At four p.m. in Portland's Memorial Coliseum officials were beginning to prepare for the final two games of the NCAA basketball championships. Back in the press room Western Union technicians readied the lines that would carry the final story on the big game of the night -- UCLA against Michigan. Red-coated usherettes milled around the entrances, waiting for the order to take their positions by the aisles. Press officials tinkered with the mimeograph machines at the press table, while one lone reporter tapped out his pre-game color story. Robinson Brown and Don Rodenbach, attired in their buff Princeton blazers, wandered onto the court. Brown tested the consistency of the portable hardwood floor just outside the foul lane with his right foot. The two ambled over to a nearby television camera. Brown bent his gawky frame over the camera and peered curiously down into the wrong end of the lens. "Hey, stupid, quit fooling around with that camera!" bellowed a figure from the recesses of the balcony. Coach Bill van Breda Kolff walked in and made light, necessary conversation with his two players. Bob Haarlow and Bill Bradley appeared and sat at the far end of the court. "That's a good idea, Bobby . . ." Bradley's words drifted off. Eddie Donovan, Princeton's assistant coach, was telling referee Steve Honzo that the team would be leaving on the seven a.m. plane the next day. Honzo wandered away, and Donovan turned to answer a reporter's question, "Is your team fired up for this one, coach?" "You're dahn right they are," fired back the Boston-bred Donovan, "and don't let anybody tell you they, ahrn't." Coming from Donovan, who usually answers questions by asking them back, the response had a certain prophetic ring to it.
"Up For The Game"
Brown easily outleaped Wichita's center and tapped the ball to Bradley. Bradley lofted a half-court pass to Haarlow, who had broken for the basket at the toss. Way out in front of his defender, Haarlow took the pass and dropped in an easy lay-up. The 13,000 fans, who had filled the Coliseum to watch Bradley's last game, applauded nicely, while the small contingent of Princeton fans, to whom the same play many times had been a preface to certain victory, roared. After less than four minutes, Wichita called a time-out to regroup. Princeton was out in front, 16-4. The night before, Wichita had fallen before UCLA's treacherous zone press; now it was trying to cope with Princeton's offense. But coach Gary Thompson could not rouse his psychologically worn Shockers, who could only go through the motions of opposing the Tiger attack. Donovan was right: Princeton was up for the game. At the foul lane, Bradley, who usually, confines himself to encouraging at his teammates, yelled fiercely at Brown, "Come on, Robby, let's get up for this one." The Princeton defense would not relent, hounding Wichita's guards as they, hit the half-court line, clinging to the big men under the boards. The Tigers easily disrupted Wichita's lethargic zone press; once Bradley took command of the ball, the press collapsed. The contest soon turned into something that resembled a reckless pick-up game between ill-matched teams. When Princeton grabbed a defensive rebound, it left Wichita's tired defenders behind with a furious fast break. When the Shockers scored, Princeton easily penetrated their zone press and picked up easy shots from under the basket. The completely formless game sped to a first-half score of Princeton 53, Wichita 39.
