Feature   Know Your Military

Sports Heroes Who Served: Basketball Great, U.S. Senator Was Also in the Air Force

Oct. 13, 2020 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

Sports Heroes Who Served is a series that highlights the accomplishments of athletes who served in the U.S. military.

Bill Bradley is a former professional basketball player and U.S. senator. He also served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War.

A smiling man poses for a photo.
Bill Bradley
A photograph shows Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., when he was in the U.S. Senate, possibly the 1980s.
Photo By: Courtesy of Bill Bradley
VIRIN: 800803-O-ZZ999-001

At age 9, Bradley began playing basketball, and he soon realized that it was what he wanted to do in life. Not only did he play well, but he also had the physique. By the time he was in eighth grade, he was already 6 feet, 1 inch, and he grew to 6 feet, 5 inches by age 15.

Besides his love for the sport and natural abilities, Bradley also worked hard at the game, spending an average of about 5 hours practicing each day while in high school and throughout college.

By the time Bradley graduated from high school in 1961, he was considered to be the top high school basketball player in the United States.

In the fall of 1961, Bradley was enrolled in Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, and began playing basketball for the Princeton Tigers.

Men play basketball in a gymnasium.
Bradley and Basketball
Bill Bradley is pictured playing basketball when he was a student at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J., Jan. 1, 1964.
Photo By: John Bottega/Library of Congress
VIRIN: 640101-O-ZZ999-001

Success came quickly. As a freshman, he averaged over 30 points per game. He also set a National Basketball Association record for successfully making 57 consecutive free throws.

Bradley also found time to play baseball for Princeton, hitting an average .316 as a first baseman.

His excellence on the court earned him a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, which took the gold medal at the 1964 games in Tokyo.

After graduating from college in 1965, Bradley was selected to play for the New York Knickerbockers. However, he didn't immediately sign and, instead, began studying at Oxford University, where he commuted regularly from England to Milan, Italy, to play for the Olimpia Milano basketball team during the 1965-1966 season. That season, the team won the European Champions Cup.

Man plays basketball
Bradley BBall
Bill Bradley is shown playing basketball when he was a student at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J.; the date is unknown.
Photo By: Courtesy of Robert P. Matthews/Princeton University
VIRIN: 640101-O-ZZ999-002C

In April 1967, after graduating from the University of Oxford in England, Bradley joined the Air Force, completing Officer Training School at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, where he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force Reserve.

After completing administration training at Amarillo AFB, Texas, he was stationed at McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, and served in a number of administrative and personnel assignments.

It was fortuitous that Bradley was stationed at McGuire because it was an easy commute for him to play basketball for the New York Knicks, beginning in 1967.

A man sits on a desk with piles of papers next to him.
Sen. Bill Bradley
Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., served in the U.S. Senate from 1979 to 1997. He's shown here in a photo that was possibly taken on Dec. 23, 1987.
Photo By: Library of Congress
VIRIN: 871223-O-ZZ999-001

He served six months of active duty and four years in the Air Force Reserve, drilling one weekend a month and serving on active duty two weeks each year.

Bradley attained the rank of first lieutenant before leaving the service with an honorable discharge, March 3, 1978.

Bradley's time with the Knicks lasted from 1967 to 1977. He did so well that his No. 24 jersey was retired in 1977; in 1982, he was elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Statue
Bradley Statue
A bronze statue at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J., honors Bill Bradley.
Photo By: Courtesy of David Keddie
VIRIN: 140101-O-ZZ999-001C

Besides Bradley's love of basketball, he also loved politics. He ran successfully for the U.S. Senate, representing New Jersey from 1979 to 1997. Tax reform and child support enforcement were among the issues he championed.

He also authored a number of books.

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VIRIN: 200706-D-ZZ999-903