The Moral Re-Armament movie was over, and everything had turned out all right. The confused bishop, the embittered Negro and the golden-hearted prostitute had found God or at least had rediscovered Mr. Brown, a gabby young man who postulated morality with geometric certitude.
The audience filing out of the little hall on High Street in Oxford, England included Beatle-browed students, babes in arms and William Warren Bradley of Crystal City, Mo., the former Princeton basketball star, now a Rhodes scholar. Bradley's basketball eminence was partly attributable to a peripheral vision that spans 195°, and his presence at MRA's pop morality play was a function of an intellectual curiosity that spans 360°.
The light burns far into the night in Bradley's 12-by-l2 cubicle as he pursues the Oxford read-it-yourself regimen of politics, philosophy and economics. But his application to the task, like his perfection of the jump shot, is assiduous without being grim. To Bill Bradley, Oxford is, as he insists basketball was, a "phase" he must pass through. Apply himself he will, and enjoy himself, too, then pass on to a new phase. The trick, in a world so full of interesting things, is not to miss too much in passing. An essay, for example, can be worked on late tonight, or early tomorrow, or both. It is only a few hundred long strides from lunch with a grandson of Gandhi to The Gunfight at O.K. Corral, with things to contemplate on the way: How did Lindsay win in New York, and why would the Cards trade Groat and Boyer? "No, I've got almost seven minutes. What's your theory?" Interview Bill Bradley and be interviewed.
There being no compelling lecture that evening, Bradley might have sat in on the Nietzsche Society's consideration of man as a means or an end, "but I wouldn't want to before I've read Zarathustra." Or he could have sat around and talked with guys, preferably not American guys, "but that's not something you plan." Anyway, he was curious about MRA and about cricket, and he knew that the MRA film would be introduced by Conrad C. Hunte, a West Indian cricketer. It intrigues Bradley that Oxford's curbstone historians recall no one who took up cricket as late in life as 22 and succeeded, so he might try it. "Besides, when you've been practicing basketball a couple of hours every day since you were 9 you develop physical energies that have to be channeled. It's like taking dope: you can't just stop."
February 7, 1966
Hunte was billed as "the world's best opening batsman and a member of the World Eleven," so Bradley sought him out after the film. So did others.
"This is Bill Bradley," Hunte said, introducing him around. "He's the greatest basketball player of America." There being no hoop attached to a wall within 14 miles of the Carfax (old British for crossroads, the pedestrian peril at Oxford's main intersection), the Moral Re-Armers were unimpressed. Still, Hunte kept dribbling the name. Bradley maintained a wan smile that failed to mask the expression of a young man wishing he had found some guys to talk to—even American guys—or had curled up with a book.
Bradley falls short of the genius category, although he often was so described when his legend spilled over into the area of myth during his final year at Princeton. But he is too bright and too curious not to wonder whether he just might be the greatest basketball player in—or out of—America. The thought danced through his head when the New York Knickerbockers offered him all sorts of sugarplums to play pro basketball for a little while. It wasn't the money; he has mixed feelings about money. "But the NBA players are the best," he says. "You have to wonder if you could play with the best." Bradley still wonders, but he does his wondering inside a hair shirt of modesty. A comparison with Oscar Robertson, the only player generally assumed to be his better, would evoke from Bradley his most useful adjective, "absurd." His self-discipline is so rigid that it almost totally denies him use of the future tense when discussing Bill Bradley. He might, for example, emerge from Oxford a harmonica virtuoso, but he will consider it a violation of privacy to reveal that he is trying to master that instrument. It will be embarrassing, like Conrad Hunte's accolade to unproved attainment, because he hasn't done it yet.
Bradley has no more use for beer or wine than for some other four-letter words, but the experience of the MRA evening drove him to drink. On the walk back to his college he stopped at a cocktail lounge and drowned his uneasiness in an orange squash. He also devoured three bowls of potato chips. "That's the first time that's happened since I've been here," he said, referring to the Hunte business. "I've met quite a few people, but they just know me as a guy. It's been really great."
Hunte's name-dropping had reminded him of the extravagant final winter at Princeton, when freshmen would brag, "I saw him," and sophomores would point out Dodge-Osborn as "the place where Bill Bradley lives." Bradley mimicked his worshipers for a moment, then apologized. "I didn't mind it too much, but I'd rather have been known as a human being."
