I had a date with a 15-year-old brunette in Paris, and I was waiting for her in the lounge when the old Aussie hero came in, took a Perrier at the bar and spotted me across the way. It had been a long time, so he sauntered over and sat down and we caught up on one another. "What're ya doing here?" he asked, gesturing at my tools of accuracy. They lay on the table, my pad and pen.
"Waiting to interview the kid—Gabriela Sabatini," I said, and he nodded. Then, like a flash, it hit me. The man sitting before me, Tony Roche, had been the first athlete I ever wrote a feature story on for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. He was 17 at the time. I discovered Tony Roche. One freezing day in Philadelphia, in what became a blizzard, I interviewed him, and here he was 22 years later, at 40, a coach now, while I, with my pad and pen out, was waiting to interview another teenager.
I started to say something about this—the more things change, and all that—but, mercifully for Tony, I stopped myself before I could bore him with a lot of pointless vocational nostalgia. As my first profile, Roche had done pretty well by me. He never did quite become the world champion he longed to be, but he won one Grand Slam singles title and a dozen Grand Slam doubles and spent a decade near the top of the world rankings. Here he was now, an honored name in his profession, sipping a Perrier one glorious spring day in Gay Paree. That's not bad for a kid from Tarcutta, New South Wales; and that's not a bad subject for a kid writer from Baltimore to break his maiden on. And so we chatted awhile longer, until Gabriela swept in, and Tony left her to me.
Probably the most curious phenomenon that anybody in the permanent cadre of sports—not just the journalists, but the officials, the promoters, the trainers, all of us support troops—must deal with is that the truly important members of the cast, the players, never grow older. Oh, particular players do, of course, but the cohort is always the same, ever youthful. It's you that ages. I imagine it's like being a school teacher and always having fifth grade.
In sports, whole professional lifetimes pass before you—unknowns who become rookies, who become established, who become stars, who lose a step, who get released. All of a sudden they're coaching other rookies, kids who have every step God ever gave them.
Over the years I have done stories on a lot of young athletes like Tony Roche, athletes who had all their steps, who had, as we say, just arrived, standing at the threshold of glory. I decided to pick out four of them, champions all, and go back and visit them. I would ask them where they'd come from and where they are now and how it's been, changing.
I first met Bobby Orr one summer's day in 1966 in Parry Sound, Ont. when he was 18 years old. I saw him play a couple of times in the NHL, but I never spoke to him again until I met him the other day at his office in Boston.
It's most curious to do the first story on someone and never write another word about him, even though that someone became the best and most significant player in his game. It was a fluke that first brought me to Parry Sound. In those days the Boston Bruins were the dregs, perennially the NHL's worst. The Boston Celtics were, then as now, the elite of pro basketball, and because I covered the NBA, I spent a great deal of time in the company of the Boston sports press. Late at night, when there was absolutely not another word to say about Russell or Heinsohn or the Jones boys, somebody would mention Bobby Orr, and then the Boston writers, in hushed voices, would confidently tell tales of the future. They would talk about the day when Bobby Orr, who was 15 or 16 years old and playing junior hockey in some Canadian backwater, would come to Boston, become the greatest player in the world and lead the Bruins to the Stanley Cup. Imagine getting carried away like this about a 15-year-old snot-nosed kid.
Still, you never know. Maybe the Boston writers could get it right for once. And so it was on a summer day 19 years ago that Leo Monahan of the old Boston Record-American and I set out for Parry Sound to find the wonder child. The night before, in a motel, Leo and I drank some beers and he tried to explain hockey to me, blue lines and high-sticking and stuff. Finally I said: "Leo, is this kid really this good?"
"Yes, he is," Leo said. That scared me, to tell you the truth. Not to be obvious or sacrilegious, but I felt a little like the wise men must have.
We found our way to Parry Sound the next morning and went into the coffee shop. After breakfast, we asked our waitress if she knew where the Orrs' house was. Yes, she said. In fact, she lived at that particular address. The waitress was Bobby's mother.
