Bill Bradley reflects on a life of wins and losses

It was hardly an even matchup: One of us recently had shoulder surgery, and the other one is me.

Bill Bradley grew up in a small town on the Mississippi River (“Thirty-five miles south of St. Louis, with one stoplight”), with a basketball and a goal.

“I spent a lot of time practicing,” he said. “Three or four hours every day, five days a week, five hours on Saturday and Sunday, nine months a year.”

Bill Bradley goes one-on-one with “Sunday Morning” anchor Jane Pauley. 

CBS News

And after high school he left little Crystal City, Missouri with 75 college offers, and a new goal. He chose Princeton, but not for basketball: “Princeton did have more Rhodes scholars than any other university,” he said.

Still, in 1965 he led Princeton to the NCAA Final Four. “We lost to Michigan in the semi-finals, and then we had a third-place game and in the third-place game I made 58 points.” And became tournament MVP.

What were his stats? “She’s asking my stats of a game 50 years ago!” Bradley laughed. “Well, let’s see: 22 out of 29 from the field, 14 out of 15 from the free-throw line, 12 rebounds.”


CBS News

Bradley was already a sensation, and more than a basketball star; he was just famous. “It comes with certain things,” he said. “I even found a strange woman in my bed. Said, ‘Hi.’ And I called the campus police. Remember, I was Evangelical.”

After graduation, turning down an offer from the New York Knicks, he went to England – a Rhodes scholar and a church-going Christian, until he heard a sermon preaching apartheid in racially-segregated Rhodesia. “I walked out and never returned to that church,” he said.

When Bradley finally appeared in Madison Square Garden, Knicks fans were delirious. “My first game, every time I touched the ball in warm-ups, 18,500 people roared, because I was their savior, supposedly.”

But not for long. “Crowd turned on me,” he said. “Booing me, spitting on me, throwing coins at me, accosting me in the street with, ‘Bradley, you overpaid bum.’ I was failing. And it hurt.”

And yet, today his jersey hangs in Madison Square Garden alongside his teammates’, the storied Knicks of the Seventies – two-time world champions in 1970 and ’73. “We were not the best players in the league, but we were the best team, and for two years we were the best team in the world,” he said.

All these years later, he still feels like the Garden is home. “I really believe it was the first time in my life that I felt like I belonged,” he said.

Bill Bradley at Madison Square Garden. His Knicks jersey number, 24, is among those retired. 

CBS News

Even back in Crystal City, a factory town, most dads worked at Pittsburgh Plate Glass, but Bill Bradley was the banker’s son, the only child of Warren and Suzy Bradley. She was a doting mother, high in expectations but strikingly low on praise: “The only compliment that I ever got from her was on her death bed, when she looked up at me and said, ‘Bill, you’ve been a good boy,'” he recalled. “I was 52.

“My mother always wanted me to be a success; my father always wanted me to be a gentleman. And neither one of them ever wanted me to be a basketball player, or a politician.”

And so, pivoting directly to politics, at 35 Bill Bradley of New Jersey was the youngest member of the United States Senate, a seat he occupied for 18 years.

But the White House? People always said that was Bradley’s destiny. And in 1999 he took his shot … and missed.

Presidential candidate Bill Bradley is pictured campaigning in Maquoketa, Iowa, January 22, 2000. He lost the Democratic nomination to Sen. Al Gore. 

TANNEN MAURY/AFP via Getty Images

Meanwhile, his marriage of 33 years was ending. Without a goal, without a job, he felt lost … until he found himself in a new, yet familiar place these last 23 years: investment banking.

“Finally,” he said, “becoming my father’s banker’s son.”

And now, at 80, in an improbable coda to a remarkable career, Bradley reflects on a life of wins and losses in an oral memoir, now streaming on Max: “Bill Bradley: Rolling Along.”

“If you can have an openness and joy about life that allows you to experience other people, nature, feeling the sun on your arms or whatever every day, you are gonna have a full life, whatever you do,” he said.

To watch a trailer for “Bill Bradley: Rolling Along,” click on the video player below: 

Rolling Along: An American Story by
Bill Bradley on

For more info:

Story produced by Gabriel Falcon. Editor: Carol Ross. 

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