By 10:45 that night the orange squash was gone and an anxious waiter had spirited away the remaining chips. Bradley excused himself, saying he had to go back and "refine" his weekly economics essay. He refined until 2:30, a nicety he could not afford at Princeton, where the 1964 Olympic Games consumed the first part of his senior year and the NCAA Tournament nibbled at the second semester. He spoke of basketball then as "a relief from the academic load," and he graduated with honors in history. But now, tutored in P.P.E. by Oxford dons, whose knack it is to make a student's most abstruse finding seem elementary, Bradley was reflecting soberly that "most of my work at Princeton was done on deadline."
"I'd say, Sir," says the new Rhodes scholar in Oxford Life by Dacre Balsdon, "that I was below average all around.... That's the impression which, somehow, Oxford gives you about yourself."
"Which shows," replies his tutor, "that you are an unusually perceptive young man."
"Look, I have no qualms about having played basketball," Bradley said, urgently correcting an impression that he blamed the game for an "inadequate" (he later withdrew the word) preparation for Oxford. "The game has done so much for me. Look at the places I've been, for one thing." Tokyo and Tel Aviv and Portland, Ore., but the question remains whether basketball has done more for Bill Bradley or vice versa.
Bradley is the only Rhodes scholar a lot of young Americans have ever heard of. That is remarkable, inasmuch as 32 Yanks bright enough to change trains at Didcot have found their way to Oxford each year since Cecil Rhodes decided that a) he couldn't take it with him and b) the colonies should be welcomed back to the Commonwealth in the spirit of Anglo-Saxon supremacy. More remarkable is the fact that Bradley is the first basketball player a number of older Americans ever heard of. That is the valid measure of the notoriety that engulfed him during the climactic weeks at Princeton—and the reason why he finds it a quiet delight to walk alone on Cornmarket Street, just a guy.
When somebody calls the sports desk to ask for an Ivy League basketball result, he only wants to know who won. He won't ask the score, because he's not a bettor. The Ivies play each other, like the Cabots speaking only to the Lodges, and nobody cares except the people who went there. That's the way it was, and the way it will be again. But for a few implausible weeks in 1965 housewives who wouldn't walk across the street to see the Celtics were asking breathlessly in the night how Princeton made out, and isn't that ridiculous? The whole script is ridiculous.
Kid from Smalltown, U.S.A., see. Boy next door. Turns down 75 athletic scholarships to go to Princeton on his own, because it bothers him people stoning the embassies and all and he wants to do something about it. No smoke, no drink, teaches Sunday school. Real square, but what a basketball player. No goon—6 feet 5 is about right—but he can do it all because he practices two, three hours a day since he's 9. So Princeton wins the Ivy League easy and everybody says so what. But in the NCAA...
"Morty, would you settle for the NIT? No? Well, then let's have them lose in the semis, just for some heartbreak. Then in the consolation game the kid puts on a show, how he could of busted all the records if he wasn't so unselfish. Then the Knicks offer him the Triborough Bridge to turn pro, and he wants to, but he wins a Rhodes scholarship. Morfy, this stuff don't go unless you got Jack Oakie and some broads. Who cares from basketball, anyway?"
But it happened, and people cared from basketball, people who never did before and never will again. See Bradley and forget it. Somebody will come along someday who can make the moves more fluidly and shoot the shots more accurately. But the difference will be marginal, hardly worth watching 1,000 games while waiting. It would be as pointless as waiting for the coming of a second Willie Mays.
Willie and Bill are about as different as two great athletes can be. Willie's style is as precipitous as Bill's is decorous, Willie's personality as uncomplicated as Bill's is complex. Yet they share a rare gift: the capacity to emanate the sheer joy of playing a game. Bradley would say "absurd" to any such psychological analysis of a game that can be played by small boys at recess time, an endeavor unrelated to the serious business of mankind. "What am I, after all?" he says. "lean put a ball in a hoop. What does that mean, really? Did you read Rabbit, Run! You can't live in the past."
Crystal logic. But get him talking about the shots, and listen, and watch. It begins dispassionately enough. "The set," he says, "is the one I practiced most, my best shot. The jump is the one you use most often. But the hook...." And now the eyes narrow, almost close. Bradley presses his palms together, draws back his right elbow, then swings his joined forearms in a long, slow arc to the left. "The hook—that's sculpture. That's poetry. It has everything."
