Bill Bradley discusses his book "A Life on the run"
BROADCAST: Jun. 4, 1976 | DURATION: 00:52:50
Studs Terkel Oh my guest this morning is Bill Bradley. His book is "Life on the Run," Quadrangle the publishers. For those you may not know he's a very excellent basketball player where the majors of basketball, really. He's a member of the New York Knicks. But this is more than about basketball. It's about values and I think values in our life and our society. Because Bill Bradley is rather unique not so unique athlete but a unique kind of observer of the American scene. And that's what it's about through 20 days or so of his travels and thoughts with the team about us pretty much what the book's about. And so, Bill Bradley, and "Life on the Run," which by the way has about a quadruple meaning, in just a moment after this message. [instrumental music plays]
Bill Bradley I believe that basketball when a certain level of unselfish team play is realized, can serve as a kind of metaphor for ultimate cooperation. It is a sport where success is symbolized by the championship, requires that the dictates of community prevail over selfish, personal impulses. An exceptional player is simply one point on a five pointed star. Statistics such as points, rebounds or assists per game can never explain the remarkable range of human interaction that takes place on a successful pro team. Personal conflicts between team members will never surface if there is a strong enough agreement on the community's values and goals. Members of the Budapest String Quartet disliked each other personally but collectively still made exquisite music. They did so in part because they had a rigid score that limits the range of personal interpretation. The cooperation in basketball is remarkable because the flow of action always includes a role for so- creative spontaneity. The potential for variation is unlimited. Players improvise constantly. The unity they form is not achieved at the expense of individual imagination. That creative freedom highlights the game's beauty and its complexity making the moment when the ideal is realized, inspiring for players and thrilling for fans.
Studs Terkel Bill Bradley reading a passage from his book, "Life on the Run" immediately following a passage from the Budapest String Quartet and you see this connection, don't you that there is ensemble work primarily, isn't there?
Bill Bradley That's right Studs. I think that basketball more than any other sport is a sport of intuition and understanding one's teammates as people and not simply as, as fan-, as machines. I mean on a football team for example an offensive guard doesn't even have to know the name of a defensive halfback and they can still win a championship. Totally impossible in basketball.
Bill Bradley You have to sense. You have to sense player, players moods. You have to anticipate their actions and then you have to do things in anticipation of those anticipated actions. And it also requires not limiting creative spontaneity as I say. I mean you might have a set play called but if an opening occurs that is really dictated by the defensive man, the offensive man should have the chance and be encouraged to take advantage of that and go right through to the basket.
Bill Bradley Sure I say that basketball is to sport as jazz is to music. I mean there is this individual imagination that is let run free while at the same time there remains a certain unity. And of course that's what makes it so beautiful because the unity that's achieved is not forced or dictated by a rigid score or by rigid plays but the unity is a real fusion of, of intuitions.
Studs Terkel Here, your book is very moving to me because it deals with this theme more than it's not a sports book though you do describe events and games during a 20 day travel period. But it's the in-between aspects of it in which you speak of your colleagues on the team. What makes them tick is person's their background. But coming back to this theme of it's a cooperative sport and yet we live in a competitive society.
Bill Bradley Well, there's no question about that. And I say when victory and unity fuse on a team that's when life is really quite fun and quite interesting. But it's. I've, I experienced the game on three levels. I mean one level the earliest the most primitive level is the competitive level. Where winning is the important thing. And I suppose that I had that as the major component of my experience in basketball until I reached the pros. When I reached the pros, I became obsessed by the ideal of team play. And by the complexity of getting personalities to work together and function as a unit. And when we won our first championship in 1970 through that kind of play, I felt that I'd proved something to myself. And strangely at that moment and in the years thereafter I was freed to another kind of experience in the game which is just pure enjoyment of going out and running and bumping and going through the reverse pivot and the jump shot and not even looking at the score. And on those nights I say fatigue is a stranger.
