A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton by John McPhee, NOOK Book (eBook) | Barnes & Noble
A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton

A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton

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by John McPhee
     
 

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When John McPhee met Bill Bradley, both were at the beginning of their careers. A Sense of Where You Are, McPhee's first book, is about Bradley when he was the best basketball player Princeton had ever seen. McPhee delineates for the reader the training and techniques that made Bradley the extraordinary athlete he was, and this part of the book is a

Overview

When John McPhee met Bill Bradley, both were at the beginning of their careers. A Sense of Where You Are, McPhee's first book, is about Bradley when he was the best basketball player Princeton had ever seen. McPhee delineates for the reader the training and techniques that made Bradley the extraordinary athlete he was, and this part of the book is a blueprint of superlative basketball. But athletic prowess alone would not explain Bradley's magnetism, which is in the quality of the man himself—his self-discipline, his rationality, and his sense of responsibility. Here is a portrait of Bradley as he was in college, before his time with the New York Knicks and his election to the U.S. Senate—a story that suggests the abundant beginnings of his professional careers in sport and politics.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Immensely well-written, inspiring without being preachy, and contains as well the clearest analyses of Bradley's moves, fakes, and shots that have appeared in print.” —Rex Lardner, The New York Times Book Review

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780374708719
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
06/30/1999
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
240
Sales rank:
391,377
File size:
4 MB

Read an Excerpt

A Sense of Where You Are

A Profile of Bill Bradley at Princeton


By John McPhee

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 1999 John McPhee
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-374-70871-9



CHAPTER 1

Incentive

My father, for fourteen years or so, has served as physician to United States Olympic teams. And for more than forty years, before his retirement in June of 1964, he was a physician to college athletes, almost all of that time at Princeton. I know that he greatly admires excellence in athletes, and that he would regularly become quite caught up in the evolution of a Princeton team's season, its hopes for a championship, and the kind of performance an individual might be sustaining; but these things were discernible only in highly indirect ways. He has a taciturnity celebrated in his circle, and he can watch, say, a Princeton halfback go ninety-eight yards for a touchdown without even faintly showing on the surface the excitement he feels within him. In fact, from the late thirties, which is as far back as I can remember, until the winter of 1962, I had never heard him actually make a direct statement of praise about any athlete, let alone make high claims, proud or otherwise, for an athlete's abilities. Then the phone rang one day in my apartment in New York, where I had been living for some years, and my father was on the other end, saying, "There's a freshman basketball player down here who is the best basketball player who has ever been near here and may be one of the best ever. You ought to come down and see him."

I remember being so surprised that I felt more worried about my father than interested in the basketball player. Finally, I said, "What's his name?"

"What difference does that make? They're playing Penn tomorrow night at six-thirty."

Freshman basketball, in my own time, a dozen years earlier, had not been a spectator sport at Princeton. A player's roommates might turn up, or his parents, if they lived nearby, but the grandstands were empty and the sound of the dribbling used to echo while the freshmen played. On the night of the game with Pennsylvania, I showed up at about six-twenty-five. There was a large crowd outside the gym and, inside, the stands were already filled. My father was holding a seat for me, and by the time I got to it the game had already begun. I sat down and purposely didn't ask which player I was supposed to watch, because that would have diminished the pleasure of discovery, and it was, in fact, something like this that my father had in mind when he had cut me off so abruptly on the phone. I watched the general flow on the court for a while, and it was soon clear enough who had drawn the crowd, and that he was the most graceful and classical basketball player who had ever been near Princeton, to say the very least. Every motion developed in its simplest form. Every motion repeated itself precisely when he used it again. He was remarkably fast, but he ran easily. His passes were so good that they were difficult to follow. Every so often, and not often enough, I thought, he stopped and went high into the air with the ball, his arms rising until his hands were at right angles to one another and high above him, and a long jump shot would go into the net. My father, once a college basketball player himself, was so moved by this that he nudged me with his elbow. It was not the two points, obviously enough—it was the form and the manner with which they had been scored. I looked from the boy's number down to the mimeographed sheet in my hand. His name was Bill Bradley. He was six feet, five inches tall. And he came from Crystal City, Missouri.

I learned later that the general manager of the St. Louis Hawks had declared Bradley to be of professional calibre when he was still in high school, and that is how Bradley always seemed at Princeton, at home on the court and under control even when his own game was cold, which it sometimes was. To me, Bradley's appeal was grounded in the fact that he was a pleasure to watch no matter what was happening on the scoreboard. My own feeling for basketball had faded almost to nothing over the years because the game seemed to me to have lost its balance, as players became taller and more powerful, and scores increased until it was rare when a professional team hit less than a hundred points, win or lose; it impressed me as a glut of scoring, with few patterns of attack and almost no defense any more. The players, in a sense, had gotten better than the game, and the game had become uninteresting. Moreover, it attracted exhibitionists who seemed to be more intent on amazing a crowd with aimless prestidigitation than with advancing their team by giving a sound performance. Basketball had once consumed about ninety two percent of my time, and I had played on high school and prep school teams, only as a freshman in college, and later, curiously enough, on the team of Cambridge University, in England; but, despite all this obvious affection for the game, what had happened to me in later years as a spectator was not really a disillusionment so much as a death of interest. That, at any rate, is how I felt until 1962. After watching Bradley play several times, even when he was eighteen, it seemed to me that I had been watching all the possibilities of the game that I had ever imagined, and then some. His play was integral. There was nothing missing. He not only worked hard on defense, for example, he worked hard on defense when the other team was hopelessly beaten. He did all kinds of things he didn't have to do simply because those were the dimensions of the game.

