When Charles Bradley was a child, his mother called him "Tub" because he was wider than he was high. Today the tub holds a full load: 6'5", 215 pounds of muscle upon rippling muscle. Bradley's short bulldog nose, dark mustache and furrowed brow give him a game face that clearly says, "Don't mess with me." If Bradley were a football player, the announcer would say he was "looking for someone to hit."
But because Bradley's game is basketball—he is a guard for the University of Wyoming—the chances are the hurt will be laid on the backboard. "I've shattered two backboards and torn down I don't know how many rims," he says. "I tell myself, 'Don't throw it down so hard,' but it doesn't seem hard to me. I don't think I'm mean, I just like to establish my physicalness quickly."
And woe to the man who gets in his way. "We have a couple of plays where we lob it up to the basket and he jams that sucker right in there," says Cowboys Coach Jim Brandenburg. "One time somebody's going to go up with him to try and stop it, and Charles will break the guy's arm and slam it through the rim with the ball."
Aggressive play—he had 14 slam dunks in unbeaten Wyoming's first four games—has helped make Bradley a two-time All-Western Athletic Conference performer. Last season he outpolled some far more publicized players like Brigham Young's Danny Ainge and Utah's Danny Vranes.
For all his pugnacity on the court, Bradley is a peaceable man off it. He even wears glasses and plays chess, for goodness sake. Polite and respectful, he says "Sir" and "Ma'am" to adults. Kids love him. His major is elementary education and he serves as a teacher's aide in two Laramie schools. "I've never worked with a star athlete before so I was worried about how he'd fit in," says Mrs. Ruth Wilson, a teacher. "But with these kids he's only been kind and gentle." Says Glenna Barrett, a 9-year-old pupil, "He's nice. I like him. We have fun." Bradley's affinity for kids has made him something of a Pied Piper, attracting smiles and waves in stores and supermarkets and mobs of little friends after games.
Returning from Nebraska on Nov. 29, after a game in which he contributed 14 points to a 62-59 overtime victory, Bradley took the sons of the coaching staff to his apartment to spend the night. "They cooked popcorn and watched television and he brought them to practice the next day," says Brandenburg. "He's truly a class person, a son to me and my family."
"I feel a responsibility to children, and fortunately I'm in a position where they listen to me and care about what I have to say," Bradley says. One of six brothers and sisters, Bradley, 21, grew up in Edgewood, Md., about 15 miles northeast of Baltimore. Although his father died when he was two, Charles found role models in his three older brothers, William, Carl and Dudley. In 1974-75, Charles, Carl and Dudley all started on an Edgewood High team that won a state championship. Tragically, barely a month later Carl died of a heart attack during a recreation league game. Dudley went on to star at North Carolina and now plays for the Indiana Pacers. William, a graduate of Towson (Md.) State, is applying to law school.
When it was time for Charles to choose a college, he rejected North Carolina because "I had always been 'Dudley's little brother,' and that was his school. I needed to go somewhere I could grow up on my own."
He found it some 1,600 miles away from home, at the foot of the Snowy Range in Wyoming. After the spring break in his freshman year, Bradley discovered that the coach who recruited him, Don DeVoe, had moved on to Tennessee. And he was still trying to adjust to Western life in Laramie.
"After my freshman year I just wanted to get out," Bradley recalls. "There was no downtown, no social life and the program was down in the dirt. Then Coach Brandenburg came in."
As Bradley became more comfortable with Western ways, his scoring average rose from 13.7 as a freshman to 15.7 as a sophomore to 19.1 last year. So far this season it's 16.5. "I just realized that by being in Laramie I had to make a big sacrifice," he says. "Stuff like a downtown and social life aren't important now. I've got school and basketball, which I wouldn't have if I took the wine and women. Now I just stay home a lot."
Home for Bradley is an off-campus apartment he shares with teammate Kenneth Ollie. With its wall-to-wall carpeting, stereo system and 23-inch color television, in addition to the portable color set and king-sized waterbed in his bedroom, there's little reason for Bradley to want to go anywhere else. There's still enough of the city kid in Bradley that he only recently bought his first pair of Wrangler jeans and cowboy boots, explaining, "They're in style now so I can get away with wearing them back East."
When Bradley returns to Maryland in the summer, he plays in Washington, D.C.'s Urban Coalition League with Dudley. Although big bro' is the pro, Charles supplies the muscle. "I don't think I can really get hurt, but I worry about him," Charles says. "I tell other teams that they can cheap-shot me all they want, but don't mess with Dudley."
At Wyoming, as a tri-captain and self-appointed team leader, Bradley screams instructions to teammates and is free with advice to opponents, too. Given his size, no one is likely to take much offense. "I think my size scares 'em, but the only time I feel mean is when I'm having a bad game," Bradley says. "Then I get upset and want to go out and break the backboard."
But sometimes the backboard doesn't give, as Bradley discovered last Thursday in a 73-51 win over Stanford. Although the Cowboys held a commanding lead, Bradley hadn't played particularly well, scoring only three points in the first half. He tried to atone early in the second half on a breakaway after a steal. Bradley shook the crowd at Memorial Fieldhouse with a thunderous dunk, but almost knocked himself unconscious in the process by banging his head on the bolts that attach the rim to the backboard. He returned briefly near the end of the game, sporting a huge knot over his left eye. "All I remember was going after the ball and then sitting on the bench and asking if we were winning," Bradley said afterward. "I guess I'll have to get off on the second floor instead of jumping all the way to the fourth from now on."
With that, Charles Bradley reached into his locker, put on his glasses and went back into the arena to say "Hi" to his little friends.