William Warren Bradley may be the smartest man ever to play professional basketball.
Born in Crystal City, Missouri on this date in 1943, he was over 6 feet tall by the eighth grade and was a standout player at Crystal City High School, averaging over 38 points per game and twice being named All-American while maintaining an “A” grade point average. He received over 75 scholarship offers to play college basketball and committed to Duke University, only to change his mind before the start of the 1961 school year. He decided on Princeton University due to its reputation for preparing students for United States Foreign Service work and enrolled without a scholarship, as they are not allowed in the Ivy League and, as the son of a bank president, did not qualify for financial aid. His boyhood idol was Princeton running back and 1951 Heisman Trophy winner Dick Kazmaier and Bradley wore Kazmaier’s # 42 in his honor. He averaged 30 points for the freshman team and was a varsity starter as a sophomore. He also hit .318 as a first baseman for the Tigers’ baseball team.
The Sporting News named him to its All-American team and player of the year in his junior season and he was the youngest member chosen for the 1964 gold medal winning U.S. Olympic basketball team. As a senior and team captain, Bradley was considered the best player in the nation and led Princeton to the Final Four, losing to Michigan in the semifinals and scoring 58 points in a consolation game win over Wichita State in route to being named Final Four MVP. He broke nearly every Princeton basketball scoring record and holds a number of Ivy League single season and career records, including total points, scoring average and free throws made. He has the top 10 slots on Princeton’s all-time list of points scored in a game and was awarded the James E. Sullivan Award as top amateur athlete in the U.S., the first basketball player to win that honor. He was named 1965 Player of the Year by UPI, AP, USBWA, Helms Foundation and Sporting News.
The New York Knicks selected him with their first territorial pick in the 1965 NBA Draft but Bradley accepted a Rhodes Scholarship to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford. He commuted to Italy to play in the Lega Basket Serie A during the 1965-66 season and led Olimpia Milano to the European Champions Cup. He left Oxford in the spring of 1967 to into the Air Force Reserves and served six months active duty as an officer before joining the Knicks in December of that year. The 6’5” forward helped New York win their first NBA championship in 1970, his third NBA season, and another in 1973 during which he was named to his only NBA All-Star team.
“Dollar Bill” played in the NBA from 1967 to 1977, all with the Knicks and averaged 12.4 points and 3.4 assists in 742 games. He worked as an assistant to the director of the Office of Economic Opportunity in Washington, D.C. during the off seasons and published the first of several books he authored in 1976. He also taught in the street academies of Harlem. Bradley retired from basketball in 1977 and decided in the summer of that year to run for the U.S. Senate as a New Jersey Democrat and won the seat in 1978 at the age of 34. He served in that capacity from January 3, 1979 to January 3, 1997 and made an unsuccessful run for Democratic nominee for the President in 2000.