Studs Terkel That's it. So, the three levels. That third level, the one of delight implies on something Eric Nesterenko talks about as, as a hockey player and this is. Is this ever really felt by the professional athletes in, we think of the industry that athletics has become and the pressures, the commercial pressures, the owner pressures, the fan. Is this delight in play the third experience the third dimension, part of the pattern
Bill Bradley I can certainly say in my own life is the main reason that I play. I think that all the press discussion about salaries and legal disputes and business dealings and so forth are real and there are real aspects of every athlete's life but they're not the reason he is an athlete. The real reason he is an athlete is because he has to play. I mean there's a story in "LIFE" on run about time here in Chicago when some friends gave me a party and they asked me all the who's the greatest player. Who's this? Who's that? Who's that? Finally one guy said you really like what you do and I said yeah. He says I think I know what you mean I played the trumpet once and I played on weekends and college going from town to town. After college we had a chance for recording contract. And my father thought the life was so transient you never knew where your next job was coming from. So I became a lawyer. So well, do you like the law? He said yeah but nothing like playing the trumpet.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Bill Bradley The point is that basketball players have to play their trumpet. That's why they play. And in my own case as I say there are moments that occur on the court sometimes. I mean a backdoor play, a rebound outlet pass, perfect fastbreak, a well-timed three pass play, when something happens to me on the court. When I feel differently. I do not feel the same as in any other area of life. I say, what has happened here? I mean it's not a deduction certainly. I mean it's not empirically verifiable fact and it's much more than a passing emotion. So what is it? You know, at those moments I say that I seem to have transcended my surroundings and I seem privileged to re-enter the kind of innocent and pure experience of life, last had as a child. I mean I quote Leslie Fiedler in the book, in "Life on the Run," where, when he says you know we often experience those things as we know as adults, those things we feel as children. And yet at those moments on the court I feel as a child and know as an adult.
Studs Terkel There's
Studs Terkel There's a double theme, you have, Bill Bradley. You're asking, who is Bill Bradley and where from? This is of course in the book and part of a Calvinist feeling you have in- overcoming. Well, we'll come to that. You see, the feeling of that you had as a child, as an adult yet that the other side in which F. Scott Fitz-, you quote F. Scott Fitzgerald doing his essay on Ring Lardner and bemoaning the fact that much of Lardner's giftedness was devoted to covering baseball, a boys game.
Bill Bradley Well I think that to call sports a child's- men playing a child's game. I think is not what I'm talking about. That those moments on the court when I'm able to re-enter the experience of life last held as a child. I mean the purity and innocence of that experience is something in and of itself. And it's the kind of privileged reentry. In other words I'm not, I'm not. If you're a man playing a child's game, the implication is somehow or another you're still a child. You see, your sil-. And that's a negative connotation. Well I'm not making it a negative connotation. I'm saying that at the same time you feel as a child, you know as an adult.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Studs Terkel Well, we're talking about purity, innocence. Now we're talking about professional sport and of course a good deal of your book deals with that. Your thoughts concerning pressures at commercials. So we come to this whole aspect. You have done something quite remarkable. We watch television. Different athletes and different products. Whether it's perfumes or whether it's shoes or whether it's luggage. Whatever it might be whether it's real estate or whether it's Fran Tarketon talking representing a corporation, You, you, you refuse to do these.
Bill Bradley Well I say in "Life on the Run," that Fran Tarkenton talks about his corporate associations as if they're well remembered lovers and there's no question that I do refuse to do them. I don't even know why have I refused to do them. Agents have told me I've lost between fifteen, a hundred thousand dollars every year for every I've played. I've played nine years. So why? I say in "Life on the Run," I kind of muse about that with the reader and I say, "Why have I done it?" Maybe I've done it because I'm suspicious of an advertising industry that generates false social needs and then gives us a product to fulfill those needs. Or maybe I haven't done it because I felt at the time that the offers began to come when I first came to the league that they were being made because those people who made the offers felt that I was a white hope that offended my sensibilities. In "Life on the Run," I say chalk one up for two of America's favorites guilt and original sin. But more probably the reason I didn't do it was because and is because I wanted to keep my experience of the game pure and innocent and as could be given the fact that it's a professional sport. I mean, basketball is a very important thing in my life. Is and say during adolescence I probably if it's possible had a better relationship with basketball than I had with any friend. And it became central to my life and hocking hair sprays and deodorants and special clothes and food just isn't important to me. Basketball is and so I think you've got to do what you feel good about. Maybe 10 years from now, I'll look back and say, "Oh, what a folly of youth". But right now I feel good about not doing those things and I have to live with myself day to day. Certainly other people can do 'em. I mean I like to see a handsome strong young face on TV suggesting that I use-
Studs Terkel Brute?
Studs Terkel Yeah, yes, the telephone company. Bill Bradley see I suppose what moves me so much about the book. It's precisely this what you've said a certain feeling you have. It's not about sport. It's about sport. But maybe it's the metaphor for life, [anything?] about life. A certain delight in it but a delight in which you feel is not phony in it. There are several things. You speak of the thought of you as the white hope. Of course you play. A team which many of your colleagues are remarkable Black athletes and in your book you describe the back histories of themselves, of you, and also of your white colleagues. too.
