Where Are They Now?: Bill Bradley Isn't Slowing Down

Knicks Great, Former Senator Keeping Busy At 76

Ryan Chatelain
August 01, 2019 - 8:30 am
Bill Bradley in July 2016

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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By any standard, Bill Bradley has lived a remarkable life, one that has taken him from Madison Square Garden to Capitol Hill to Wall Street -- and one that in some ways seems more suited for a Hollywood script than real life. 

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As I was conducting research for this article, I couldn't help but think that Bradley's wide-ranging story feels a little like "Forrest Gump" but with a high IQ.

Gump was a college football standout at Alabama; Bradley was the nation's top college basketball player at Princeton.

Gump represented the United States internationally in pingpong; Bradley, as a member of Team USA in 1964, won an Olympic gold medal in basketball. 

Gump ran a successful shrimping business; Bradley runs a successful investment bank. 

Both found themselves in the presence of multiple U.S. presidents. 

I half jokingly thought to myself that one of the only things Bradley is missing in this comparison is the jogging back and forth across the country. And then I read that every year for 17 years, he, as a U.S. senator, would spend days walking the length of New Jersey's beaches -- from Cape May to Sandy Hook -- so that he could stay in touch with his constituents. Close enough.

In a phone conversation last month, Bradley shared some memories about his playing days with the Knicks and his years in politics, and discussed the many roles that keep him busy today at age 76. 

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The Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer played small forward for the Knicks from 1967-77. Bradley still ranks in the top six in franchise history in games, minutes, field goals and assists and is 10th all-time in points with 9,217. And he was a key member of the Knicks’ only two NBA title teams -- in 1970 and ’73.

He remembers how electric and embracing the city was during those championship runs. 

Bill Bradley in 1970
Manny Rubio/USA TODAY Images

"I think the city was taken with the teams," he says "And I think that for the players, it became a kind of magical experience. New Yorkers love winners, and they showered love on us."

When asked about his proudest moments from his basketball career, Bradley doesn't talk about himself, which is fitting because he uses the terms "unselfish" or "selflessness" at least a half-dozen times during our interview in reference to a variety of topics.

And that was the trademark of those Knicks' championship teams, he says. Those titles, of course, were his proudest NBA moments.

"We were a team of complementary skills that was unselfish and that was hardworking and that was ambitious," he says. "And (Walt ‘Clyde’) Frazier would go for a steal and then (Dave) DeBusschere would move over on Frazier's man in case he missed it. Willis (Reed) moved over and covered DeBusschere's man. The team moved as if it was one body. Every player had the courage to take the last-second shot, and every player understood that by being selfless, he was helping himself."

The Knicks beat the Lakers in the 1970 NBA Finals in seven games. The series is remembered best for Reed going down in Game 5 with a torn thigh muscle and then returning for Game 7 to give the Knicks the emotional lift they needed to win it all. But the most clutch performance in that series might've happened not on the court, but in the locker room. 

"I think basketball teaches a lot of things, one of which is selflessness, another of which is discipline, another of which is imagination," Bradley says. "And in the first championship, the key was the fifth game. Willis went down. He was the Most Valuable Player. And what were we going to do against (Elgin) Baylor, (Jerry) West and (Wilt) Chamberlain? And we went into the locker room at halftime and designed an offense we had never run before, and we came out and ran that offense and won the game. And we were able to do that because we had the imagination to create that, and, two, we were selfless -- it was the only way to get it done ... and we had the discipline to run it and not to fly off."

That victory led to Game 7, which featured "Willis' heroics and Clyde's heroics and the rest of us doing our part," Bradley adds.

The 1973 championship, which also came against the Lakers but in five games, had a "little different flavor," the Missouri native says.

"The team had changed a little bit," he explains. "(Jerry) Lucas was there. (Earl) Monroe was there. The team chemistry was even better than in '70, and it was a joy. The whole thing was a joy."

Bradley retired in 1977 and immediately ran for the U.S. Senate in New Jersey. He had spent his offseasons with the Knicks sampling different potential post-NBA career paths and decided on politics.

"The reason politics, as opposed to doctor, teacher, minister or whatever, was that I thought politics really could help millions of people," he says. "For example, there was a time when most of the elderly were poor and without health insurance. There was a time when the Great Lakes were industrial sourced. There was a time when women and African-Americans didn't vote. There was a time when corporations treated their customers and their workers any way they wanted. Then politics changed all those things and made the country better and made lives better for so many people, and that was the kind of thing I wanted to do."

In 2000, Bradley unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic nomination for president, losing out to Al Gore.

Is there anything he would change about his campaign if he could do it all over again?

"You always find many things you could've done differently, whether it was in a campaign or a game if you lose," he says.

"It wasn't easy obviously. I was running uphill to be running against a sitting vice president who had strong party backing, but I thought I had a chance, this was my time.”

He loved campaigning and thought if he won in Iowa and New Hampshire, then "who knows?"

Today, Bradley wears many hats. His main gig is as a managing partner at Allen & Company, a boutique investment bank based in Manhattan. 

He admits the transition from politics to finance was a bit intimidating at first.

"Anytime you have to reinvent yourself, it's scary," he says. "But you just use the same work ethic and go to work, and pretty soon you learn. I remember my first year on the (Senate) Finance Committee, I went into a discussion about trade -- I didn't understand one word. That's how I felt talking about mergers and acquisitions."

Bradley also holds advisory roles and sits on the boards of several companies and nonprofit groups.

He says there are aspects of politics he misses.

"I miss doing public policy 24 hours a day, and I miss the people with all of their hopes, fears, dreams and anxieties," Bradley said.

The former three-term senator said he scratches his public-policy itch by writing books and uses his weekly radio show on Sirius XM, "American Voices," to talk with everyday Americans. "It interviews people all over the country about their lives -- people who are doing unusual jobs, people who are doing something selfless in their communities," Bradley said.

He’s a busy man but says he has no plans to slow down anytime soon.

As for basketball, the 1970 Knicks will be celebrating their 50th anniversary this upcoming season. Bradley says he stays in touch with Frazier, Reed, Monroe and Phil Jackson, one of his closest friends, to name a few, but that he's looking forward to the Madison Square Garden reunion nevertheless.

Does he still actively cheer for the blue and orange? 

"I do," Bradley says. "Once a Knick, always a Knick."