I decided to write about him after the Princeton-St. Joseph's game in the national tournament in 1963, in which, at the end of his first college season, he showed how few players there had ever been like him. But that was not incentive enough. In the course of the year since I had first heard of him, I had learned that—as one of his classmates later put it—basketball was more a part of him than he a part of basketball. The most interesting thing about Bill Bradley was not just that he was a great basketball player, but that he succeeded so amply in other things that he was doing at the same time, reached a more promising level of attainment, and, in the end, put basketball aside because he had something better to do.

A year went by before I actually got started. In the early summer of 1964, he was working in Washington and he appeared in Princeton almost every weekend, beginning the research for his senior thesis. As frequently as he could, he came out to my home, which by then was no longer in New York but in the countryside near Princeton, and talked for hours on end. I told him that the eventual story would dependheavily on what he could contribute, and that I wanted to try to build a sense of the game itself around him rather than merely say how good he was at playing it, and that he would have to be an articulate teacher if the project were to succeed at all, since the difference between basketball as he understood it and basketball as I understood it was obviously large.

It took him a while to become enthusiastic, but when he did, he spent hours inventing game situations, then pacing his way through them, taking perhaps fifteen minutes to describe what would occur in a single two-second sequence, then stringing the sequences together. He was putting in two hours a day at the time in preparation for the Olympic games in the autumn, so he went on talking in the afternoons in the gyms at Princeton and at the Lawrenceville School five miles away. When I visited him in August in Crystal City, he would stay up until three and four in the morning doing reverse pivots, making back door plays with chairs as opponents, and shooting imaginary basketballs at imaginary baskets on wallpapered walls—the one situation in which all basketball players never miss a shot. His contribution, then, was everything that any writer could have hoped for. He added to it when he came home from Tokyo. Breaching an ordinarily sensible custom, I showed him the manuscript before I turned it in, because I was anxious for the technical detail to be checked over by an outstanding basketball player and he was the nearest one. He did the job quickly. He ran one finger down the middle of each page, reading, I would guess, ten or eleven pages a minute, completely ignoring all the passages about his personality and all the other things that ordinarily make it a poor idea to show an unpublished story to its subject. Picking out eight or ten technical flaws along the way, he caught all that there apparently were. Handing back the manuscript, he said he looked forward to reading it.

CHAPTER 2

Profile

The basketball locker room in the gymnasium at Princeton has no blackboard, no water fountain, and, in fact, no lockers. Up on the main floor, things go along in the same vein. Collapsible grandstands pull out of the walls and crowd up to the edge of the court. Jolly alumni sometimes wander in just before a game begins, sit down on the players' bench, and are permitted to stay there. The players themselves are a little slow getting started each year, because if they try to do some practicing on their own during the autumn they find the gymnasium full of graduate students who know their rights and won't move over. When a fellow does get some action, it can be dangerous. The gym is so poorly designed that a scrimmaging player can be knocked down one of two flights of concrete stairs. It hardly seems possible, but at the moment this scandalous milieu includes William Warren Bradley, who is the best amateur basketball player in the United States and among the better players, amateur or professional, in the history of the sport.

Bill Bradley is what college students nowadays call a superstar, and the thing that distinguishes him from other such paragons is not so much that he has happened into the Ivy League as that he is a superstar at all. For one thing, he has overcome the disadvantage of wealth. A great basketball player, almost by definition, is someone who has grown up in a constricted world, not for lack of vision or ambition but for lack of money; his environment has been limited to home, gym, and playground, and it has forced upon him, as a developing basketball player, the discipline of having nothing else to do. Bradley must surely be the only great basketball player who wintered regularly in Palm Beach until he was thirteen years old.

His home is in Crystal City, Missouri, a small town on the Mississippi River about thirty miles south of St. Louis, and at Crystal City High School, despite the handicap of those earlier winters, he became one of the highest-scoring players in the records of secondary-school basketball. More than seventy colleges tried to recruit him, nearly all of them offering him scholarships. Instead, Bradley chose a school that offered him no money at all. Scholarships at Princeton are given only where there is financial need, and nearly half of Princeton's undergraduates have them, but Bradley is ineligible for one, because his father, the president of a bank, is a man of more than comfortable means.

Bradley says that when he was seventeen he came to realize that life was much longer than a few winters of basketball. He is quite serious in his application to the game, but he has wider interests and, particularly, bigger ambitions. He is a history student, interested in politics, and last July he worked for Governor Scranton in Washington. He was once elected president of the Missouri Association of Student Councils, and he is the sort of boy who, given a little more time, would have been in the forefront of undergraduate political life; as it is, he has been a considerable asset to Princeton quite apart from his feats in the gymnasium, through his work for various campus organizations. In a way that athletes in Ivy League colleges sometimes do not, he fits into the university as a whole.