Bill Bradley I thought Studs that it was important to depict athletes as people not as heroes as or as villains and that involves getting into their backgrounds and discovering how different all these people were. I mean there are athletes on on the team that I describe that come from North Dakota. Come from Louisiana, central Philadelphia, Gary, Indiana. There are different races, different religions, different economic strata certainly different childhoods and different family situations and yet. And so I wanted to talk about all of those people as people to try in the first part of the book give an understanding; develop the character a little bit so that when they talk later in the book, there is some reference back to them as to what their roots and origins are and so that you understand a little bit about, about who they are. And yet-
Bill Bradley And you know, there's one thing that all of us have in common. One thing and that thing is that at some point in our lives, all of us felt that we wanted to play basketball and were willing to spend long hours alone playing basketball. When I talk about Dick Barnett. Who was a great player and certainly one of the real, real vivid characters in this book.
Bill Bradley Right. A man who struggled against serious discrimination in the late 50s as a basketball player. But he grew up in Gary, Indiana and for over 1000 days during his high school, durin-over a three year period, he never missed a day of practice on Roosevelt playground. He'd work in the steel mills for eight hours and go practice for three or four hours. He'd practice when he wasn't working for six or seven hours a day. And even on the night of his class a senior prom in high school, he's out on Roosevelt playground in the dark bouncing a ball shooting baskets. He sees the, his classmates going into the prom and he reflects on that moment in "Life on the Run," and says you know, he heard they, they, they couldn't see me but they could hear the ball bouncing and they knew when they heard the ball bouncing, that it it was me, Barnett alone on Roosevelt playground. And the point is that could be all of us. It could be me, Bradley alone in Crystal City, Missouri. Me, Willis Reed, alone in Bernice, Louisiana. Me, Phil Jackson alone in Williston, North Dakota. Me, Dave DeBusschere, alone in Detroit or Frazier in Atlanta or Monroe in Philadelphia. It could be all of us because at some point in our lives we felt that for some reason we wanted to play the game.
Studs Terkel Several things come to mind and. A loneliness. Do you see? At, at the same time, solitude, too. There sent. I put down here you very fine. I put down loneliness of the long distance runner. I don't know why I didn't. You remember?
Studs Terkel [unintelligible] novel. But the law. There's an error. Here's. This great paradox at work here and contradiction, isn't there? Here you have great ensemble work. Had the sense in as you offer profiles of yourself and your colleagues, there's a sense of this, loneliness this but also almost a seeking of solitude at times.
Bill Bradley Well you, I mean an athlete is professionally, when he's at the professional level is in the public arena and he's continually subject to all the pressures and experiences that comes from being in the public arena and so that forces him or he and many times he seeks to find that solitude. Yet there the I is a kind of irony I think in a way that the question of loneliness. I mean in the book I talk about the loneliness. Loneliness of all the players seeking the solitude to develop their skills and seeking it alone so they can be themselves away from the public. And yet there's this loneliness of the road which is two things. It's lonely and then the other thing is. But there's, there are these, there are these splendid moments that I'd like to fly alone on a plane and sometimes in the off season I just get on a plane fly somewhere so because there's a combination of circumstances that come together on that plane somehow or another makes me feel like I'm productive on that plane. So I mean you know the loneliness is certainly there. I mean when you wake up in franchise America 100 nights a year and you look around the decorations are all the same. You can't tell what town you're in because you've been in four cities in five nights and you can't wake up in the morning open the window and see that apple tree in the backyard that gives your life some kind of permanence. There are moments where no amount of money compensates for that.
Studs Terkel Franchise America. Well, in franchise America. There is this, this man who is alone or these five, six or a dozen guys who up the team. Five on the play. Same time, you are surrounded by scores, hundreds or thousands of people in the arena. But at a restaurant or there, you are, in the you are known your face is familiar, or your body is familiar. And there's the paradox, isn't there? You're surrounded, too. Particularly, if you win, if you lose, something else is there.
Bill Bradley Sure there's no question. The public is, the public is always a factor. You know the public is one of the unknowns. The crowd is one of the unknowns in, in sport. The other one is the, the end of a career. But the, the crowd is you know the crowd is in the book. Talk about waterfalls. The waterfalls of the ovation. The applause of 20,000 people that washes over you, cascades over you as you perform on the court on a particular play and yet it is also a letter that arrives and says Dear Phil Lester I hope you get hurt this year. I hope you die. Or it's the kind of comment on the street directed personally at you or your your family or your personal situation. So you can never trust the crowd. You can never trust the crowd. When it gives, you take and are grateful but it will also, you expect tomorrow, attack. And so you can never trust it and even in those moments of great achievement unlike other entertainers in America who can go on a stage and take their bows and wave to the crowd and accept the crowd for lover. As a lover for 20 minutes. Right? I've seen it happen. I've seen Nereyev on the stage waving and kissing the crowd and throwing this and I mean a basketball player as soon as his performance is over, rushes to the locker room to a special community. Doesn't stand before the crowd and take his bows. So even in those moments of the waterfalls, he cannot really trust the crowd.