Bobby turned out to be fresh-faced, with a crew cut. I show him the old magazine photograph now, and he laughs: "Well, those haircuts are coming back." He doesn't say "eh" anymore, although if you listen closely, he does still say "aboot."
Anyway, the crew-cut lad I met in Parry Sound was modest, but by the end of the 1966-67 season, Orr was carrying the Bruins and was Rookie of the Year. When Harry Howell of the Rangers won the Norris Trophy as best defenseman that season, he said it was a particular honor inasmuch as nobody else would win it again for as long as Bobby Orr was in the league. And Howell was right—as long as Orr had knees. Bobby won it the next eight years running. Within four seasons, he had taken the Bruins from the cellar to their first Stanley Cup in 29 years. At the age of 22 he was this magazine's Sportsman of the Year. I could sure pick my hockey players.
It's not necessary to get into who may be better, Orr, the defenseman, or Wayne Gretzky, the center, except to note that Orr did something that Gretzky had no opportunity to do, and that was to change the very nature of the game. Before Orr, ice hockey was played on offense by three men, the line. As Orr says matter-of-factly, "My style was to carry the puck"—yes, Mr. Astaire, and was it your style to shuffle your feet?—and in so doing, he converted hockey into all-out offense.
Sometimes, as the seasons passed and I read about Orr doing this or that, I would think back to those late nights when the Boston writers talked of his coming and how it would be for the Bruins, and it was eerie. At least for me, there has never been anyone in sport dressed in such inevitability as Bobby Orr.
It would have been downright perfect, too, except for one thing: his left knee. How ironic that is. In such a rough game, nothing else of consequence ever befell him. "You know, I never even lost a tooth," he says. But his knee has been operated on so many times he's lost count. He thinks it has been "six openings and three or four 'scopes." That refers to traditional surgery and arthroscopic procedures.
The knee drove Orr out of the NHL after 12 seasons, the last three of which he spent mostly on the injured list. "It was clear to me I couldn't play anymore, so I left," he says evenly. There are no regrets, and nobody to blame. There was never one time when a goon destroyed it, never one dark moment when he was ruined. Even now it'll lock up without warning when he's just walking. That is the price he'll always pay for being a prodigy.
Looking back to the beginning, he says there wasn't any pressure. In fact, Bobby Orr on pressure is fascinating: "I don't think most people can understand what little pressure I felt out there. It was like I was skating in a little balloon. Only you can't take that balloon anywhere else with you. They put me on the board of directors of Cullinet Software two years ago, and I was petrified at the first meeting I went to. Last month, Peggy and I and two other couples were fishing for marlin off Africa, and I got a couple of strikes and missed them both, and right away I started praying I wouldn't get another one because I couldn't take the pressure of possibly failing again. But in hockey, in the Stanley Cup, on TV, whatever, I was in that balloon.
"I only began to feel pressure when the injuries started to restrict me, and all of a sudden I couldn't do what I'd been able to do. Then I felt the pressure."
By then, he and Peggy had their two boys, Darren, now 11, and Brent, who is eight. Boston had become home. Orr commutes in from the suburbs every day to his office downtown. He does work for a variety of companies and invests in real estate. Neither of his sons even plays hockey, and Bobby says he doesn't care. He wants them to take part in sports, and they do, baseball and soccer.
Of the two sons, only Darren has any recollection of his father as a professional athlete. He saw him play sometimes, and saw him limp home, and it was time for openings or 'scopes again. One afternoon, when Darren was four, Bobby was talking to him about his profession, but Darren didn't show any interest at all. Finally, a bit hurt, Bobby asked, "Don't you even like hockey?"
Darren said, "No."
"Because of what hockey did to you, Daddy."
Someday soon the father should be able to explain to the son that the knee was the only bad part, that all the rest was nearly magic, exactly the way the Boston writers assured me it would be before any of it began.
I don't imagine I ever met any athlete at a more theatrical stage in his or her career than the Nancy Lopez I encountered seven years ago, June 1978, in Hershey, Pa. She was 21 years old and playing her first full year on the women's tour. She had just won five tournaments in a row, and not only had she become a name, but she had become a first name—how is Nancy doing? As if this wasn't enough, Lopez had also picked that week in Hershey to fall in love. He was a big, strong, handsome television sportscaster named Tim Melton.
