Life on the Run. Bill Bradley. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 978-0679762089 and 0679762086. Also available in hardback (ISBN 978-1560004547 and 1560004541) and mass market paperback (ISBN 978-0553261523 and 0553261525). Older versions may be available.
I decided to read this after finishing Bill Simmons’ book, The Book of Basketball; I’d forgotten how much I like basketball and kept reading that this Bradley book is a “classic.” Since I owned it but hadn’t read it, I thought this was as good a time as any to do so.
One thing that had kept me from reading it was how boring I’d always found Bradley: as a politician, New Jersey Senator to be specific, he said the right things but didn’t seem to have much passion. He was just kind of ‘there.’
As a player, he seemed to have some skills but was never deserving of the accolades he got (he was picked before Rick Barry in the 1965 NBA draft. No, really. Look it up). He is in the Hall of Fame, but shouldn’t be. I’ve never read or heard anyone say that Bradley is an all-time great, one of the requirements I’d think for inclusion in the Hall of Fame. For example, I’ve never run across any comments where an opponent said the toughest defender they faced was Bradley; neither have I seen anyone say they feared the ball in his hands at the end of a game. I’ve seen nothing along those lines, nothing that indicates that he was a tough opponent. You do with many other HOFers, even lower tier stars like Connie Hawkins. Perhaps an argument can be made based on his collegiate accomplishments that he’s a HOFer; but even those are somewhat dubious (it seems that others accomplished more with less). And he was often exposed to the New York media because he played at Princeton. Sorry, but it seems to me that it was playing in New York as a pro that led to his election: he won a pair of championships as a part of two very good, almost iconic teams. That’s a notable accomplishment, granted. But by those standards, Bill Laimbeer belongs in the Hall of Fame too – and Laimbeer’s numbers are actually better and he was more durable to boot. I’m just sayin’.
At any rate, it’s his dullness that kept me from reading the book. And his updated intro to this, the 1995 republication, didn’t do anything to make me think the book wouldn’t be dull too.
I was wrong. It’s actually pretty good. It’s not great and I don’t know that I’d call it a classic though. Calling it a “classic” is somewhat overstating both its literary content and also its place in basketball writing.
The book covers pieces of the 1973-74 season, though it never explicitly states that’s the year in question (if it does, I missed it. Which wouldn’t be surprising). We know it’s the 73-74 season because it mentions “Dave DeBusschere Day” at Madison Square Garden, and says that was DeBusschere’s last season.
Bradley doesn’t go into the games themselves too much, though some of that’s there. It mostly describes what it’s like to be a professional athlete and what the athlete goes through on the road (and home too), albeit through Bradley’s unique lens. It’s not entirely a pretty picture, what with the loneliness and boredom, lack of sleep and recovery times, unappealing travel and unequal food supplies (sometimes good, sometimes bad, always a lot of it).
The best parts of the book are the (very) short profiles Bradley provides of his teammates DeBusschere (Bradley’s roommate), Walt Frazier, Jerry Lucas, Earl Monroe, Phil Jackson, Willis Reed, Dick Barnett (then an assistant coach) as well as the head coach, Red Holzman, and the trainer Danny Whelan. I probably omitted others, but those few stand out. In just a few pages and with an economy of words, we find out a great deal about each man. It’s quite impressive how well Bradley explains what drives each man and each man’s backgrounds and the like.
The less successful parts are where Bradley tries to wax philosophic; it’s during those parts that I recalled why I put off reading this book. All in all, though, the book was well written and enjoyable. It puts in perspective what it means to have fame and notoriety and the hassles that come along with it versus the “civilian’s” mundane life. I think I might prefer the mundane life, truth to tell. I’d say to those hesitating to read the book to go ahead and do so. It might just be worth the time.