Birth date: July 28, 1943
Home town: Crystal City, Missouri
Family: Married to Ernestine Schlant; one child, one stepchild
Religion: Presbyterian
Education: Bachelor's degree, Princeton University; Rhodes Scholar, Oxford University
Political service: U.S. Senate, 1978-1996
Military service: Air Force Reserve, 1967-1978
Career: Professional basketball player, New York Knicks; U.S. Senator; author
Shoe size: 13D

Bill Bradley is, hands down, one of the most all-around talented individuals ever to walk this Earth. I am not exaggerating. His achievements have been both formidable and disparate. However, he began life in an inauspicious enough fashion...

"Well, it's a boy and I wanted a girl!"
                                                                         - Susie Bradley, upon the birth of her son, Bill

Bill was not quite what Susie Bradley was expecting. During the long ride in the undertaker's hearse to the hospital in St. Louis she hoped and prayed for a girl. (Yes, I said hearse. Her husband's arthritis prevented him from driving the family Cadillac and the undertaker was the only person with enough gas, given the wartime gas restrictions in 1943.) When Bill was born, Susie further remarked that he seemed a "long, skinny, ugly baby - I'm just being honest". She would spend the much of his early childhood trying to make up for his physical inadequacies. She woke him at night to feed him and put some skin on his bones. She insisted that house guests wear gas masks to avoid any illnesses that might befall the boy.

Susie Bradley also made sure her son was adequately prepared for a life of culture and class, far exceeding the usual standards of bringing up a child for the time. She made sure he had an education well grounded in everything important: sports, religion, etiquette, language and music. Bill became everything she wanted him to become: tall and strong, well-bred and popular. He was the star of his hometown of Crystal City's runner-up State Champion basketball team, preached for teenagers at the Grace Presbyterian Church and became an Eagle Scout in Troop 549. Bill was touted as "the perfect boy" by New York Post columnist Leonard Shecter and seemed to be everything the statement implied. At the age of 20 he was regularly asked if he would go on to become president and just as regularly side-stepped the issue. He had a great many things to accomplish in his life before he took that step.

Bradley's first major goal was basketball. He began a ritual that be practiced well into adulthood, shooting thousands of shots a week on the family basketball court, honing his hooks, jumpers and lay-ups. After some debate between his family and admissions officers, Bradley took his extraordinary basketball skills, his well-developed mind and his ambitions to Princeton University (he had accepted admission to Duke but withdraw it at the last moment) and, while there, twice broke the NBA record of 56 consecutive foul shots. Supported by his wildly enthusiastic mother and his stern, all-business coach, Arvel Popp, Bradley went on to join Princeton's varsity team as a freshman and would become a member of several All American teams. Bill still holds many of Princeton's records:

  • Most career points (2,503)
  • Highest average (30.2)
  • The three highest single-season totals (936, 885 and 662)
  • All 10 of the University's top 10 scoring games (from 58 down to 41)

Part of Bradley's reasoning in choosing Princeton was that he had heard of something called the Rhodes Scholarship a prestigious scholarship given to a handful of students which allowed them to study at Oxford University in England. After hearing that Princeton bred more Rhodes Scholars than Duke, Bradley changed his mind and got admitted to Princeton. However, while Bradley dominated the basketball court during his first year at Princeton, he struggled academically, with nearly failing grades in a pair of his classes. He resolved to improve his standing and began to live in the campus library, devoting more and more of his time to school work. During his senior year, Bradley began work on his senior thesis which would be a part of his Rhodes Scholarship application. He wrote about Harry Truman's 1940 Senate campaign in Bradley's home state of Missouri, so that he could learn more about the political process in his home state, knowledge that would serve him well down the line. In his request for application for the Rhodes Scholarship, Bradley wrote that "I can best serve mankind as a politician". Bradley's application so impressed Dr. Arthur Link, the professor in charge of the applications and a man he had never met, that Link wrote to the Rhodes Committee, saying he had never taught a student of finer character. Bradley was, in fact, completing this entire process just as he was shipping off to Tokyo, Japan for the 1964 Olympic Games. Bradley won both a Gold Medal and a trip to Oxford.