Because I was doing a feature story and had a later deadline than my newspaper colleagues, I was granted the absolute last interview with Lopez, the day after both the tournament at Hershey and her winning streak ended. We ate lunch at Wendy's, and it was all a bit of a charade, because I knew and she knew that there wasn't anything original left for her to say. Besides, she'd a damn sight rather have had lunch with Tim Melton than with Frank Deford. Still, she treated me graciously, as she does everyone, but it was all pro forma. She was tired and happy and distracted. And she was so unsuspecting. I had seen this all before with other young stars when they suddenly exploded into fame. It would have been a much better interview if she had asked me what was likely to happen to Nancy Lopez, instead of me asking her what had happened to Nancy Lopez. I do distinctly remember, when I dropped her back at the hotel, that I said, "It's going to be awfully interesting for you now. Sometime, in a few years, I'd love to see you again and talk about it."
She looked at me quizzically for Just an instant—writers aren't supposed to say that sort of thing. Everybody was saying women's golf would never be the same because of Nancy Lopez; but neither would Nancy Lopez ever be the same. That was the point.
For athletes in individual sports, there are no off days, no pinch-hitting, no role playing. But Lopez appears to be basically a team-sport personality trapped on an individual-sport leader board. She is very outer-directed and devotional and lacks even those bursts of outrageous egocentricism that most great individual-sport athletes possess. Ray Knight, infielder for the Mets, her present husband, says, "If Nancy ever just sensed for a moment that I didn't want her to be out there, it would be the end of her as a golfer, because she wouldn't want to play then."
I hadn't seen her play since 1978. Still, when I returned to Hershey this June, I had the sense that the seven biblical years that had passed had never happened. For now, at the age of 28, Lopez seems to stand on the brink of the eminence that the rest of us had blithely granted her seven years ago. Her caddie, Dee Darden, an avuncular retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, says, "Every superstar has, at some time, broken through, jumped another notch. And Nancy's ready for that now. It's not a matter of her abilities, but only that mentally she must accept the fact that it's time she can play a little better. I told her that."
Having once been a part of something magic, it's probably easier for Lopez to accept that she can, unlike most athletes, levitate herself to a new standard. She remembers so very vividly that wondrous time when the world first showered her with affection and celebrity. "I couldn't think ahead," she says now. "I was just so excited. I was being interviewed by so many people, and all of a sudden I was making so much money. I was in awe, and I was enjoying it all so much."
It wasn't long, however, before her perceptions began to change, and what had seemed so thrilling turned menacing. "I grew afraid of people," says Lopez. "I thought all they wanted was my money. I even went through that with Tim. It was only after a while that I learned to really trust him." She looks down for a moment. "That's probably the reason I married him."
Of course, it wasn't reason enough, and it soon began to unravel. Travel was a simple problem, jealously a more complicated one—especially because Lopez considers herself a woman of traditional wifely values. "I made all this money," she says, "and I was so old-fashioned that I didn't want this to be a problem for Tim. But it was."
Still, Lopez kept her personal distress to herself, and even when she and Melton finally separated, they did so on the sly. Divorce was soon inevitable, and for someone whose life had been so wholesome, so correct, the public impression of the divorce was as difficult for Nancy to accept as the fact. "I felt like a failure," she says. "And having grown up a Catholic, not even believing in divorce, that made it even tougher. And then I began to get confused by the image that people had of me. I was supposed to be so sweet, the girl who wouldn't do anything wrong, wouldn't say a bad word. After a while, I began looking at myself the way the fans did. I was thinking to myself, I can't believe that Nancy Lopez is doing this."
Lopez herself says she never lost the desire to win. In fact, from 1980 through '84 she won a dozen championships, but there was the intimation that the Nancy Lopez now on tour was not the genuine article. As recently as May, when Lopez played in the United Virginia Bank Classic, a UPI story read, "Amy Alcott, the defending champion, finished with a three-under-par 69 along with five others." An other.