Studs Terkel It's as though this, yeah though there is a fear or a sense of guilt or what? It's, it's. That's right. That's, isn't that- I hadn't thought about that. You mentioned of course here in the book, you described empathy you have to circus people. Well, in a way if we can just wander about. In a way there is a freak aspect, circus people brought [them on?]. Different. The athletes. They're specially gifted but also different. And you see, the fan who loves you, hates you. You describe the fan. And by the way, perhaps you should read that, your description of the fan about this guy's life.
Bill Bradley Ah ha. Well this is a statement that is made by a supposeded astute political observer. I didn't mention the man's name. The man was a person who worked in the high levels of Robert Kennedy's staff. And has since become somewhat an observer of the American scene. And after one playoff game at which Walt Frazier was booed severely in The Garden, this was, this political expert's explanation of what had taken place. "Take the ordinary ethnic quiet working stiff. He works on a dangerous job leaving home at 7 and getting home late in time to face his old lady and a screaming kid. He's too tired to think of sex more than two or three times a month. He saves his money, scrounges for a ticket to the Knicks. Gets in to his double knits and still don't hide his pot and goes to The Garden. There he sees Frazier, this Black who can get women, white or Black, whenever he wants. Is making 300 thousand a year for playing not working and seemingly doing it easily. Then there he is, playing poorly. So the guy boos thinking that the overpaid son of a bitch deserves it. I've watched lots of crowds and those boos for Frazier were vicious. They were like the ones Robert Kennedy met in the spring of 1968 when he finally decided to run for president. They were the boos of a powerful resentment save for the man who exudes sexuality. Kennedy faced it and so does Walt Frazier".
Bill Bradley Well, my view of the fan is that he's one of the givens that he's an unknown that he is. There are. That he is someone that you can't trust and that there are nights when he is vicious and nights when he is very loving and you try to, try to, as I said, try to take it when he gives it and not try to be hurt by him when he, when he attacks you.
Studs Terkel Isn't there something else here? You imply this in your book and that's. That. The life when you win and you're great and you're remarkable in some surrogate way, he does, though not in life outside. Maybe this guy's description is I would say, somewhat right. I, I disagree with
Bill Bradley [unintelligible]. There's. Well I mean there's a great vicarious element in the experience of sport. I mean if you talk to a good left wing theoretician he'd say it's the opiate of the masses. Right? I mean is the thing that numbs us from facing the more serious social problems. I held that view for a number of years. And I since abandoned it because I felt that the experience of the fan with sport is too complex to fit into that narrow category. I mean if there are 20,000 people in the arena there could be 20,000 reasons why they're all there. They're not all there for escape. But certainly there is an element of this escape. There's an element of this.
Studs Terkel So we come to I'm thinking about the little kid, the fans or the grownups of little kids, or ghetto kids, or middle class, holding up the hand, number one, as the fan when the team, the Knicks win or the Pittsburgh Steelers win. Number. We are number one.
Bill Bradley Right. [laughter] Yeah that's a good point. I mean there's no question but that the experience or the model of sport has to be unsatisfying, ultimately, for everyone but the participants. I mean there are times though. I mean I say this and it sounds contradictory but it's not. There are times though even with that said, in an arena, in a very special game, say a championship game a dramatic game where a person overcomes great physical obstacles and performs well against the odds and pulls- snatches as they say the old cliche victory from the jaws of defeat. Well there are moments like that. Games like that when the fan does have a special experience and you find that those moments, the day Bobby Thompson hit the homerun in '51. Willis Reed coming out on The Garden in 70 and winning the championship on one leg. Blah, blah, blah. There are those moments. When, the fan as he as he begins to get older, looks back on them as great moments. That times that he experienced that he was in that group and he was a part of that team and that experience. If he is in the arena, he was a part of that experience. But what is he? Ex- what is he thinking about then? And he's not only thinking of that performance on the court, but he's thinking of how he was back then, when his youth was right there with the teams. When although he wasn't an experienced professional player, he was a man of 28 or 33 or 40. And now is a man of 50 or 55 or 60. He remembers how it was and I think that is a kind of bond that does occur in an arena between the athlete and the fan that is not just simply a negative, vicarious experience.
