Ivy 60 for 60: Bill Bradley

Bill Bradley was featured on the cover of the Dec. 7, 1964 edition of Sports Illustrated. Bradley later recalled realizing as a high school freshman that an Ivy League education could coexist with basketball excellence when he saw Yale standout John Lee on the cover of Sports Illustrated. (Neil Leifer)

Ivy Hoops Online is excited to announce the return of Ivy 60 for 60, a run-through of 60 of the greatest players in Ivy League men’s basketball history after a hiatus to continue celebrating the 60th anniversary of modern Ivy League basketball. An Ivy 60 for 60 for Ivy women’s basketball will follow.

Bill Bradley, Princeton ’65, is arguably the greatest player in Ivy League history. It is not open to debate that he remains the most important player in league history. He put the national spotlight on Ivy hoops as a player. His accomplishments on and off the basketball court have enhanced the Ivy brand in countless ways in the five decades that have passed since his graduation.

Bradley’s accomplishments as a Tiger player defy easy description. For him, the three Ivy titles his teams captured mark the proudest achievements of his career, although his gold medal as the captain of the 1964 United States Olympic team rates very highly. He capped his legendary college career by leading the Tigers to the Final Four in 1965.

Along the way he set numerous individual records as a Tiger player, establishing a standard that few players have approached and none has surpassed. After 54 years, the following Tiger records remain firmly in the grasp of Bill Bradley:

  • Career scoring: 2,503 points in three seasons (freshmen remained ineligible until 1972), nearly 900 more than the second place total. He did not compete in the three point era, in which he would have undoubtedly flourished.
  • Season scoring: Bradley holds the three highest season totals.
  • 40-point games: He scored 40 or more 11 times, including a 58 point outburst in his final game, the NCAA consolation game against Wichita State in 1965. No other Tiger player has scored 40 even once.
  • Career scoring average: 30.2 ppg.
  • Career field goals: 856, more than 200 ahead of the next highest total.
  • Season field goals: Bradley has the two highest season totals.
  • Free throws, game, season and career. He once made 21 of 21 against Cornell in 1963.
  • Career rebounds: 1008

(Bradley’s name is not among the Tiger assist leaders for a very simple reason: his teammates wisely concluded that they were much better off with the ball in his hands.)

Following graduation Bradley studied at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. Upon his return  the New York Knickerbockers were delighted to welcome “Dollar Bill” to Madison Square Garden, where he enjoyed a successful and productive 10-year career, highlighted by two memorable runs to the NBA title. Bradley’s playing style meshed perfectly with the superstar roster put together by coach Red Holzman, demonstrating a versatility that made everyone around him better. Knick management retired his number after his professional career closed.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1988.

Turning to public service, Bradley ran for the U.S. Senate in 1979. He represented New Jersey until 1997 and mounted an unsuccessful but memorable run for the Democratic nod in the 2000 U.S. presidential campaign. He has hosted a popular radio show, “American Voices,” on SiriusXM for several years and is a noted writer of nonfiction. Bradley’s very public career has kept Ivy League basketball in the spotlight in a very positive way long after he completed his college career.

Bill Bradley will always sit atop any compilation of the league’s greats.

9 thoughts on “Ivy 60 for 60: Bill Bradley”

  1. Definitely best Ivy player of all time, and arguably one of the top 5 or 10 college players of all time. I would just respectfully challenge the comment about assists. The assist wasn’t a major stat in that era (pre mid-70’s). On many occasions, especially playing on the road, assists were not even recorded on the “official stat sheets.” And, the definition of an assist was much more narrow than it is today. An individual move or even a dribble by the scorer could negate (in the eyes of the statistician) the assist for the passer. It often seemed that only a pass that led directly to a scorer’s layup (without a dribble) was credited as an assist, if the stat was kept at all. I present this in the belief that Bradley’s basketball IQ, demonstrated passing ability, and court awareness (ala Larry Bird) would have placed him near the top of any assist record list if the stat were defined and credited back then as it is today.

  2. Paul Hutter, a former Tiger player, wrote a gem of a book, “The Golden Age Of Ivy League Basketball,” in which he makes a convincing case that Geoff Petrie is the best Ivy player in history.

    • Hutter’s assessment takes into consideration the players pro career. Obviously, Petrie s pro career was exceptional. However, in my opinion, no ivy league player can compare to Bradley’s college career. I played against Petrie. He was a great college player, but, as a college player he wasn’t anywhere close to Bradley.