Lyrics by Bill Bradley, talking about a process of putting a ball through a hoop. The tone could be that of John F. Kennedy, talking about the presidency very near the end of his life and invoking a Hellenic definition of happiness: full use of your powers in an effort to achieve excellence.
Bill Bradley experienced excellence, and fat cigar smokers in Philadelphia's Palestra felt it with him. He sculpted hook shots, and ladies from Camden stepped back to admire the work. And the growing Bradley cult could be smug in the knowledge that he could, anytime, be vastly better. "I could have scored more," Bradley acknowledges, "but would that have been better? We were a young team and had to develop. If I'd shot more I suppose we could have won the Ivy League anyway. But to be the best we had to be a team."
The smugness of the cult was vindicated ultimately in the final eight minutes of Bradley's final game, the NCAA consolation against Wichita State. With victory secured, Bradley expected to come out. He lacks, he says, the "killer instinct" and never had a taste for running up a score on an outclassed opponent. But Coach Bill van Breda Kolff would not shortchange the cult, and when Bradley's teammates began returning the passes he gave them, he had little choice but to shoot. By the end of the game he had scored 58 points and the NCAA tournament record book was outdated, but the numbers were of secondary significance. If a basketball shot is an art form, this was the first public exhibition of the Bradley Collection.
Bradley made sets, long and short, jumps, hooks with both hands. And there were others that defied description. The footage of those minutes, included in a film produced at Princeton, is a demonstration of excellence fully realized.
Yet this game seldom enters the dialogue about "Bradley's greatest game." Opinion is usually divided between his 40-point effort as a sophomore in an 82-81 defeat by St. Joseph's and a 41-point performance in an 80-78 loss to Michigan in the Holiday Festival of 1964. His own choice, however, reflects the sincerity of his dedication to the team. "Our best game," he says, "was against Providence." Princeton was a heavy underdog in that third round of the NCAA last year, and the best the cult could hope for was that the result wouldn't be too embarrassing in Bradley's last game, on TV and all. It was embarrassing, all right—to Providence. Princeton won by 40 points. "Bob Haarlow shut out his man," Bradley says. "The guy had a 10- or 12-point average and Haarlow shut him out. We had them right from the start. I think they led 6-4, but after that it was all over. Yeah, I guess we had a killer instinct for that one. It was an exception. We had something to prove."
Bradley himself had nothing to prove after the Holiday Festival. Though Princeton won only the first round, he was chosen Most Valuable Player over Michigan's Cazzie Russell. Against the best, before a basketball grand jury, he had answered all the questions, including some quibbles: great shooter, sure, but would he be strong enough under the boards, or tough enough? Only 205 pounds and not big in the shoulders—big enough? In the opening game he almost nudged a Syracuse player into the seats after he had become "handsy." The player had no way of knowing that Bradley not only knows how to play the game rough, but with limitations, likes it that way. "I think there should be contact allowed," he says. "Especially when a guy doesn't have the ball." Bradley encountered all the contact one man could use as opponent after opponent rigged defenses for him and many tried to jostle him into the retaliation that would hasten his exit. "I learned a lesson about that when I was a freshman," Bradley says. "We were playing Manhattan, and we got ahead 17-2. It got close later, about two points, and a guy did a real dirty thing to me. I lost my temper and really gave it to him—not anything dirty, but hard, you know? That was my fourth personal, and a little while later I fouled out. We lost by two points."
For the rest of his college career Bradley was "aggressive enough," but he never lost his head, as Rudyard Kipling counsels. (Bradley knows the words to If and thinks they should be set to music.) He averaged 30.1 points a game, and his conduct against the gang jobs was tough enough for the fat cigar smoker but neat enough for the lady from Camden.