For a time, as she struggled in the wilderness, even Lopez's wonderfully natural swing flattened out. "Suddenly, I couldn't hit the ball where I wanted to, and I'd been able to do that since I was 12. There were times when every day I'd go back to the hotel crying. But I did get closer to the Lord, and that's what got me through." Even as her marriage with Melton failed, she found a compensating peace in his more basic Southern Baptist faith, a denomination she now shares with Knight, as well.
In baseball's off-season the Knights live in Ray's hometown of Albany, Ga., but now Nancy is seated in the paneled library of their rented house, which is on a leafy street 20 minutes from her husband's summer office at Shea Stadium. Ray is on a road trip, and by the time he gets back to New York she will be off to three straight tournaments. They won't see each other for 22 days. At least Mrs. Knight will, as always, have their daughter, Ashley, with her on tour. Ashley is 20 months old. It will probably not surprise you to learn that Ashley 1) is pretty and 2) has good hand-eye coordination. "As much as I miss Ray, at least when Ashley's with me, I feel like part of him is with me," Nancy says.
Two days later Ray is home and Nancy is on the road. "Apart from the separations, I can honestly say our marriage is blissful," he says.
Unfortunately, the professional side of his life has recently been "catastrophic." It was only two years ago that Knight hit .304, fifth-best in the National League. Not long ago, he looked at the batting averages in the Sunday paper, and his name was at the bottom of all the hitters. He covered his eyes in embarrassment. But however disappointed he may be at his play, Knight is utterly secure. "If I don't start hitting, I can always get a job as a caddie," he says with a laugh. He was never a great player, and the game never came easy for him, so he doesn't even think of his wife in terms of being just another athlete in the house. To him, Nancy is the equivalent of Dwight Gooden or Darryl Strawberry, teammates who possess natural talents Knight cannot even comprehend having himself. So there is no competition with his wife. "The only problem with Nancy is she's totally unselfish when it comes to the people she loves," he says. "But she's all I want, and I know what she needs to be happy, and that's easy now, because she wants to be the best again. Nancy's come full circle."
Lopez says: "Maybe I'm playing so well again just because I'm happy. More than anything else, it's probably because now I have peace of mind, so I can just go off and play golf."
She tucks her glove in the belt of her shorts. She steps before the putt, feet close together at first, then spreads them apart a bit. She strokes the ball, and when it pops in, 35 feet away, for an eagle, she permits herself a shy smile, a self-conscious wave and a tin of her visor, not unlike a baseball player. And while she doesn't win this time at Hershey either, it doesn't matter to me. I know now why I wanted so much to come back and see her again. Back then, we had all found Nancy Lopez. I wanted to return when she had found herself.
When I saw Chris McCarron not long ago after more than a decade, I was winding down the road from his handsome hilltop house—in an area of Glendale, Calif. where all the streets have Irish names and all the garages have German cars—when it occurred to me that this young jockey, who had just turned 30, must surely represent, as much as any athlete in America, the sportsman at his fullest and neatest. McCarron is very near the height of his powers, among the elite of his profession in all the world, and yet there are still furlongs to go and challenges to meet.
He rides in a distinctive fashion, "acey-deucey" in racetrack parlance, meaning he tucks his right leg higher up in the irons on that side. In a way, McCarron is a man of uneven balance himself. The pride and assurance he displays are cut with becoming modesty and containment, and the achievement he has gained is pretty much limited to the knowledge of racetrack customers, citizens who are generally capable of communicating only in fractions and epithets. But if McCarron's face rarely graces the 11 o'clock sports report, and endorsement agents never drive up his hill, he does play golf to a 13, skis proficiently, has good season seats to the Kings' hockey games, drives his daughters to school mornings and sees his life laid out in decades. He is happily married to a pretty blonde who understands the intricacies and jeopardies of his work. He is healthy, wealthy and wise. On top of all this, he doesn't have a weight problem and can make '14.
The years have been very good to the boy I met as Chrissie.
