After their playing days are over, most NBA players ride off into the sunset and enjoy the relaxation that comes with retirement. Senator Bill Bradley isn’t “most NBA players.” After a storied basketball career that included two NBA championships and an all-star appearance, Bradley decided to take the political world by storm. After spending ten seasons as a New York Knicks, the Hall of Famer went on to win three Senate races and even launched his own Presidential campaign in 2000.
An author of seven books (many of which have landed on The New York Times’ bestsellers’ list), Senator Bradley is back with his newest release, We Can All Do Better. The former Knicks star offers his thoughts on the state of the nation, as well as continues to spread a positive message. Having constantly been in the public eye, it’s clear he carries all of his interactions (both as a politician and an athlete) with him.
Senator Bradley sat down with Knicks Journal for an exclusive one-on-one interview in which he talks about his new book and life philosophies, and furthermore reflects on his time with the Knicks and the current state of the team. You can read our conversation below.
Q: Talk to me a little bit about your new book, We Can All Do Better. The title obviously conveys a clear message in itself, but what were your motivations for writing the book?
A: I really wrote the book to restore people’s hope. I wanted to remind them that we’ve had wars and depressions in the past and have overcome them. We have the kind of political institutions that are flexible enough to deal with any problem. The core of who we are as people is a certain selflessness and goodness. That’s the key to what to build on for policy. The title of the book is self-explanatory. It actually comes from President Lincoln’s second “State of the Union” address. Given the challenges we face as a country, it requires each of us, be it those in government or individuals, to be at our best.
I wanted to start a dialogue to explore what we can do better as individuals. People can tweet me @BillBradley and use hash-tag “Do Better” to begin to tell me what they think. Obvious things that stand out for me are taking care of your health, as well as always reading and learning as much as you can.
Q: And in the book, you actually suggest we as people can find solutions to various social issues by watching successful sports teams. Explain that philosophy.
A: Sure. I just feel as though our future rests with teams that act as units, rather than individuals. That means all of the different things someone may learn on a basketball team, such as how to be selfless, are directly applicable to other aspects of your life. This was certainly evident on the Knicks squads I played on, because each player was simply one point on a five-point star. No one player was dominant, and that’s one of the biggest reasons why we were successful. I think this is true on a lot of teams. Not that there aren’t great stars, but I feel as though the bench players are just as important.
If those role players turn out to be complainers, they could prove to be a poison. But if each player is grateful to be part of the team, they can be supportive in a number of different ways. Not only do they play an important role in helping the starters stay in shape by pushing them in practice, but it’s also important they’re positive and/or funny in the locker room. Getting one another to relax is key.
Q: So balanced teams win championships. As you watch more and more NBA teams pride themselves on how many stars they have, forming various “Big Three” combos, what are your thoughts on the current state of the Knicks? Can a team solely centered around stars win big?
A: I think ultimately teams like that don’t win championships. I think you win a title when you have a group of complimentary talents and personalities. Obviously in order for a team to reach a certain threshold, you’ll always need some skill. But my Knicks squads were never full of the most talent; just the best overall teams. Players who truly understand what’s at stake are going to value championships more than scoring titles, because no one will recall who led the league in scoring once that season is long gone. There’s always going to be someone else.
But if you’re in that championship circle, it’s certainly a lifetime experience. I was lucky enough to accomplish such a feat twice with an extraordinary group in the basketball capital of the world. As far as today goes though, you know the saying: once a Knick, always a Knick. I’m constantly pulling for them to succeed.
Q: One of the key cogs on your championship winning Knicks teams was your very good friend, Phil Jackson. With rumors swirling that he could return to coaching, do you think Jackson could ever return to New York to finish things where they started?
A: I would be surprised if Phil came back, because he’s taken the time off to deal with his health. He has a full life and there are certainly a lot of things for him to do that aren’t basketball related. Personally, as his former roommate, I’d like it if he came back simply because I’d get to see him more. But as his friend, I’m not sure he would do that. It would take a very unusual circumstance for him to do it.
Q: The Knicks are obviously once again trying to experience some of the same success your squads did. I know you recently met one of their rising talents in Jeremy Lin, last month. What were your first impressions of him?
A: I met Jeremy briefly at the TIME 100 Gala and we posed for a few photographs together. I know about him and I’m familiar with his background. I know how hard he works too. His character appears to be stellar, and he’s clearly lifted his game in the last 18 months in quite the startling way. I think it’ll probably take about three years for him to be at his peak on the court. He needs a team that moves well without the ball, so that he’s able to use his vision to find them and get the ball to his teammates in the right places.
Q: Looking at some of the NBA’s other better talents, who are some of the players you like today? Do you have any NBA Finals predictions?
A: I like Kevin Durant. He’s a top-notch character. Tim Duncan is up there too. Looking at some more of the older guys, I’m fond of the Celtics’ stars and they way they play.
As far as the NBA Finals go, if I’m basing things off experience, obviously I look at two teams like the Spurs and Celtics facing off in The Finals. But if I start to look at some of the younger men rising up, I have to go with Durant and the Thunder. I really like them as a team, actually. There’s a certain cohesiveness to them. They play selflessly.
Q: I know you’ll be in town continuing to promote the book this week, with an upcoming signing this Thursday evening at the “Book Revue” store in Huntington, Long Island. Will you still have time to check out “Clyde’s Wine & Dine,” your former teammate Walt “Clyde” Frazier’s new restaurant in New York City?
A: I was there for the grand opening actually! It’s quite a restaurant. I think it’s a fantastic spot. There’s a great bank of televisions all around, and fans can relax and enjoy any game they want. They have a great free-throw shooting station there too, which I know Clyde happens to use. He never misses!
Q: Lastly, having achieved so much during your time here, what stands out to you as your most beloved memory in New York?
A: Winning the two championships are at the top for me. People always ask me how I compare winning two NBA titles to winning three Senate races. Winning the Senate race is a greater honor, but all that gives you is the opportunity to work 16 hours a day simply to prove to the people that they weren’t wrong in selecting you.
When you win an NBA championship though, you’re at the top of the mountain. You have chills going down your spine and your fists are thrown in the air. You know you’re the best in the world. That’s a unique experience. There are very few places where victory is so clear-cut.