BILL BRADLEY HAD already scored his uniform number, 42, when Princeton coach Butch van Breda Kolff called timeout late in the third-place game against Wichita State at the 1965 Final Four. What happened in the remaining five minutes—Bradley's last as a collegian—stands as one of the unforgettable valedictories of any NCAA tournament.
The 6'5" Bradley connected with a lefthanded hook from the corner. He sank another off-hand shot, a flip over his shoulder. A double-clutch jumper from the left side found its mark, and then another hook bottomed out, this one from the right corner. In all Bradley scored 16 points without a miss, and his performance in Princeton's 118--82 victory—22 for 29 from the floor, 14 for 15 from the line, 58 points—would on its own justify the survival of the consolation game for another 16 years.
To identify what made that performance possible, it's worth recalling the words of a college friend who once declared that Bradley owed his success to "the rigors of Calvinism." Indeed, as an athlete he was burdened with a range of liabilities: narrow shoulders, ample rear, middling speed. But his assets were those of the basketball player. He had exceptional peripheral vision, ambidexterity and powers of concentration, and he had muscle memory honed to perfection. (An Ivy League campus was an unlikely place to find a basketball prodigy, and writer John McPhee tried to slake the public's curiosity with a profile in The New Yorker, the title of which hinted at the key to Bradley's success on the floor: "A Sense of Where You Are.") While Bradley shared a central New Jersey town with a certain Nobel Prize--winning physicist, he was no Einstein; it was an open secret among Princeton faculty that Bradley came to campus with mediocre board scores. But after growing up in Crystal City, Mo., shooting with weights in his shoes and dribbling with cardboard blinders taped to the bottom of his eyeglass frames, Bradley had the self-improver's disposition. That basketball knack known as "touch," he averred, was "no more than practicing the right way."
As the future U.S. senator noted in his book of essays, Values of the Game, he had been "driven to excel by some deep, unsurveyed urge." Yet what he would accomplish in college and beyond was entirely subject to surveying. It was nothing less than the life list of the American male in his most ambitious, grandiose moment: not just a three-time All-America, but the 1965 player of the year; not just a gold medalist, but Olympic team captain; not just a Rhodes scholar, but one who flew to Milan on weekends to play in the Italian League; not just an NBA All-Star, but a two-time NBA champion. And yet, after he was elected to the Senate, the basketball in his office was pointedly cut in half, serving as a planter. The game had called to him, but Bradley always understood it to be a handmaiden to other, larger things. As he had said while at Princeton, "I don't want to end up as just old Satin Shorts Bradley." And there was never any danger of that.