After the Michigan game in the Holiday Festival, Bradley had nowhere to hide. The cult increased a hundredfold that week, and he became a public issue. Whether the public wanted to know or not, it had to be told how many left-handed hook shots Bradley took in warming up, how many inches behind his right foot he positioned his left for a foul shot and to what extent his jump shot was an imitation of Jerry West's. Bradley got through such interviews with only a mild case of ennui, because he likes to talk about basketball. But then he had to move on to the next phase—the one that makes him relish being at Oxford, an asylum of anonymity. Reporters peeked under uniform No. 42 and found a human being the likes of which they had never seen in a locker room. First of all, he called everybody Mr. This is not unprecedented. Ron Fairly, for instance, did it for almost a week after he got his bonus from the Los Angeles Dodgers, but Bradley continues to do so even when he is asked not to ("it's like biting your fingernails: a hard habit to break"). He was a guy wise for his years without being a wise guy, religious without being an evangelist. He seemed, in a four-letter Anglo-Saxon word long dulled by misuse, good. It couldn't be that simple, but reporters kept failing to uncover flaws. Replying to questions, with a firmness so gentle that few noticed he wasn't answering at all, his soft answers turned away wrath like James Stewart in Harvey, saying, "What did you have in mind?" When asked what he meant when he said he wanted to be of service to his fellow man, Bradley said:
"Don't you think sir, that there are some things a man ought to keep to himself?" He was telling reporters to mind their business, and they were charmed by his manner.
"Beautiful," said one veteran New York newspaperman after his first interview with Bradley. "Of course, there isn't anybody like that." Said another, usually not given to praise: "In 25 years or so our Presidents are going to have to be better than ever. It's nice to know that Bill Bradley will be available."
Bradley kept some things to himself, but the extrapolations continued. Well before his 22nd birthday Bradley had been placed in jeopardy of being marked a failure if he were not at least governor of Missouri by his 40th birthday. The projections were truly absurd, therefore embarrassing, and they forced the partial withdrawal of a naturally social personality.
The hairs on the outboard half of Bradley's left eyebrow grow straight up, a configuration that might have been wrought by an elbow under a rebound. "No, I was born this way," he says. "I can remember my mother working for hours, with oil and everything, combing it down. It would stay for a little while and then—boing!" If the right eyebrow matched, the symmetry would give a Mephistophelean effect that would look ridiculous over such a Joe College face. As it is, he appears curious, skeptical and suspicious. The first quality is inherent and the second a healthy development, but the third is an affliction. The price of privacy is eternal vigilance, and Bradley regards any question as a possible invasion.
"He has a way," says Mike Smith, center on Princeton's unbeaten football team of 1964, "of making you feel like that." (Smith, also a Rhodes scholar, rooms across the hall from Bradley, although they agree "we didn't plan it that way.")
Bradley also has a way of blunting questions that might trap him into discussions of Bradley. Armed with an acute sense of the ridiculous, he puts on little filibusters of facetiousness. Asked in a clearly academic context what his final average was at Princeton, he will say, "Oh, about 30 points a game." Or he will kill a few minutes this way: "If I have a little boy I'm going to put up a little basket on his crib when he's 2 and make him shoot an hour every day. When he's 5 he'll have to get up early and run, five miles..."
He's "probably" going to law school after Oxford, and he's "still interested" in a diplomatic career. What avenues has he abandoned? "I don't want to be a doctor." Did he ever? "No. They have to get up in the middle of the night. Well, in Crystal City they do. Not in cold, impersonal New York—excuse me. That wasn't even especially funny."
His personal values: "I want to have a million dollars and a big house." Figures he admires from his study of history: "Mark Hanna, John D. Rockefeller...."
Bradley does not, in fact, knock money, but neither does he allow it to be a factor in the choice of his life work. In the autumn of 1964 he was simultaneously weighing the Knickerbockers' offer and being weighed by the Rhodes scholarship committee. The prospect of testing his full powers was tempting (an adjective he rejected because it had negative connotations, then decided it didn't). But Bradley sees in too much money, too soon, pitfalls such as he feared in the "transitory" fame of Princeton. "I admire a guy who has the ability to make money," he says. "Suppose a guy writes a book at 24 and it makes a million dollars. That's great, because his ability is established. But if you're an entertainer or an athlete you have only so many productive years. Then what do you do?"