Indulging in the luxury of a low-profile, Bradley spent two years living and learning at Oxford and all over Europe, but his former life awaited him in the U.S. Bradley had a few career options to follow, but most men his age had the draft to deal with. Bill did not intend to let the military stand in the way of his career, whether he elected to go to law school and pursue public office or follow up on his basketball career. He joined the Air Force reserve and worked weekends for the 514th Carrier Wing, within commuting distance of Madison Square Garden and nowhere near Vietnam. Bradley had decided to pursue politics, but in a rather roundabout way: "Basketball was a means to this end. It gave me the time and opportunity to prepare for politics. I chose it from the outset with this kind of jump in mind." Certainly, however, Bradley's basketball career did not suffer from this. It was nothing short of spectacular.

Bradley's methodical approach to basketball, seeing plays form long before they came to pass, allowed him to become one of the best players of the 1970s. He played with the New York Knicks for 10 years and led the team to NBA Championships in 1970 and 1973, playing along such stars and future Hall of Famers as Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Earl Monroe and Jerry Lucas. In 1974, in the midst of his basketball career, Bradley married Ernestine Schlant, a professor of Comparative Literature at Montclair State University in New Jersey. She was a woman decidedly different from the women Bradley had dated previously, including Diane Sawyer, the future news anchor. Schlant had barely even heard of Bradley, but admired and loved him for who he was. Bradley retired from basketball in 1977 and was elected into the NBA Hall of Fame in 1982.

In 1978, Bradley began his first campaign for political office and he started big, running for Senator in New Jersey. When he was elected in 1979, at the age of 35, he was the youngest senator ever elected. Bradley was quite the rebel during his 18 years in the Senate. Despite having aspired to political office his whole life, he never really fit in. He tended to avoid the major political battles that drew in all the more traditional senators, grubbing for votes and slugging it out with each other. His pet projects were usually unlikely topics and were often successful, though he was known for introducing many an amendment that was voted down by rather large margins. He was at the forefront of the income tax reform of 1986 and the reform of western water law in 1992. He was an expert on a wide variety of subjects and had friends in both camps. He helped Vice President-elect Al Gore prepare for a debate on NAFTA and his Third World Debt policy was adopted by the Bush administration. During his time in the Senate, Bradley traveled widely, visiting such locales as Russia and Saudi Arabia as an envoy of numerous U.S. presidents. He studied even more widely, becoming an expert of countless areas where his work with the Intelligence Oversight Committee took him.

Bradley remained in the Senate until the mid-nineties, when he became disillusioned with Senate politics. Bradley, most often a man of principle rather than practicality, was tired of dealing with his measures not passing because he would not compromise and seeing his plans, particularly the Tax Reform Act, unravel during later administrations. The mid-90s also wore Bradley out emotionally. His wife's battle with breast cancer, the emotional roller coaster of raising a tempestuous teenage girl, to whom he was the primary parent, and the death of his parents and a number of college friends took a lot out of him. In 1995 he finished writing his autobiography, entitled Time Present, Time Past, and retired from the Senate.

While Bradley had left the Senate, he had not left public life. He began preparing a campaign for the presidency, building up his knowledge of the information revolution and even writing an online column for ThirdAge.com, a website which would become wildly successful and become one of Bradley's biggest supporters. Backed by a great deal of money from Silicon Valley, Bill's campaign was under way. Bradley ran an aggressive campaign, but was up against Al Gore, whose position as Vice-President made him the more obvious choice for the ticket. Bradley was given the chance to become Vice President under Clinton in 1992, which would have made him practically a shoe-in for the 2000 election. In fact, he could have run for president and won in '92, but his daughter was still very young and his wife was just beginning her most ambitious book. The time simply was not right and, as for the Vice Presidency, Bill would not settle for anything less than being President. Gore held all the right cards and Bradley was no longer at the peak of his fame, having been out of politics, if not the public eye, for a few years by that point. Bradley retired with dignity, endorsing Gore's bid for the presidency and eschewing the public lifestyle from that point on. While Bradley would have made a superb president, and still could, at this point, Al Gore is a much more likely candidate for 2004 than he, given the popular support the close call in the 2000 election would bring him. It is a shame that Bradley was never elected to the role he had lived his whole life preparing for but, though he did not take that final step into the Oval Office, he trod a fascinating and successful path all the way to the threshold.

Sources:


http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A46853-1999Dec11.html
http://www.hoophall.com/halloffamers/Bradley.htm

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