That was at Laurel Racetrack, in Maryland during the winter of '74. As a 19-year-old apprentice, only a couple of years removed from the first day he ever sat a horse ("terrified," he says now), McCarron had just set the record for winners in a calendar year—546—which stills stands. Perhaps because, like all jocks, he is short, and because his curly, rose-petal locks framed the face of an Irish chimney sweep, I remember how surprised I was at his maturity, at the ease with which he carried himself. Absolutely to the manner born.
Since then, while he has been blessed with success, his achievements have been so measured that it's impossible not to conclude that McCarron is one of those athletes who has instinctively rated himself as well as ever he did a mount.
For example, while he set the record in '74, and it was fairly earned, he scored almost all his victories at the Maryland tracks, where the competition is a cut below that in New York and Los Angeles. He patiently waited another three years before he moved his tack to the big time, arriving in L.A. on his 23rd birthday, March 27, 1978. "I knew well enough by then," he says, "that I had a God-given talent to make horses run, but"—and he shrugs—"I could always go back to Maryland." In fact, he was an instant success in the big time, and by 1980 had won the Eclipse Award as the nation's finest jockey. For three of the last four years, Seagrams, which presents an award in several sports based on a computerized analysis of performance, has cited McCarron as the best. Yet he has never received much publicity, never had a Derby winner, never been indelibly linked with a glamorous horse (he was John Henry's rider before that horse's recent retirement, but he was only the last in a long line to guide the great gelding) and he still stands utterly in awe of a more renowned rival, Laffit Pincay Jr. For that matter, when we met recently, nothing delighted McCarron, the Boston boy, more than the knowledge that he would be included in the same pages with Bobby Orr, whom he unabashedly refers to as "my hero."
I suppose the key to McCarron is that he remains more a little brother than a little person. While Chris is only 5'2"—and he grew late, to boot—he says, "I never considered myself small. I was very competitive as a kid, a fast runner, a good skater, all that. Then—I remember this very clearly—one day I saw a class picture from when I was a freshman in high school, and I saw how small I really was. I was in shock." He never had any doubt about Gregg's stature. Gregg is Chris's older brother; he became a jockey himself and steered Chris to the track. Gregg is a respectable major league rider in New York, and although he is no match for his younger brother in talent, Gregg remains Chris's lodestar, "the better athlete," who could do everything well, who allowed his kid brother to tag along and gain some confidence, letting him have a peek at all the wonderful mysteries of life that older brothers are privy to.
It was clear when I met little Chrissie that a large part of his early maturity came from something few young athletes possess. And that, simply, is patience. "When I first started," says McCarron now, "I thought 20 years of riding sounded like a nice round figure—especially when I know it's only four, five, six years for a lot of professional athletes in this country. But I figured I could be smart with my money, live comfortably and then go into something else in racing: official, steward, broadcaster. But I hope I'm still about three years away from my peak. I know I'm still learning. And so much of this business is dealing with people, being right in the long run."
He has thought about his craft a lot. "Obviously, anyone who rides well possesses an intangible. It's there with anyone who works well with animals. A lion tamer has something that lets him make the animal comfortable. And the same way with dog trainers, with horse trainers. With a jockey, it's in the hands." The way McCarron talks sometimes, it's almost as if a rider is nothing more than a mystical pair of hands attached to a body, and some intangibles. "It's funny," he goes on. "The first time I saw [Bill] Hartack ride I got annoyed."
"Yeah. Because he's so great, and yet he didn't have that flashy style. Now you see Laffit or Angel [Cordero, Jr.]—that's what a rider should look like. But then there was Hartack, popping up and down, hitting the poor horses in the kidneys with his ass." Pause. "But, you see, who knows with jockeys? The intangibles. Maybe that's exactly what did make them go for Hartack—him hitting them in the kidneys with his ass."
Growing up in Boston, McCarron was a fan of almost every sport but racing. He knows that the best players almost never make good coaches. And he knows, probably for the same reasons, that the best jockeys rarely succeed as trainers. Still, he says, he knows horses, too, and now he thinks he might give up riding early and try training. When he said that, I couldn't help but think of Chris McCarron in the 21st century in the same way that, a bit earlier, Chris McCarron had talked about Bill Shoemaker in the 20th century: "Maybe Shoe's 53, but I don't think he'd even think about his age and retiring, except that other people bring it up all the time. He just loves riding so much."