The temptation dissolved when Bradley was advised, just before Christmas, that he had been elected a Rhodes scholar. It was during the exhaustive interviews by the committee, which asks funny questions, that he had suspected he would like Oxford. They asked one prospective student to make a list of the greatest popular songwriters. At the end of one session a committee member asked Bradley, by the way, had he ever played any sports? (Evidently academic lip service to Point Two of Cecil Rhodes's prescription for candidates: "his fondness for and success in manly outdoor sports.") Hot Rod Hundley might have asked the committee member if he had heard about the gold strike at Sutter's Mill, but Bradley quietly rejoiced in the likelihood that almost nobody at Oxford would know who he was and that those who did wouldn't care. A man 6 feet 5 is difficult to conceal in Oxford, especially if his hair does not cascade to his collar and if he is bundled up like a little boy whose mother has sent him out to play in the snow. Yet Bill Bradley can thread his way among the ladies with the shopping bags on the narrow sidewalks of Cornmarket Street and, except for the Greentree Stable colors of the Worcester College scarf, be just a guy. The committee member's question made the decision easier, and so did the Knicks' management. "I'm really grateful to Mr. [Ned] Irish," Bradley says. "They said they understood, and they didn't push me."
However extraordinary a kid Bill Bradley is, he is refreshingly a kid, often amused by things inscrutable to those presumably old and sophisticated enough to analyze him. In the midst of a discussion of J. S. Mill's refinement of Bentham's utilitarianism he may suddenly extend a hand in a slip-me-some-skin gesture or burst into a German submarine captain's spiel. He also eats like a kid. With palate unjaded by tobacco or alcohol, he approaches a table with the optimism he would carry into a one-on-one situation against Yale. The food at Worcester College is included in the tuition, eat it or not. A Rhodes scholar receives ¬£900 a year, or about $2,520. "You could make it on $1,400," Bradley says, "if you ate all your meals in the hall."
However, Bradley often forages for food outside the walls of the college. He has found an Indian restaurant where the curry is greasy enough to vindicate American corruption of the recipe, but the price is right. Two hotels in town feed well when they are cooking in English instead of trying to imitate French and Italian dishes, but Bradley recoils in principle from a menu that says "lunch from 15s [about $2.10]."
There is, of course, tea, a meal between meals. It is bad form to finish all the little sandwiches, buttered bread and biscuits served with tea for two, but Bradley, with only a little help, can do it. And then select "one of those and one of those and one of those" when the waiter comes by with the pastry cart.
Torn between quality and quantity, Bradley succumbed to the latter. "I found this place," he said as he devoured breakfast, "where they give you a piece of steak, french fries, pork and beans, a salad...." Such a Lucullan feast, it was suggested, must have shattered his budget. "No," he said, "it's only eight shillings odd."
Like a buck fifteen. On a side street Bradley had discovered a restaurant any child of the Depression would have recognized as a greasy spoon, an enterprise conceived in venality and dedicated to the proposition that in any town—especially any college town—there is a considerable element of the populace that has a steak appetite and a cheeseburger wallet. He had been eating there for three days. It was suggested there might be some correlation between his diet and a digestion problem he was having, and logic prevailed over passion. "But, boy," Bradley said, "they sure give you a lot."
In the off-guard moments, when he forgets to be facetious, Bradley will admit he has drawn certain impressions (not, please, conclusions) from history. He admires the principled Gladstone. "He wasn't afraid to make his religious conviction felt in the area of statecraft. Even when he was Prime Minister he wasn't ashamed to go into the slums and talk to prostitutes, to try to convert them." Bradley the statecraftsman would temper Gladstonian idealism with the pragmatism of Bismarck, who was running political power plays from a split-compromise formation in the same period. "He was practical," Bradley says. "Never have a war if you can bluff your way out of it. But I'd rather not talk about them. I admire them, but I really haven't read enough about them to draw conclusions." Gladstone, like the harmonica, must not be discussed until he has been mastered. One must be sure. In art, Bradley thinks he knows what he likes, but no Impressionism adorns his wall and none will "until I find something that really has a meaning to me." To do otherwise would be like reading Herzog "because everybody is."
Bradley is not short of opinions. When the talk is off the record he is not reluctant to express decided views, and he can harass an antagonist with a polemic all-court press. But in this phase there are things a man ought to keep to himself, and there is so much to be learned from others.
In St. Albans, a satellite of London, a Mr. Turcotte was pointing out the "umbrella" ceiling in the restaurant. Only two of its type left in England. Twelfth century. "I like the way they've replaced the old beams," Bradley said. "They haven't made any pretense. You can tell which are new, but that helps you appreciate the old ones."