Before the half ended the contest as a confrontation of two teams had lost the interest of the crowd. As the second half opened, attention began to center on Bradley, who had hit a healthy 19 points in the first half, seemed to be playing with his usual graceful efficiency. Now he continued at that pace. A cluster of jump shots and a tip-in brought him up to 32 with six minutes gone, then a dry stretch of four minutes while he set up teammates. But with Bradley clicking, knowledgeable spectators began to whisper of records. The Princeton bench called up to the press section asking for Bradley's total: Bradley needed to finish with 42 points to break the NCAA five-game tournament scoring record. The bench began yelling at Bradley to shoot, and berated his teammates for not passing to him. Bradley did not change his pace but managed to glide past the record with six minutes to go. But now he collected his fourth foul, and the crowd wondered how long he would last. Still he refused to take shots when teammates were open -- agonizing the bench when he threw off to Bill Koch instead of taking an easy jumper from the foul line. His point total kept climbing, however, and the 13,000 onlookers roared in gleeful amazement as he lofted in a right-handed hook from the left side, then maneuvered under the basket for a lefthanded lay-up. At 46 he was in reach of Oscar Robertson's 56-point single-game record. Bradley called a time-out ("Heck, I was tired," he later explained). In the delirious huddle van Breda Kolff shouted at Bradley to "shoot for the record." Bradley nodded: the team record was 112. And why not shoot, it was his final game? That's what the bench seemed to be saying. Now Bradley became the only man on the court -- and a weird, fairy-tale series of basketball moments ensued. It was the kind of display -- except that it was not a show -- that every would-be basketball star dreams of. Two classic Bradley jump shots from the left side. A swish from the top of the key. A long, languid hook from the very edge of the right corner which nestled into the net as if it were made to fit. Quick action: an aggressive, driving, tilted running jumper, and then, a routine Bradley jump shot to finish it off. Bradley, without knowing it, had just surpassed Robertson's 56-point mark. With 33 seconds to go, van Breda Kolff, still sensitive to the drama of the hour, frantically sought a way to get Bradley out of the game. Quick to get the message, burly Don Roth lunged at his man, drawing the requisite foul. Bradley walked off the floor, stony-faced and apparently unimpressed by what the crowd was acclaiming with thunderous, yet totally respectful, applause. The game played itself out. Bradley had easily lifted his team six points over the five-game record: final score, 118-82.
"The Third Act"
The Wichita game was the third act of a perfectly constructed drama. One week before, the first act had been performed at College Park, Maryland, where Bradley and his teammates had thoroughly demolished a Providence squad ranked fourth in the nation, 109-69, to win the NCAA Eastern Regional Championships. The team had returned to Princeton and confidently predicted that it could beat first-ranked Michigan, which had squeaked by Princeton, 80-78, in December. But Michigan was ready for Princeton this time, and Princeton was perhaps too ready for Michigan. In the opening minutes of the game, Princeton seemed to want to beat Michigan, not win the game. Bradley, sensing -- as sportswriters had been saying -- that he had to take command of the game, tried for the opening basket that would galvanize the team, and failed on his first attempt. Things immediately began to go wrong. Robinson Brown nervously guarded Michigan's huge center Bill Buntin, drawing three fouls early in the contest. Michigan's three front men, averaging over 6-6 and 225 pounds, outmuscled Princeton's lightweight rebounders, and dominated both boards. The Tigers took few second shots; Michigan often had three tries. Still, Princeton stayed with the Wolverines -- until Bradley's third foul, which seemed to stop the team's momentum and introduced the strong possibility of defeat. Bradley was dribbling across court, his back to the basket, easing toward it in his usual manner, when he and Michigan's George Pomey, moving with him, scraped each other. Referee Bob Korte called a foul -- on Bradley. Princeton trailed at the half by only four points but early in the second half Bradley collected his fourth foul. That doomed Princeton, which had to go into a zone defense to protect Bradley. Now Michigan easily penetrated the center and established total hegemony on the boards. Princeton played timidly on defense and downshifted on offense. There was little hope of catching up, and when Bradley fouled out with five minutes to go, the game was over. Michigan won in a runaway, 93-76.
Princeton could have only won if it had played the near-perfect basketball that had upset Providence a week before. Bradley might have lifted the team, as he had done against Michigan in December with 41 points and brilliant all-around play. But this time he managed only 29 points, and his play was definitely sub-par. But withal, the game had a bitter aftertaste: it was not even a satisfying victory for Michigan. Van Breda Kolff summed up the feeling of many when he said, in response to a reporter's questions about the referees, "Don't ask me that question." Like van Breda Kolff, no one wanted to make excuses. Princeton rightly thought that it, not the referees, had lost the game. The team's dejection was intensified by the buildup the Princeton fans at home had given the Michigan game. Two thousand undergraduates had affixed their signatures to a telegram wishing the team well in Portland. In the hushed coffee shop of Portland's Cosmopolitan Motor Inn, Bradley summed up the prevailing dejection, in a phrase that none of his teammates would have thought of uttering: "Boy, I sure hated to let those two thousand guys down."