Studs Terkel That's very beautiful. I'm thinkin- we come to the matter of youth perhaps after this message from our sponsor, we'll return to Bill Bradley. His book is "Life on the Run," Quadrangle the publishers. And this very subject of youth. Perhaps youth and terror of losing something, whatever that something is. Well, it's many things. Very tangible but also intangible. In a moment after this message. [pause] You speak of the very beautiful moment, Bill, Bill Bradley. When the fan recovered, recounts, recreates that beautiful moment for him, as well as for the athlete, who did it. Yet we come to the naturally limited life of an athlete. And there is always this. What happens when it's gone.
Bill Bradley There's a real terror, Studs. It weights the end on an athlete's career. And a [throat clearing] lawyer or a doctor, you know, has a profession that lasts for 50 years or 40 years, a TV or radio personality, a businessman. But an athlete is in the position of having the fundamental passion of his life necessarily die. It necessarily must die at age 34, 35 and [throat clearing] I, in "Life on the Run," I talk about him being like an old man preparing for death. As he prepares for his retirement. He puts his finances in order, reminisces easily, gives advice to the young. The [table clink] only difference is the old man dies and the athlete has to continue living without the game. And as you say that means tangible things and intangible things. I was on a trip once and read a magazine article about Mickey Mantle. And the article went on to talk how every morning or when his kids would go to school in Dallas he'd get out the scrapbook and flip through the book that talks about his days as a Yankee and think about how then he thought it would always be that way. About two weeks after I read this article, we were in Portland, Oregon, and I saw Mickey Mantle in the lobby of our hotel. He was in Oregon that day to do insurance promotion and he stood in the lobby for about an hour looking out the window as usual in Portland it was raining heavily and I thought from across the room as I looked at him and heard the raindrops hit the window, that that noise of the raindrops on the window was probably the closest that he'll ever come again to hearing the applause of the crowd. And no- an athlete's life is over. I mean Danny Whalen who is the trainer of the Knicks and one of the characters in "Life on the Run" offers the solution at the end of that section that deals with the end of an athlete's career. And his suggestion is that the athlete just simply change his name and move away, which is kind of the ultimate rebirth that's necessary if you're going to have another life because the thought is that some people that you can never experience it and every athlete will face that. I'll face that. Anyone will face that who is an athlete. The longer he plays, the the more the terror. The the more successful he is, the greater the chances are that he will never be able to re-experience life in as it is in as an intense a way. And so you never know how you're going to handle it.
Studs Terkel Remember Steve Hamilton, the baseball pitcher? Not a star but a very solid pitcher and observer. As you recall, some of these old timers who were stars coming into the clubhouse, of course ignored by the fans, naturally, by the, by the sunny weather fans ignored, the hang-waiting for someone, someone to recognize them and they're bypassed.
Bill Bradley Well, I mean this is a very real thing. A very real thing. And I, I recall when I when I was in college I had my first brush with public and I was received a lot of mail and got a lot of attention as a senior in college and then I went to England for two years to
Bill Bradley My father was a banker in the town and it was a town of many ethnic groups and many racial strains even though it was a very small town in the heart of the Midwest. And I grew up there and went to high school there. Then went on to college at Princeton and then went to Oxford University for two year years.
Bill Bradley Right. And I was talking about at Princeton where I got some of this publicity and then I went to Oxford and I found that, well, one of the reasons that I went was because I wanted to get away from this public aspect of basketball and I thought the only way I could do that was to not play basketball. So I went to England. I can recall the first, the first weeks there. I would go into London as from college I'd gone into New York and I would walk down the streets and I'd say, "Something's different here. What is it?" I said, "Nobody's looking". And at that moment I was like I was free and so that was, the experience you talked about Steve Hamilton's old players coming in looking to be recognized. It was the same with me except it was reversed and it was happy.