St. Albans, Mr. Turcotte had said, had a population of about 50,000. "How many Negroes are there?" Bradley asked. "Three hundred," Mr. Turcotte said gravely, "and in a few years there'll be five times that." It seemed to Bradley that England, only now facing a situation the U.S. has had for 200 years, might profit by our mistakes. "Oh, it is a problem." Mr. Turcotte said.
"What are you worried about?" Bradley asked. "Is it just housing?" That was the principal thing, Mr. Turcotte said. Property values, you know. "I'll tell you," he added. "The races weren't meant to live together, and it won't work." Ever? "No, never."
Passing through Leighton Buzzard on the way back to Oxford, Bradley was asked his opinion of Mr. Turcotte. "A very interesting man," he said, "from several points of view." Thank you, Mr. President.
If Bradley ever does make it to the White House, he'll probably be late for the Inauguration. The conductors were slamming the doors of the 8:55 express to London—reasonably, for it was 8:55—when a large personage barged into the Oxford station, scattering commuters. With a last great bound, like Kelso at the wire, he mounted the train and slumped against a compartment, his chest heaving. "Ah, Mr. Bradley," a bespectacled gentleman said. Breathlessly Bradley acknowledged the tutor's introduction of his wife. He would be delighted, he said, to join them for breakfast, but "I...I have to talk to these guys." He also had to dress. "Hold this," Bradley said, peeling his coat at the door of a men's lavatory. "I hope I have a tie in my pocket."
He had, but his shirt was totally unbuttoned, and the tails hung out. "Wanna know where I was 10 minutes ago?" Let us guess. In bed? "Yeah. It's a good thing I had my clothes hung on the door. It was 13 minutes to 9 when I woke up."
The expedition to London was to pick up the one trunk and two crates of books Bradley had shipped himself—about half a ton, or so it seemed, lugging them through the mud of the Worcester College campus. As well as things like Russian history, the shipment included a four-year agglomeration of the books he wants to read when he gets around to it. In what order? "Don Quixote, maybe. The Idiot. A lot of Shaw. But I don't know. Maybe I'll start with Catfish and Crystal. That's a history of St. Louis."
Bradley's touch of Missourian provincialism is irreconcilable with the scope of his international enthusiasms. His greatest thrill of an Olympic experience that thrilled him greatly was the closing ceremony, when the athletes, instead of marching in national groups, were allowed to straggle into the stadium with whom they chose. Bradley chose two Italian guys. (Forewarned that Oxford students often find themselves in more clubs than there are evenings in a term, Bradley was selective, joining only five. One is Cosmos, a United Nations group, another the Afro-Asian Club.)
Though the only Italian word Bradley seems to have learned is ciao (roughly, hello or goodby), the friendship with the Italian guys endured in mutually laborious French and forged the remaining link between Bradley and basketball. He commutes to the Continent to play for Simmenthal, a Milanese team sponsored by a meat-canning firm. It is an amateur team, and Bradley signed nothing but the equivalent of AAU credentials. If Simmenthal goes all the way in the European Cup eliminations, Bradley will have played 10 games.
The newspaper Il Giorno read as if Bradley's debut in Milan had taken place in La Scala: "A first-rank opera tenor would have envied the personal ovation that saluted him when his extraordinary personal recital ended." He scored 36 points as Simmenthal breezed 103-73 over Giessen of West Germany, but Bradley hopes the guys in the NBA won't think he's trying to kid anybody about the quality of basketball played for the European Cup. The guys will be happy to know Bradley's style hasn't changed. The man from Il Giorno, used to steady ack-ack by Italian stars, noted Bradley's "masterfulness in stirring the play of his teammates."
Had he safaried his books back from London in time—characteristically he had budgeted half enough time—Bradley would have practiced at an Air Force base 15 miles from Oxford. The Oxford University team practices once a week, and Bradley tries to make it. In eight weeks he succeeded once; of the first 10 games he played two, missing one because there was southern-fried chicken to be had elsewhere. The Oxford team is ultra-amateur: the guys chip in for transportation to places where they can find teams to play, and sometimes the teams actually show up.
Unless Bradley upsets the traditions of cricket, he can never win his Blue. Pete Dawkins of West Point made it in Rugby, and Mike Smith might, but basketball is only a Half Blue sport.