But after the Wichita game this statement seemed curiously inappropriate. The Michigan game had been only the second of three acts. After UCLA trampled Michigan, inspiring its fans to chant, "We're number one!," the small band of Princeton fans at the Coliseum were happy enough to respond, "We're number three!" and proud enough that Bradley had been chosen the tournament's Most Valuable Player. Back in Princeton, standing on top of a Greyhound bus, Bradley tried to sell the team's disappointment to two thousand cheering undergraduates, but they would have none of it. "Last Sunday we all stood up on top of this bus and did some pretty big talking. We didn't produce." The crowd answered, "No! No!" Bradley continued, "I don't know whether to say I'm sorry --" "Say it fifty-eight times!" interrupted a fan. Princeton fans had remembered Bradley's fifty-eight points against Wichita, not the loss to Michigan. Bradley's last college performance had been a fitting climax to the legend of Bill Bradley at Princeton. That legend is built on much that is true. Ever since freshman year he has generally been made the object of a kind of reverence once reserved for by-gone heroes. Until 1931 a statue of "The Christian Student" stood between Murray-Dodge Hall and the Pyne Administration Building. Tall, purposeful, slightly stolid, he stood dressed in a football uniform draped by an academic gown, his books under one arm, his football under the other. He stood for what Princeton students worshipped in the 1870's and ridiculed in the 1920's. "The Christian Student" was the object of periodic undergraduate assaults -- deans would find him on Monday mornings smeared with lipstick or lying prostrate on the ground. After a series of particularly violent attacks in 1931, "The Christian Student" was hauled away and entombed in the basement of some administration building. Princeton undergraduates have not become any less cynical over the years, yet "The Christian Student" has emerged from his underground tomb (now in basketball garb) and walks the campus -- the object, not of playful scorn, but unfeigned admiration.
The power of Bradley's presence was sensed by his sophomore year, but was not felt until his first confrontation with the undergraduate body -- Bicker. Bradley was the personality of his class. The fourth entry of Little was clogged with the most impressive, the most hopeful and probably the most anxious club groups. He was the one man each of the sixteen clubs bid, whether they thought he would sign in or not. And in his two upperclass years Bradley has sometimes had a mesmerizing effect on bickering sophomores. One aspiring athlete in the sophomore class, after he had conversed with Bradley in Bicker, was incapable of maintaining a conversation with a senior who followed "The Christian Student" into the room. "I just talked to Bill Bradley. I . . . I just talked to Bill Bradley," he babbled to his bemused visitor, "I just can't believe it." Bradley can have a similar power over his classmates. Today, one senior shamefacedly confesses that Bradley made him gloomy for several days in sophomore year by having first learned, and then forgotten, his name. Still the most prized kudos is to have Bradley single you out of a group walking along the path, calling you by your first name. Thanks to recent events, Bradley was forced into an isolation, the strictness of which even he had never contemplated. Otherwise his carrel on A-Floor of Firestone Library would have been besieged by well-intentioned quasi-buddies, and progress on his thesis would have ground to a halt. Bradley isolated himself in a house "on the outskirts of town" (according to one who knew where he was), and made weekly visits to his thesis advisor, Professor Arthur Link, himself an accomplice in the conspiracy of silence which shielded Bradley's whereabouts. If Bradley were just a basketball star, he would not have to worry about all this attention. But to many people he represents Princeton to the outside world by representing a Princeton that does not really exist. As all the newspapers say, Bradley is a complete gentleman, and an easily accessible personality. Undergraduates like to claim Bradley as their own. How many sophomores have proudly told their hometown friends that "Sure, I know Bill." Bradley gives them the feeling that they do.