Studs Terkel So there's you see. Among them, moving aspects of your book are the profiles of yourself and your colleagues there's you, the background [unintelligible]. You were this guy, middle class. Then, I suppose upper middle class, economically and Princeton, Rhodes with these guys some came from black ghettos of the big city Philadelphia, in the case of Earl Monroe or some of them, a sharecroppers family. But the American dream and Frazier who was so graceful, all this money and celebrityhood and fans and hangers on. At the same time, from very, very poor sharecropper family wasn't
Bill Bradley He was. He was from a very poor family and but he, you know, the one of the things that I like, well that I try to do in, in Frazier's biography and try to explain his present position a little bit. I mean he is a very high paid athlete today probably one of the highest in professional basketball and one of the thoughts is of course, you know, will he keep his money? And he has a certain. He's a reputation for being a flamboyant person you see with his, with his money when in fact, he's not. When in fact he's very s-conservative. When in fact, he's very cautious. All of the things that he gets in the way of clothes and so forth are, you know, not things that he waste his money on. And so when you ask the question as I did of everyone that I talked to all of the central characters in the book, "How do you? How will you react to the end? Are you afraid of the end? Are you afraid you'll wind up like Sugar Ray Robinson or whatever? Frazier's response was, "No, I'm not afraid I'll end up like Sugar Ray Robinson. I have to remember how my father was". You know he grew up a very poor kid in Georgia but then his father became a very successful operator in this, one of the sections in Atlanta and for his early childhood, he had chauffeurs. He had people coming to his house. Money flowed freely and then suddenly his father lost his territory and life changed. And his grandfather. The man who always said you're not a man unless you can get good credit. And the man who worked over 30 years for one company and has his pension and is proud of it and who preached the work ethic. You know, that influence began to assert itself in Frazier's life. And so you see these two ambivalent strains developing simultaneously, simultaneously with this great physical ability and comes together at a point in his sophomore year at Southern Illinois University where he has been put on academic probation and he decides well he's really and he notices people treat them differently 'cause he's not playing basketball and he realized that now is when he's really going to have to do it if he's ever going to do it and he buckles down and he's works hard and he brings his marks up to a B average without phoning, without phony things. Working on it himself. At that point he says he became more like his grandfather. And you know he's still more like his grandfather.
Studs Terkel See, what is so good about your book is that all of your profiles are of complex people. Each one. There's this very moving, most more poignant one of Dave DeBusschere, your, your roommate. And he asks you, 'cause I take it he's very open. He's very direct as you describe him.
Bill Bradley Yes.
Studs Terkel Not comp-, less complex than others may his own, but open. And he wonders if you and he will after you're through, as teammates or as athletes. Will you still be friends? [unintelligible] a little boy asks someone else, "Will you be my friend?".
Bill Bradley There's no question about that. And the point is, after it's over. After you know, after you no longer spend 100 nights a year sleeping eight feet from each other sharing toiletries and clothes and opinions and traveling on the road and playing together and, and experiencing life in a in a way that is more similar to family or brother than to working partner. You know, will you still be my friend? And, you know, I reflect on that in "Life on the Run," and say, "I think so". And I don't know because, I'll ultimately I say I don't know if we will because who knows? Who knows what awaits out there? I mean, it's not of fear, but who knows? Because in a way we've lived in this protective cocoon of the professional athlete and we've had a good life and we've had been together and we've really experienced some very important moments together and when we're no longer in that cocoon, how will it b-? Who knows? You say you can only say I hope so.
Studs Terkel You and he and your compe-, you and he since roommates, shared so much together. No one else ever could share with you or with him. And yet you say it's unreal. It's not. It's, it's insulated
Bill Bradley The life is insulated. The life of a professional athlete is insulated, insulated from, from the outside. I mean there are times when you can only thing you have to do is follow orders and keep your body in shape. Be at the place at the right time. Be at the arena at the right time. And you go travel all around and you sometimes miss. You don't think about the problems of the working man trying to get enough money to feed his family, get a doctor, have adequate housing, get to work, find some kind of transportation system that works. You sometimes don't think about those things and you, you, you go through the commuter, our commuter stations, these airports all over America. And you say. You know, you observe very personal and very poignant moments in these, in these airports and sometimes you don't really notice them and you say you know, life is this kind of life in ways insulated and it's a continuous battle to stay in touch with life's subtleties and there's no question that it's insulated. You know, but at the same time it's insulated as usual. Here it is the other side of the coin. The same time it's insulated, there is life that comes in. I can remember a time reporting here in Chicago to go into to a game and having the announcer say, "Ladies and gentlemen. The Vietnam War is over. All the prisoners of war coming home in two weeks," and having about 40 people out of the whole stadium, Chicago Stadium of 16, 18,000. Only about 40 stand and applaud. It was almost like the war had just wrenched everyone, you know. And.
Studs Terkel Why. Is this, is this eye that you have, more than eye, this vie-, this observation. The sense you have. Do many of you share this of your colleagues? Do they have this? These questions ever brought up and discussed?