Now his Princeton years are coming to an end, and lately he has been under more recruitment pressure—this time, of course, from the National Basketball Association. In September, however, on the eve of his departure for Tokyo, where, as a member of the United States basketball team, he won a gold medal in the Olympic Games, he filed an application with the American Rhodes Scholarship Committee. Just before Christmas, he was elected a Rhodes Scholar. This has absolutely nonplussed the New York Knickerbockers, who for some time had been suffering delusions of invincibility, postdated to the autumn of 1965, when, they assumed, Bradley would join their team. Two years ago, when the Syracuse Nationals wanted to transfer their franchise and become the Philadelphia '76ers, the Knicks refused to give their approval until they had received a guarantee that they would retain territorial rights to Bradley, whose college is one mile closer to Philadelphia than it is to New York. Bradley says he knows that he will very much miss not being able to play the game at its highest level, but, as things are now, if Bradley plays basketball at all next year, it will be for Oxford.

To many eastern basketball fans, what the Knickerbockers will be missing has not always been as apparent as it is today. Three seasons ago, when Bradley, as a Princeton freshman, broke a free-throw record for the sport of basketball at large, much of the outside world considered it a curious but not necessarily significant achievement. In game after game, he kept sinking foul shots without missing, until at the end of the season he had made fifty-seven straight —one more than the previous all-time high, which had been set by a member of the professional Syracuse Nationals.

The following year, as a varsity player, he averaged a little over twenty-seven points per game, and it became clear that he was the best player ever to have been seen in the Ivy League—better than Yale's Tony Lavelli, who was one of the leading scorers in the United States in 1949, or Dartmouth's Rudy LaRusso, who is now a professional with the Los Angeles Lakers. But that still wasn't saying a lot. Basketball players of the highest calibre do not gravitate to the Ivy League, and excellence within its membership has seldom been worth more, nationally, than a polite smile. However, Ivy teams play early season games outside their league, and at the end of the season the Ivy League champion competes in the tournament of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which brings together the outstanding teams in the country and eventually establishes the national champion. Gradually, during his sophomore and junior years, Bradley's repeatedly superior performances in these games eradicated all traces of the notion that he was merely a parochial accident and would have been just another player if he had gone to a big basketball school. He has scored as heavily against non-Ivy opponents as he has against Ivy League teams—forty points against Army, thirty-two against Villanova, thirty-three against Davidson, thirty against Wake Forest, thirty-one against Navy, thirty-four against St. Louis, thirty-six against Syracuse, and forty-six in a rout of the University of Texas. Last season, in the Kentucky Invitational Tournament, at the University of Kentucky, Princeton defeated Wisconsin largely because Bradley was busy scoring forty-seven points—a record for the tournament. The size of this feat can be understood if one remembers that Kentucky has won more national championships than any other university and regularly invites the best competition it can find to join in its holiday games.

An average of twenty points in basketball is comparable to baseball's criterion for outstanding pitchers, whose immortality seems to be predicated on their winning twenty games a year. Bradley scored more points last season than any other college basketball player, and his average was 32.3 per game. If Bradley's shooting this season comes near matching his accomplishment of last year, he will become one of the three highest-scoring players in the history of college basketball.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from A Sense of Where You Are by John McPhee. Copyright © 1999 John McPhee. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

John McPhee was born in Princeton, New Jersey, and was educated at Princeton University and Cambridge University. His writing career began at Time magazine and led to his long association with The New Yorker, where he has been a staff writer since 1965. Also in 1965, he published A Sense of Where You Are, his first book, with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and in the years since, he has written nearly 30 books, including Oranges (1967), Coming into the Country (1977), The Control of Nature (1989), The Founding Fish (2002), Uncommon Carriers (2007), and Silk Parachute (2011). Encounters with the Archdruid (1972) and The Curve of Binding Energy (1974) were nominated for National Book Awards in the category of science. McPhee received the Award in Literature from the Academy of Arts and Letters in 1977. In 1999, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Annals of the Former World. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.


John McPhee was born in Princeton, New Jersey, and was educated at Princeton University and Cambridge University. His writing career began at Time magazine and led to his long association with The New Yorker, where he has been a staff writer since 1965. Also in 1965, he published his first book, A Sense of Where You Are, with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and in the years since, he has written nearly 30 books, including Oranges (1967), Coming into the Country (1977), The Control of Nature (1989), The Founding Fish (2002), Uncommon Carriers (2007), and Silk Parachute (2011). Encounters with the Archdruid (1972) and The Curve of Binding Energy (1974) were nominated for National Book Awards in the category of science. McPhee received the Award in Literature from the Academy of Arts and Letters in 1977. In 1999, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Annals of the Former World. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Princeton, New Jersey
Date of Birth:
March 8, 1931
Place of Birth:
Princeton, New Jersey
Education:
A.B., Princeton University, 1953; graduate study at Cambridge University, 1953-54
Website:
http://www.johnmcphee.com/

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