"Savior Of A Generation"
In the outside world, adults have seized on Bradley as a "savior of a generation" that, as always, seems to be going to pot. "If people like Bill Bradley are around," they seem to think, "well, then, things can't be so bad." Just as America's intellectual community sees civil rights workers in Harmony, Mississippi, as the hope of the future, so respectable America has adopted Bill Bradley as symbol of a "job well done." "Bill Bradley is a man whom I greatly admire," wrote an aunt to her Princeton nephew. "I hope that you have benefited from his friendship." Bradley has not had to rise out of economic hardship, but his determination to succeed and his sheer virtue have combined to make him the Affluent Society's Horatio Alger, whose influence has penetrated down through America. The Daily Princetonian made Bradley the subject of its annual "joke issue," screaming in bold headlines: "BRADLEY BOOTED -- OUT! Olympian Took Dope, Threw Cornell Game." A construction worker riding home on the Pennsy glimpsed this headline poking out of the seat ahead of him. Outraged, he stormed up to a chuckling reader and wailed: "Oh, no! What has he done to me? After everything I told my son!" Bradley's intrinsic greatness as an athlete and as a person will always be a rarity, but rarer still is to find this combination at a place like Princeton, where athletic professionalism is feared as an encroachment on academic integrity. Bill Bradley at Princeton thus had an inevitable attraction for a magazine like the New Yorker whose glowing article marked Bradley's conquest of urbane, Eastern America.
The Bradley Presence
Outsiders sometimes get the impression that Bradley's presence dominates the campus. Princetonians are told that they now call basketball "Bradleyball" -- a term they had never heard until the Herald Tribune invented it, and one they would feel foolish using. Similarly Bradley is supposed to have "raised the moral tone of the campus." It is true that since Bradley's appearance Princeton basketball crowds have become more gentlemanly, but no one has noticed a similar change at Prospect Street parties. Bradley leads a very separate moral existence: his Sunday school teaching, for instance, is something he carries out in the "outside world." When he urges his personal convictions on his fellow undergraduates, he does it in a private, unofficial way. Most undergraduates would be unaware of Bradley's religious convictions if they had not read about them, and Bradley has been reluctant to display them on campus. Once he invited a few neighbors to his room to watch a movie on Christian evangelism. On another occasion he accosted a few friends in the library and invited them to a talk on Moral Rearmament by two athletes he had met at the Olympics. He is also seen in Chapel, performing his duties as a Chapel Deacon. But other people do Bradley's proselytizing for him: one student Moral Rearmer tried to convert a wayward New York socialite by presenting John McPhee's New Yorker article as inspirational literature. Around Princeton, at least, Bradley is not a religious leader.
Neither is he a god, and he obviously does not want to be. Bradley was once studying in a seminar room in the library, chatting intermittently with a friend. One diligent classics student, who had repeatedly asked Bradley to stop talking, finally erupted: "Listen, I know you're a hot-shot basketball player, but I'm trying to study. So shut up." Later Bradley, who is fearful of being "only" a basketball player, became a friend of the student who had silenced him. There is a certain species of Princetonian who proudly displays his ignorance of Bradley's feats, and likes to respond "What game?" when his friends ask him if he is going to "the game." One of these types confesses almost complete ignorance of Bradley: "I hardly know the guy. I've only run into him twice. Once I had to borrow a quarter because I ran out of money at the Student Center. He was in line behind me and -- yes -- I dared. The other time I sat across from him while he ate three bowls of cereal. . . . Let's see, they were Corn Flakes, Wheaties and Post Toasties -- no, Raisin Bran." And while everyone admits that Bradley works hard, probably harder than most, they also know that he cuts lectures and borrows friends' notes -- just the way everybody else does. Since athletics and studies come first, Bradley's social life is somewhat barren. But it is well known that for a long period last year Bradley, to his own embarrassment, was doggedly pursued, from the library to his club and back to his mom, by a doughty female admirer. However, she finally gave up the chase and switched her attentions to one of Bradley's teammates (who was equally embarrassed). When he does date, Bradley likes to rock and roll, and is as smooth at the frug as he is on the court. Bradley has a way of making everything he says sound typical of him, but even as a basketball player he is not the utterly selfless player that the inevitable quotations of the sports pages make him out to be. He may have felt a little foolish about his "gunning" spree late in the Wichita game -- as if he was prostituting his talents to please the crowd -- but when asked, "Were you really going just for the team record out there?" Bradley said that he was, but added candidly, "Well, heck, I was hitting." Bradley was not shooting for his own record, but like any basketball player, when he is hitting, he shoots.
