday and Saturday nights, in order to avoid travelling (sic) during the week, yet on Sunday mornings Bradley gets up and teaches a nine-thirty Sunday-school class at the First Presbyterian Church. (page 39)

Bradley has flown all over the United States to speak to F.C.A. group. One of his topics is a theory of his that conformists and nonconformists both lack moral courage, and another is the “the only way to solve a problem is to go through it rather then around it” – which has struck some listeners as an odd view for a basketball player to have. (page 40)

One man cannot beat five men – at least not consistently – and Princeton loses basketball games. Until this season, moreover, the other material that van Breda Kolff has had at his disposal has been for the most part below even the usual Princeton standard, so the fact that his teams have won two consecutive championships is about as much to his credit as to his star’s. (page 51)

He refuses on principle to say that Bradley is the best basketball player he has ever coached, and he is also careful not to echo the general feeling that Bradley is the most exemplary youth since Lochinvar….I asked van Breda Kolff what he thought Bradley would be doing when he was forty. “I don’t know,” he said. “I guess he’ll be the governor of Missouri.” (page 52)

Among Bradley’s Olympic teammates was U.C.L.A.’s Walt Hazzard, now a Los Angeles Laker, who, like Robertson, is a Negro, and he passed along to Bradley a compliment of unforgettable magnitude. “Where I come from,” Hazzard told Bradley, “you are known as The White O.” (page 81)

And like Hank Luisetti, of Stanford, who never played professional basketball, he will have the almost unique distinction of taking only the name of his college with him into the chronicles of the sport. (page 89)

The rules of basketball are such that if they were ever literally interpreted the referees would call enough fouls in any game to eliminate everyone on both squads two or three times over. No sport, therefore, is more difficult to officiate since the referee’s judgment is infinitely more important than his vision, and the fairness of the outcome depends on the consistency and balance of the referee’s decisions rather than on any set of inflexible rules. (pages 96-7)

With twenty seconds to go, van Breda Kolff impulsively gave Shank the highest compliment he could possibly have given him. He sent Bill Bradley into the game as Shank’s substitute. Shank left the floor with an unselfconscious smile illuminating his face. For well over a minute, the whole crowd stood up and applauded his performance, and the applause was now as genuine as it had ever been for Bradley himself. (page 110)

The New York Knickerbockers, in order to protect themselves against any possibility that Bradley might change his mind about professional basketball and eventually play for another N.B.A. team, made him their first choice selection in the annual player draft. According to the guesses of newspapers, they offered him over fifty thousand dollars to sign. (page 143)

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by MJF on April 6, 2021 at 9:47 am

    I recall hearing that Simone Biles (most amazing athlete I’ve ever seen) closes her eyes when she’s moving like a cheetah upside down 10 feet off the ground. I would fall down the stairs if I weren’t watching my feet and holding the railing.


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