Bill Bradley Well I think we don't have discussions about this but each man perceives his world and understands that in his own way and sometimes you put together things that in a way that makes sense to you. Now that's the book I talk about the road and the book in a way is about the road in America. It's about the road in America. It's, it's about America through the lens of a, of a professional athlete's career where you're suddenly placed into a city and you're reading the local disputes of the city council and the local state legislature and and the weather. You're, you're suddenly very intimately related with all of these cities if you want to be. And yet you're traveling fast enough so that you see the whole thing. I mean c-I recall a day in Seattle when I talk, I talk about here in the book in "Life on the Run," where you know, I go to my favorite market. An open market overlooking Puget Sound where all the ethnic and racial strains of Seattle are represented selling various things from handmade beads to Puget Sound salmon. And I walk through this and look at all these people and listen and, and go to my favorite little cafe overlooking the, the Puget Sound. Have some good beef stew. And I think at that time that you know what I'm seeing as well as experiencing the loneliness of this life is I see America in all its diversity and vitality and yet I see it as a whole.
Studs Terkel And of course these over of the destruction that market, too. This is. On the road, you say. It's, it's. Yeah, cause we're on a nomadic people. Who more nomadic, I suppose, than the athlete traveling one night stands.
Bill Bradley Well, I see my life as a professional athlete. You know a lot of other places in the book I have these little kind of examples or or analogies to, to stewardesses or Marines or circus people or movie actors or the nomadic Indian tribes of the old west or the old gunfighters of the old west going from town to town knowing that someday somebody was going to be faster and whatever. The only thing you have is the special community. You know, the special community of team and even in that I see parallels. In that I see you know that we're like, we're like in Mark Twain's "Huck Finn", we're like Jim and Huck on a raft going down the Mississippi River. You know it's a very special community that championship team just as the raft is and.
Bill Bradley Sure.
Bill Bradley Sure.
Bill Bradley Sure.
Bill Bradley No question. Removed from the horrors of the land. Living in a kind of ideal world, where, you know, the fact that one man is Black and one man is white. The fact that one man is old and one man is young. The fact that one man wants to head west and one man doesn't know what he wants to do. All these things are not questions in this special community because the river, the river of life, right, just kind of carries you on down and you live in your special community. Well, that can't last forever. It didn't for Jim and Huck and it doesn't for a championship team.
Studs Terkel Well. 'Course it can't last forever, he says somebody. Not only does youth go and that vitality and that whatever is the coordination. So we lose. And so we come to the question of winning and losing and here becomes something interesting. Failure. Sometimes the losing is the closer to the drama and to coming to terms, to terms with yourself than the winning, isn't it?
Bill Bradley Well I say that defeat has a richness of experience all its own. You know we live in America where the emphasis is on winning, winning, competitions, winning, winning, winning. And I reflect that a championship team serves as a kind of example of what winning is all about and helps frame people's perceptions of what it means to win and what do you see in a championship team. You see, first of all, the irrefutable knowledge that you are the best. The final score was 82-81. You're the champion. You're the best. It's not like any other area of life where there are doubts and where there might be three or four right answers. You're the best. Second, you see the champagne. It flows and third, you see the kind of explanations that don't quite get what you want as a viewer. And the winning team, the championship team is like a conquering army just taking everything and it's in and it's in front of it. And yet anyone who is who has experienced life to any degree I think knows that winning an election or winning the beautiful mate or winning the the college of your choice, entry to it is fraught with as much danger and problems as it is with joy and enthusiasm and that's why I say defeat has a richness of experience all its own. And winning is a very elusive thing to think in terms of winning, losing black and white distorts life.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking, reflections. Bill Russell is someone described as almost a revolutionary basketball player. He's has altered the game. We see him very often doing telephone commercials on TV and with his white friend doing these commercials, you know. And he's one of the great basketball players of all time. And yet there's something in there which you describe which humiliates a young rookie to psyche him, that is. See, I'm wondering about the valu-, here I ask the question: It's easy for me, the non-athlete to ask this question. He's an admired figure. But his approach is to demean or to somehow you know, make uncomfortable the opponent particularly so, if the opponent does badly. And Russell wins. This is [unintelligible] of Russell's own giftedness.
Bill Bradley Well that's Russell's appreciation and understanding of the mental aspects of the game and this experience that I talk about in the book where he goes into a restaurant the night before the game and there is a rookie center there and he, the rookie center looks like, "Hello, hello, hello". And Russell ignores him and he ignores him because the next day he knows they're going to play and he knows that if he's ignored him, the guy'll go out and try to prove to Russell that he's a great player and then proving that he'll be off his rhythm and Russell will win. And I say that you know this is an example of how Russell understood the psychological aspects of the game and there's no question that, this in a way, is it worth it, you see?