In The Classroom
One of the questions that is often debated among undergraduates is, How smart is Bradley? Professor Link, who is advisor of Bradley's thesis on Truman's Senatorial campaign of 1940, claims that Bradley is "tough-minded." "I don't think he's naive; he doesn't accept what people say at face value. The Missouri political situation in the thirties is extremely complex, and Bill is unraveling some of its complexities." In precept Bradley is always prepared, never gets trapped. He seldom gets into debates, but usually manages to interject once or twice to make a point. One student who has been in precept with him thinks that Bradley does a good job of assimilating the courses he has taken in the history department, says that he relates material from other courses to the precept discussion. But, he continues, Bradley rarely offers a bold or original idea to the conversation. Bradley seems to approach studies as if they were something to be conquered. As Professor Link says about Bradley's approach to his thesis, "He has organization, self-discipline, intensity, drive, ambition to excel and tremendous enthusiasm." Professor Link suggested Bradley's topic, yet when people hear "Harry Truman's Senatorial Campaign," they are inclined to agree with Link that the subject might "give him an entree into Missouri politics." Incidentally, he finished four more thesis pages out in Portland. Bradley is a lot foxier than his retiring, almost sleepy, manner would indicate. His general reluctance to commit himself on his future, his ability to keep his private feelings clouded, bespeak the instincts of a politician. Some wondered whether he had the style to be a public figure -- until they saw him talk from the top of the team bus on return from the Providence victory. The scene was reminiscent of a politician's appearance at campaign headquarters after an upset victory at the polls. Bradley recalled for the crowd the locker room scene after the first Michigan game, when he told the team that it had to win the Ivy League, then the NCAA Eastern title in order to get another shot at Michigan. "And we did it," Bradley beamed, jabbing his right forefinger out at the crowd (and then skillfully withholding his next remarks as a brief silence erupted into wild cheering). This was the first time that Bradley had ever played with his faithful followers -- and they loved it. But this was not the burly, fumbling oratory of the college athlete. It seemed out of place that Bradley should have such complete control over a crowd of supposedly sophisticated, and normally laconic, Ivy League students. Bradley has conquered the sports world and the hearts of parents throughout the land, but Princeton has been his most difficult and subtle challenge. If there were any doubts about his ability to conquer Princeton, his performance on the bus roof after the Providence game dispelled them. Still, it is probably fortunate for Bradley that he went to Princeton, and not, say, to Harvard or Yale. Princeton, in contrast to them, is a close-knit, homogeneous community, where a variety of institutional loyalties flourish. Bradley is today one of Princeton's most revered institutions. It is also fortunate that Bradley went to Princeton instead of Duke, where he originally planned to go. Bradley has given greatly to Princeton, but one cannot gainsay Princeton's contribution to Bradley. As a grant-in-aid scholarship student, Bradley would have found it difficult to break out of the athletic syndrome that reigns at any university that uses grants to corral athletes. By going to Princeton Bradley retained, even enhanced, his billing as a "star athlete" -- but the outside world, especially its sports writers, had to consider him as a student as well That was the perfect combination, on which the Bradley legend has been built.