Why would Chris McCarron ever want to leave either? This has only been the first decade.
As nearly as Bill Bradley could recall, grimacing, the first time anybody wrote about his being a future President was in his senior year at Princeton. I was sure it had happened much earlier. People had always talked about him becoming President. Bradley's the only All-America in any sport I can think of who spent a decade and more playing college, Olympic and NBA ball, and everybody considered it was just a phase he was going through.
"When I came to Princeton, I had two thoughts," he says. "One was that I had visited Oxford and I wanted to go back. I also thought I wanted to be a diplomat.
"And then, the summer before my senior year I came to Washington to work for Richard Schweiker [then a congressman, later a senator from Pennsylvania]. I was in the Senate the night the Civil Rights bill passed. That was a special moment. You could sense that, from that time on, America was going to be different...and better. And, for me personally, there was a moment of awareness that the Senate might be a place to make a real contribution."
Senator Bradley (D., N.J.) was sitting in his office in the Hart Building. For a time after he left basketball he put on so much weight that his wife, Ernestine Schlant, a college professor, called up Dave DeBusschere and importuned him to urge his ex-roommate to get back in shape, and the senator has done that. Still, Bradley has lost some hair, and his neck threatens to obscure his chin, in the manner of amendments that swallow up a bill. As a consequence, despite his grand bearing and his most distinguished characteristic, his arched, Mephistophelian eyebrows, Bradley doesn't quite appear altogether senatorial. Bradley never looked much like a basketball player, either. He didn't have the rear end for it.
I wrote the first article of any consequence on him when he played his third college game, as a sophomore. I was ahead of the flow; I already knew that Bradley was going to make President, for despite the senator's own fuzzy recollection, the subject had been discussed at Princeton, where I had been a senior the year previous.
And soon the idea of the best college basketball player attending an Ivy League school intrigued everybody. Reverse anti-intellectualism. Back door, like Bradley's whole résumé. "In high school, everybody told me I had to go to a basketball school," he says. "Then at Princeton, everybody said to go into the pros. Then, when I became a Rhodes Scholar instead, they all said, well, when you leave Oxford go to law school. So when I went into the pros, they all said, now, when you first run for elective office, start off as a state legislator or something like that. Then, when I did make the Senate in 1978, and Dick Gephardt and I first proposed our tax reform bill, people literally laughed at me. And now we have a popular President tying his second term to just such a measure."
The bell for a vote over at the Capitol rang, and Bradley slipped into his jacket and headed for the door. There is, to say the least, an eclectic assortment of wall hangings in his office, including two photos of Old No. 24 at the moment of victory, when the Knicks won the NBA in 1970 and '73. Also, on his office door are hand-drawn cards from his only child, Therese Ann, who is eight.
Bradley strides to the elevator and goes down to pick up the Senate subway. He explains the upcoming vote as he moves along. It is on an amendment that Jesse Helms has offered, and will, it seems, take milk money away from undernourished poor children. Bradley thinks it will be a close vote.
On the underground train, he meets two Republican senators, Warren Rudman (N. Hamp.) and James Abdnor (S. Dak.), both of whom are voting against Bradley and with Helms. But the Senate remains a bastion of civility, and all they want to hear about is Bradley's speech the night before.
Now, the one thing Bill Bradley has never been able to teach himself to do is to spellbind the public. Wooden is the word he wears at such moments, and he admits he prefers more private discourse. He likes to position himself on the boardwalks, at shopping malls or bus terminals. "When people come upon you in a situation like that, they're not prepared, and they just blurt out whatever's on their mind," he says. "I like that." The Senator paused for a moment before delivering what amounts to a case statement on his profession. "You've got to be able to explain yourself," he said. "That's what politics is all about."
Senator Rudman leaned forward on the train. "Come on, Bill. I heard about it. Wha'dja say?"