"A Blue what?" In no Oxford gathering is this a bright question to ask, and the questioner is often made to feel like Oliver Twist.
"Well, a Blue helps a chap get on, you know," the chap in the bowler said. "It's as important as a First, really." A First is Oxford's top scholastic rating for a B.A. You get your B.A. with a second, third or fourth, but you don't bring it up when you're standing for Parliament.
A Blue is nothing. It is a varsity letter you don't get. It is the psychology of the Army-Navy game carried to an illogical extreme. Play in The Match against Cambridge and you're a Blue; miss it, you're a face in the crowd. It is as if Dick Kazmaier had pulled a hamstring each year and missed the Yale game. Sorry, Richard. You understand, old man. It happened this year to D. M. White, a Scot who was a whizzer for the Oxford Rugby team. He was hurt and missed The Match for the third year in a row. It's a bloody shame, you know, but he'll get no Blue.
Bradley suffers no no-Blue blues, but there are those energies to channel. He runs 45 minutes every day he can, "because running is the only exercise that counts." Running is exercise, but basketball practice is an experience. He might have practiced in the evening after that London expedition, but there was a previous engagement at a place where a person was going to bake brownies. (It is only a presumption, but one concludes that when Bradley does not describe a person as a guy he is talking about a girl.) Shooting baskets alone in a dim, drafty airplane hangar may not seem a reasonable alternative to solitaire or The Beverly Hillbillies, but Bill Bradley is never alone when he has a basketball.
They have always looked so sad, the kids shooting baskets alone on the concrete courts beside the Long Island Rail Road at dusk, missing and chasing the ball and trying again. They will not look so sad again. Bradley must have looked that way in his backyard in Crystal City, and so he looks in a dreary airplane hangar in England. Maybe it began as the protective artifice of an only child, but he always has friends with him, and foes.
"All-court press," he tells himself as he brings the ball up the court. "Reverse pivot, go left and shoot a jump shot, 18 feet." Bouncing the ball tentatively at the foul line, he is in Dillon Gymnasium. "A point behind, three seconds to go, one-and-one. Miss, you take three laps." Swish, swish, and Princeton wins again.
If he misses he takes the three laps. This most coachable of athletes speaks of his coaches as he speaks of his parents, gratefully and proudly. Arvel Popp in high school, who wouldn't use a 6-foot-5 kid up front because he wouldn't learn the whole game. Ed Macauley at the summer camp, who taught him the set shot and something else: that when you aren't practicing, somebody else is. Van Breda Kolff at Princeton, who earned an Oscar pretending Bradley was just another player and became "a guy we'll always want to go back and see." But it began with Jerry Ryan in the seventh grade, perhaps the day Bradley was conspicuously absent from practice.
"I was den chief in the Cub Scouts," Bradley recalls, "and we had a meeting. Mr. Ryan called and said that if I wasn't there in half an hour I was off the team. I was there." He was there every morning at 7:45 and stayed late every afternoon. In the eighth grade they played 20 games and won them all, with Mr. Popp watching.
Mr. Popp was watching an end for his football team, just as Casey Stengel would have seen a pitcher. Bradley did become a pitcher in high school, just good enough to win, but he never became an end. "My parents weren't keen about my playing football," he says. "But there was no big issue about it. I just didn't play."
In most high schools a boy who doesn't come out for one sport is less likely to succeed in another, but Mr. Popp was content to eat cake. "He'd keep me practicing after the others left," Bradley says. "He knew I'd stay until he put the lights out anyway. No, guilty isn't the word, but I knew he wanted me to play football, and I wanted to show him I could be in as good shape as the football players. I think now that one reason for my success as a shooter is that I didn't play football. I had those extra months of practice."
It is not true that Bradley practiced two or three hours every day. In high school there was baseball in April and May and he sort of fooled around in June, so he didn't get to serious practice until July. As a sophomore at Princeton he was the first baseman, and he batted .316. "But I hadn't developed enough to make it worthwhile. I could concentrate on basketball, but baseball I just played."