Bradley's success is in part due to his being that rare thing -- a genuinely sincere politician. He worries about remembering undergraduates' names both because he does not want to forget their names and because he does not want to hurt their feelings by forgetting. Bradley cultivates different kinds of friends to broaden his educational experience. Furthermore, he does want to communicate his beliefs to the outside world. He wants it to be known that he is available for speaking engagements. And, periodically, he troops up to the Office of Public Information, collects requests for his autograph that have come in, and goes back to his room to answer each request with a note and his signature. If Bradley does decide to go into politics, one of his abiding virtues will be a delicate irony that laces his conversation -- as well as a complete absence of sarcasm. Bradley once convinced a naive friend that he was kin to General Omar Bradley, and carried on about the relationship for a good five minutes. When he speaks in public Bradley has a way of dissembling that mixes with his native ingenuousness, producing a peculiar, attractive charm that is especially effective on audiences like groups of alumni. But on one occasion Bradley's ingenuousness overcame his irony, producing a strange and uncharacteristic sentimentalism. Again from the top of a bus, this time after the Portland trip, he thanked Princeton students for the personal support they had given him. Then, as if he owed them something, he added, "The only thing I can offer to you is my friendship -- and I give it to you."
Sportswriters were surprised that Bradley turned down an offer to play professional basketball in favor of going to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. But that is because they see him primarily as a basketball player. Princeton students, on the other hand, would have been surprised, and perhaps disappointed, had Bradley opted to turn pro: they see basketball as a part of Bradley, not Bradley as a part of basketball. Basketball is an offspring, not the source, of Bradley's personality. Bradley likes to belittle his natural athletic ability, stressing the role of determined practice and concentration as the key to his success on the court. Although these factors alone are inadequate explanations for Bradley's greatness, it is true that basketball is one of few sports where an individual can practically learn the game by rote, by himself. Bradley is famous for his Calvinistic self-discipline, in throwing up shots for hours on end, practicing his footwork, dribbling and weaving through obstacles, studying and assimilating the moves of other players. Bradley may never do anything as well as he played basketball. But near-perfection in one undertaking would seem to be enough to ask of one man in one lifetime. Bradley liked to play the song "Climb Every Mountain" before each game: he has other mountains to climb, and it can be expected that he will attack them with the same patience and determination as he applied to basketball. So far everywhere Bradley has gone his publicity has preceded him, but next fall at Oxford he will meet a new challenge. "In England basketball is a girl's game," observed a former Oxford don. "Bradley will have to hide the fact that he's good at it." Some have speculated that Bradley will be another "Yank at Oxford," the wide-eyed Rhodes Scholar athlete who became the victim of the English aristocracy's destructive sense of humor. But he is a lot cagier than Robert Taylor was in the movie, and he may in fact be content to take a breather from the relentless publicity that has hounded him in America. Basketball at Oxford is a little more than a girl's sport. The few who play the game, many of them Americans, trek out to a nearby Army base where a bandbox with backboards flush against the walls serves as a playing area. Not Madison Square Garden -- but perhaps a place to practice. It is possible that Bradley will accept one of many offers to play for European city teams during his generous six-week vacations. But Bradley is not going to Oxford to play basketball, and what few hints he has given about the next two years indicate that he will use Oxford as most Rhodes Scholars do, to study and have fun.
When he returns to the United States, if you believe some people, Bradley will become Governor of Missouri as soon as it is legally possible. But Bradley has not committed himself to politics. He will first go to law school, either in St. Louis or in the East, and he plans to live in the St. Louis area afterwards. There is no doubt that if he wants to go into politics, he has a good head start. In addition to his personal reputation, he seems to have the politician's instincts. Bradley did not care much about playing in the East-West All-Star game which followed the NCAA finals, but he indicated his principal regret in missing the series against the Russians was not playing in one particular game -- in St. Louis. It seems, then, the Wichita game was Bradley's last college performance. As such, it left the legend intact, indeed, enhanced it. The reporters who would remember and embroider it, long after the fans had filed out of the Portland Coliseum, sat at the press desks searching for adequate superlatives to fill out their wrap-ups. While janitors pushed oversized brooms across the court and Western Union teletypists sped the early a.m.'s across the country, one reporter, a little behind his schedule, turned to a public relations official at the mimeograph machine, asking, "Hey, Tom, where's page two of those Bradley quotes?"