Bradley smiled broadly. The night before he had been one of the featured speakers at a roast for New York Governor Mario Cuomo. Cuomo is widely assumed to be a leading contender for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, and a large part of his charm derives from his brilliance as an orator. Cuomo could become Bradley's political Cazzie Russell.
"Tell us what you said to him," Abdnor says.
In fact, what Bradley did in this speech is instructive, for it reflects exactly the way he approaches the challenges in his life. Although Bradley's intelligence is considerable, it was always his diligence and thoroughness that set him apart.
So now, you are Senator Bradley, a recognized wooden speaker, and you are about to address a crowd come to pay tribute to your rival of sorts, a man who is acclaimed as your oratorical opposite. What do you do? Well, what Bradley did was get a copy of Cuomo's most famous speech, the keynote he delivered to the Democratic convention last summer, and he went over it with a fine-tooth comb, finding—as there is in every partisan political exhortation—the corny, the hackneyed lines. These Bradley extracted, and, straight-faced, read them back to the assembled.
For example, Cuomo had brought down the house in San Francisco with these two sentiments: "Peace is better than war because life is better than death!" Bradley intoned them, at his most solemn, and the crowd began to titter. "Magic," Bradley said. The crowd began to laugh. "Awesome! The logic! The leadership!" By now the crowd was in the aisles. "How can a wooden speaker, such as I, even presume to share the same dais with a man who can deliver such insights?"
The two Republican senators roared at the recounting, and then all three left the subway to vote.
Senator Barry Goldwater was presiding in the Senate. "Clear the well," he was saying. Senator Helms, a man near as tall as Bradley, was working the floor, trying to buttonhole a few undecideds. He didn't even bother to approach Bradley. "Please clear the well," Goldwater pleaded. The senators drop in, alone, in pairs, kibitzing, voting; they have 15 minutes. All the fence-sitters must have gone against Helms, and the bill is defeated 58-40.
"It really can get very physical down on the Senate floor," Bradley says. "I mean, other senators will literally grab your lapels. They'll hold you and won't let you go. But I love my job. I love what being a senator allows me to do. And I like the Senate as an institution. I'm sure that because I was already well known before I got here, that that profited me. I didn't feel obliged to rush to the press gallery with a release every time some new issue came up. Sports taught me that you must earn your spurs, not act until you've proven yourself.
"Now, comparing politics to sports can be overdone, but it is true that you're dealing with different people from different backgrounds with different agendas, and you're trying to agree, to get them to work on a common goal. The fourth month I was in the Senate, there was an important vote one night, and it was late, and we were in the Democratic cloakroom, and I looked around, and the responses to the moment were fascinating. Some of the senators were angry, some were joking, some were pacing, some were smoking. I couldn't help but think, This isn't a whole lot different than the Knick locker room."
Indeed, no athlete ever used athletics so well as Bradley. "Absolutely," he says. "I was able to get paid for playing basketball while exploring career paths. It was a distinct luxury. As a professional athlete you can travel all over and never see anything but airport, bus, hotel, arena. I always made sure to see something else."
Or, from another point of view, as Congressman Jack Kemp, another former professional jock, introduced the senior senator from the great state of New Jersey not long ago: "The former depreciable asset of the New York Knicks."
A few days later we were in New Jersey, where the senator was staying in touch with his constituents. Since he doesn't have to run for reelection for another five years, this may be said to be the off-season, but, typically, Bradley works the state as industriously as if the Republicans had Rambo running against him this November. Sometime in the afternoon, after he had finished meeting with the editorial board of The Home News in New Brunswick, I buttonholed him one final time, and, in my most solemn, stentorian voice, I said, "Senator, you've had the opportunity through the years of dealing with both the sporting press and the political press. Can you enlighten us as to the differences between the two and identify for us which of these groups of journalists performs its responsibilities more effectively?"
For just a moment, as I began, Senator Bradley heard my tone more than my substance. But he caught on quickly enough. He raised one of those peaked eyebrows higher still, and responded, "I would say that each is unique in the special insights each can offer their readers, and, as well, those of us fortunate enough to be participants in the journalistic process."
Magic. Awesome. The logic. Too bad he got sidetracked into sports. The kid could have made a good politician.