So he concentrated on basketball. "The weeks I missed a day of practice," he says, "I could count on one hand. Well, two hands." During the summer of 1964 he developed a routine of persisting with each shot until he'd made 10 of 13. "That was so I could get practice done in an hour. When I had time I used to work on a shot until I'd made 25 in a row." The Olympic Games were going to shrink his senior year, so Bradley had to have a head start on his thesis, an examination of Harry Truman's senatorial campaign of 1940. It was a summer spent largely in dusty newspaper files, but there was always an hour. The hour was never drudgery. It was fun, and it channeled those energies.
Recently Bradley had as energy-channeling a day as one finds in the first year at Oxford. There was a film of ice on the Thames, but the sky was blue. Oxford was going to play Cambridge in what Bradley called The American Touch Football Championship of Europe.
Cambridge didn't show, but the Oxford team got on the Rugby field of Corpus Christi College and began throwing passes, the way guys do. Bradley began his energy-channeling by running along the perimeter of the field. He was still jogging and hadn't touched a ball after 10 minutes, when someone yelled, "Hey, Bill!" and let fly. On the sideline an American student had been trying to explain the game to his English girl friend, and he was giving up. "That's Bill Bradley," he said, pointing to the sweat-suited figure running along the far sideline. "Oh, yes," the girl said vaguely. "He's a legend, isn't he?"
In a second the girl saw a flicker of the legend Mr. Popp had envisioned back in Crystal City. The pass was thrown badly, behind Bradley. Without breaking stride he reached back languidly with his left hand and the ball rested there, vertically. He loped along for five more strides, holding the ball aloft as if he were carrying the Olympic torch, then gathered it in. He gathered in eight more before he missed.
The boys back in the NFL should not be misled about the quality of the intrasquad game on the playing field at Oxford that day. Sweat shirts that said things like Williams and Navy didn't elevate it from the Central Park class. But, for the record, Bradley scored two of his team's touchdowns and set up the other with an interception. They won. "Eighteen-nil," an English student told his companion, then added: "Inscrutable, isn't it?"
It would be absurd to rate a football player off one choose-up game of touch on a Sunday afternoon. All right, it's absurd, but there are guys who can learn table tennis in the morning and beat the teacher in the afternoon. Nobody would have bet the young Mickey Mantle couldn't have made a living as a halfback, and nobody should bet Bradley couldn't be a tight end.
Or a cricket Blue? Probably not, because, as he was aware when he and his parents were sifting those 75 scholarship offers (only to choose Princeton without a scholarship), there are so many things more important than sports. Bradley bristled at a suggestion that Rhodes might rotate in his resting place if he could see Ghanaian students strolling through the Oxford where he intended diamonds should be the Anglo-Saxon's best friend. "He had a few other things in mind," Bradley says.
Things like these: "his qualities of manhood, truth, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship; and his exhibition during school days of moral force of character and of instincts to lead and take an interest in his schoolmates, for those latter attributes will be likely in afterlife to guide him to esteem the performance of public duties as his highest aim."
Mr. Rhodes, meet Mr. Bradley. Hear him on his way home from the Olympics tell students at Chung Chi (in Hong Kong) and Tunghai (in Taiwan) that both conformity and nonconformity betray shortages of moral courage. "I mean you don't have to go out and get stoned because everybody does." (To Bradley the everybody-does rationale is "the opiate of multiplicity," a phrase he heard in a sermon.)
Oh, he's naive. With an undeveloped sense of the obscene, Bradley occasionally employs a colorful British term the American equivalent of which would never pass his lips. In a bucket-of-blood pub near the London docks he did not notice the double takes of the dockwallopers when he ordered an orange squash and he pronounced the place "nice." It was a nice place to get maimed, but Bradley liked it because the sandwiches were big.
In the 20th century we like our Renaissance man to be one of the boys, so maybe Bradley needs a trip around the block, a sort of weekend with Zorba. Or maybe, as time in his company hauntingly suggests, adventures into the vulgar are not as profitable as we who have been around the block tell each other. Maybe it is good to be good. Maybe it's even practical.
Dacre Balsdon has been at Oxford since 1920 and a don since 1928. In Oxford Life he is incisive about the university's function, devout about its purpose and humorous about both. "The don who once told a startled collection of mediocre undergraduates that Oxford was a waste of time for anyone who did not get a First or a Blue," he writes, "was not entirely stupid. There is no particular virtue in being second-class, even if that is the fate of most of us."
If it is the fate of William Warren Bradley, perhaps we should all go back to the drawing board.