Bill Bradley Is it worth it? Is it worth it? I think it, I think it is worth it to Russell to do that. I think it's worth it to him to do that because in his own scheme of things, his own personality, winning was the way he defined himself and was an important aspect of his personality and therefore the thing I admire about him given that assumption, that winning was in a fundamental aspect of his personality, that he did it in a more unique way than anyone else did it because he could, he could understand he was smarter. He was in a sense able to get into another person's head in such a way as to be, to promote his winning.
Bill Bradley Well as I said I think that if. I think that viewing life as one with the one lost record distorts life and that you know it's it can't be viewed in that way and and one can't understand its complexity, if you do simplify it to that level.
Studs Terkel And there's another. And to use another athlete, Wilt Chamberlain also with a remarkable record. Here's a case of an ego, an individual and a remarkable record. Yet the team doesn't win. So it's a question of. We come to something beyond Chamberlain but using him as the person in metaphor as you do. The individual, the ego and the ensemble.
Bill Bradley There's no question. I mean, it's a. I think Chamberlain misunderstood the game and he misunderstood the game because he had his own personality demands. His own personality demands were that he be a celebrity, that he'd be well known that he'd be able to be clearly designated as the greatest basketball player by people who had never seen the game. And therefore he went for statistics. All the time, statistics. And the point is the statistics aren't a measure of the game because the game as you say is, is an ensemble and the
Bill Bradley As I say, right. Is a matter of winning as, as a group and because he never sacrificed enough of his own ego to, to, to accept that fact, he adopted a different standard that allowed him to be castigated when his team failed to, to win.
Studs Terkel Comes back to you, though. This book, [is like a?], there's also thoughts of a man named Bill Bradley. We haven't talked. We'd be remiss if we didn't. Owners and their relation to the athletes and owners and the product known as the team and taxes and depreciation, by the athletes.
Bill Bradley Well I'm here today Studs not simply as a basketball player or an author, but as a depreciable asset. Basketball players are depreciable just like apartment houses and, and and cattle. I mean if I'm a very wealthy man and I have my choice of going into a tax shelter where I own people or cattle, it's more exciting to have people. They can talk. And they can have lunch with you. And I think that, that fact is accounts for a lot of the infusion of big money in professional sports, the way the tax laws are written, as well as the increase in TV revenues, as well as you know the general increase in leisure time activities in the United States. I mean that's why big money is around today in sports.
Studs Terkel Thirty-two. Therefore you have depreciated as an asset to the owner of the Knicks. So this could apply to all owners of basketball and football teams and baseball teams. So like some property has gone down.
Bill Bradley Sure.
Bill Bradley Sure but my life is the length of a contract. So that you depreciated over a contract. In other words if you have a five year life, if you have a five year contract, you depreciate your salary over that contract. But but even that isn't the sole measure because when a, when a team is bought, the purchasing owner desires to have the maximum number. Say he pays 4 million dollars for a team. Say he pays 10 million dollars for a team. He can say that he paid a million dollars for the team and 9 million for the talent. Then his depreciable base is 9 million. While at the same time, the, the that's the purchasing owner. The selling owner, for his own tax purposes since he'd like to have capital gains treatment can say that the team that he sold which was the the equity was 8 million and the players were only worth two million. So he takes capital gains tax on 8 million instead of and 2 million. It's it's normal.
Studs Terkel This is about an hour we've done with Bill Bradley. The book is "Life on the Run", and Qaudrangle the publishers. It's quite obvious more than a book about sports. A book about the road, about values and a society, about a very sensitive artist, athlete who's [in front of me?]. What and there's always you trying. You always had this little touch in here of your own sense of self-doubt.
Bill Bradley Sure. I'm trying to put it all together. Trying to understand what I see and trying to draw some kind of coherence to the chaos of life and all the passing experiences. And I have talked about why the team play is so important to me. And I say in, "Life on the Run," "With my dedication to lone practice gone, the team is everything. How the team does affects my feelings about the game and myself. Sometimes I think too much. I'm obsessed with my work of team basketball. In a way my personality formed as it was on a steady diet of Calvinist religion. He's amenable to the idea of team play. Self-denial is nothing new, for me. The conflict comes because I have to interact with others to accomplish my goal of team play. My problem is that my aspirations demand that I create something I cannot control completely. I do not deman-, depend, depend on the outside for recognition. The press and the public approval mean little to me. What is important is my own judgment as to whether the team plays according to my estin- estimation of how an ideal team should play. Some friends say I'm functioning in a world that bears little resemblance to reality. At times I feel as if I am an artist in the wrong medium."