  3. Toothless Tiger – Thanks for your comment re: my book ” The Golden Age of Ivy League Basketball”. In the book I discuss in great detail that, of course, Bill Bradley is the greatest Ivy League B-ball player and according to ESPN the 7th greatest college player in history( chapter 3, pg 56) … However, college records not withstanding, I strongly argue via my comprehensive BOW ( body of work) Analysis, which covers both college and NBA career accomplishments, that Geoff Petrie is the BEST PLAYER in Ivy League history, followed by Bill Bradley, Rudy LaRusso, Brian Taylor and Jim McMillian.( Chapter 4, pg 89) … In addition, Petrie’s college productivity was greatly constrained by Pete Carril’s “Princeton Offense”(I was there), whereas $ Bill had no constraints under Butch Van Breda Kolff … Finally, book details can be found by googling: Paul Hutter / The Golden Age of Ivy League Basketball.

  4. Paul Hutter,
    I’ll challenge you on Petrie being constrained by Carril’s offense. In my first-hand, on-court experience, Petrie wasn’t constrained much in those years. I played against them 6 times – ‘68/69 – ‘70/71. We beat them once in ‘68-‘70 (same year we beat LSU in Rainbow Classic). In that game Petrie took 27 shots – not at all “constrained.” He missed 20 of those shots. The combination of his off night and our good play produced the victory.

    • Jim – Good to spar with a knowledgeable former player. I don’t know if you read my book ( Google: Paul Hutter / The Golden Age of Ivy League Basketball), but as a former player in Pete Carril’s system – I played with Brian Taylor right after Petrie graduated – both were constrained; especially relative to $ Bill under VBK. Also , both flourished in the NBA, especially Petrie who became a perennial scoring leader along with Kareem and Pistol Pete , averaging 25ppg when healthy ( twice Bradley’s ppg) … That is not to say that Petrie and Brian Taylor did not have outstanding college careers (Petrie, Rudy LaRusso, $ Bill, Brian Taylor and Jim McMillion are the Ivy’s best ever by a wide margin). However, compared to Bradley, even Michael Jordan’s college career at UNC was somewhat lackluster … Finally, I am working on an updated 2nd edition of my book and would be honored if you would allow me to pick your brain at some future date. You played right in the middle of the Ivy League’s greatest era. – Paul Hutter , Princeton ’74

      • Hi, Paul
        Yes, I read “The Golden Age…” I have a copy with other memorabilia from my career. Really enjoyed the book. Excellent history of the glory years and presentation of the argument that Ivy League could compete with anybody in those years. I do agree with your player evaluation that Petrie probably had the best combination college and pro career and deserves ranking as best overall Ivy League player from that era. However, IMO, Bradley, McMillian, and maybe even Brian Taylor were better college players. By the way, if you played with BT on the ’70-71 team (his sophomore year; my senior year), you obviously know that we competed against each other, and you might recall that we held him in check in New Haven (around 10 points), but he torched us at Princeton.
        **Would love to chat with you as you work on 2nd edition. How would you like to get in touch?
        Just to follow up on your thinking that Carril’s system constrained Petrie and Brian Taylor, I disagree based on my court experiences against Princeton. In the first place, Carril didn’t fully institute his motion offense in the early years. His first team consisted of Joe Heiser, Chris Thomforde, Geoff Petrie and John Hummer – not the kind of line-up for a motion offense. What Princeton ran in those early year didn’t resemble anything like Carril’s motion offense as it evolved. Statistics also disprove your theory. Over 3 years, Petrie’s shots per game averages were 11.6 (as a sophomore with Heiser, Thomforde and Hummer), 18.3 and 19.9. Someone averaging close to 20 shots per game wouldn’t generally be considered constrained by an offensive system. In contrast, Jim McMillian (Columbia all-time great) averaged 16.3, 15.4 and 19.7 shots per game over his three year career, comparable to Petrie’s. And, Brian Taylor averaged 20.4 and 18.7 spg in his 2 seasons. Now, as Carril’s offense flourished in the ensuing years, it likely did constrain certain individuals. Take Armond Hill as an example. He played 6 years after Petrie and was also a great player. However, he never averaged more than 12 shots per game (11.2, 11.3, 11.8). As the fullness of Carril’s motion offense materialized over the years, shots became much more evenly distributed among players. I do have a dvd of our victory over Princeton in New Haven in 1970 (breaking a 14 game losing streak to them). I think you might be surprised at the pace of Princeton’s offense. They moved the ball quickly up-court, played an “early offense” style, often taking the first decent shot available (short or long range, even in an era with no 3-point shot).
        I really enjoy these conversations and hope we can continue on a personal level.
        Jim

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