In routine and preparation, Bill Bradley was brought back to his playing days.
The Knicks legend had set out to tell his life story in the form of a theatrical performance adapted for film, a 90-minute solo act that Bradley wrote down and memorized during walks through Central Park.
Before his live shows, Bradley made sure to regulate his meals, naps and exercise. It was like getting ready for a whistleblower in Madison Square Garden.
“It was like reorienting my life back to when I was a Knick,” Bradley told the Daily News. “When the big night came at 7:30 p.m..”
Bradley was so nervous during the first rehearsal that his mind went blank.
“I lost it,” he said.
But the actual performance was fine. And on Friday, Bradley’s latest ambitious venture, “Rolling Along,” will premiere as a documentary film at the School of Visual Arts Theater on 23rd Street. It’s certainly the unique story of a small-town Missourian who graduated from Princeton with honors, an NBA champion and a U.S. senator, which Bradley weaves with the ugly history of American racism as a backdrop. .
When creating the film, Bradley partnered famed directors Frank Oz and Spike Lee, both credited as executive producers.
Now 79, Bradley spoke to The News about “Rolling Along” and other topics, including legalized gambling, Phil Jackson’s latest controversial comments, Julius Randle’s complicated relationship with Knicks fans and whether Carmelo Anthony should retire his jersey:
Daily News: What inspired you to make this film?
Bill Bradley: In 2018, I gave my political papers to Princeton, and they did an oral history project and interviewed people. Interviewed about 60-70 people. I then had a reception and invited them all to come and most of them came. And I got up and told stories about each one of them. And one of the people in the audience was Manny Eisenerg, who has produced 72 Broadway plays and has been a friend for 50 years and the only compliment he ever gave me was after the first Knicks championship. He said, “Well done. It is more or less that. He came after and said, you sound a bit like (Tony-winning actor) Hal Holbrook, you gotta come up with something. And so, I spent the next six months writing the first draft, and then over the next six months, eight months, I took it to 20 locations across the country. I went to the theater in San Diego or Seattle or San Francisco or wherever. Boston. And I was basically reading it, and there were only about 50 to 60 people, people who were on their subscriber list and they were making suggestions and I was taking notes and refining it that way. I did that for about a year, thinking I would do a theater production. And then COVID hit. And it all ended. And I was like, ‘Well, I’m going to do it anyway and we’ll make a movie out of it.’ And that’s how it happened.
DN: Was there anything in particular that was difficult to talk about?
BB: No. I asked one person what they thought it was about, and that person said, “All of us. In other words, there are elements of my life that people can relate to. Not all but there are times when people see their lives. And that’s my hope because if I had my biggest goal to get out of this, it would be to be honest with myself. This is the first step towards healing and I think the country desperately needs healing.
DN: So it’s not just about your healing?
BB: Yes, as I say at the end, we can learn lessons from basketball, which is to take responsibility, to respect your fellow man and enjoy your humanity and never look down on someone you don’t. not include. And if we all do that, our country will be in good shape in the long run.
DN: In the film, you talk a lot about racial and social issues, both as a child and as a politician. How have these obstacles shaped you?
BB: Running has been kind of a theme throughout my life. From small town Missouri to the Knicks, to the Senate, to today. And like my grandmother used to say, ‘Never despise someone you don’t look up to
to understand.’ And for me, we’ve made a lot of progress, and we still have a lot to do. And that’s America’s story. To make things progress.
DN: On that note, your former teammate Phil Jackson recently said that politics shouldn’t be part of the game and that he was discouraged by the messages during the NBA bubble, especially some of the slogans that were on the back . jerseys intended to show their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. I was wondering what you think of these comments?
BB: I don’t know what Phil said exactly. But I think people have to speak up. And it’s a free country. You can express yourself with something on your jersey, and you can express yourself in an interview. The main thing is to protect your right to do so.
DN: In the movie, you talked about how Knicks fans adored you and then quickly dismissed you when you struggled at first. What are some of the things that were said to you and how did you react to that?
BB: Well, that hurt. It was painful. People would come out and say, “Bradley, you overpaid tramp.” I was failing. I was too slow to play guard. And even in the second year, I was still too slow. I made progress but I was still too slow laterally. And that’s when Cazzie [Russell] broke his ankle, and they moved me forward, which was my natural position.
DN: I also asked this question because now the Knicks have a player, Julius Randle, who has had a very rocky relationship with the fans. Where they can chant “MVP” one night and boo him the next. And he doesn’t seem to react very well to negativity. What advice would you give to a player in New York and under this spotlight who has to deal with this kind of thing?
BB: It’s part of the job you do and develop your own game and your relationship with your teammates. And if the team wins, everyone is part of it. And that’s what you want to do as a player. With your teammates, reach a championship. And then everyone feels a part of your expression of excellence. If you lose, there are always 100 different stories about why you lost. You can’t let it bother you. When I was booed, it hurt me. But at the same time, it’s part of the whole experience.
DN: Carmelo Anthony has just retired and there is some debate over whether his number should hang next to yours at MSG. Do you have an opinion one way or the other on this?
BB: Nah, I’ll leave that up to the Garden hierarchy. They make those decisions.
DN: As a politician, you were firm against sports betting. …
BB: I was. One hundred percent. It was my bill. Literally, I passed a sports law when I was 18, which banned sports betting. I think the Supreme Court erred in overturning the law. And I think there will be problems. There are now stories of people betting on high school games. It’s ridiculous. It’s just not what the game is about. It doesn’t matter if it’s a business and people pay to come etc, but I always thought guys who boo because the point spread was covered were pretty ridiculous. You would never pay attention to them. They were still there. But now the Supreme Court has legitimized this. The game should be about excellence, should be about teams, should be a collective expression of community. If you turn it into point spreads and betting on this bet and on that – there have always been bets, but why would you want the Supreme Court to legitimize it in the public eye? And whenever people see money, they go where the money is.
DN: When you say “there will be problems”, what do you mean by that?
BB: I’m a child of the betting scandals of the late 50s and early 60s. People get paid big bucks now, so it’s unlikely to be that overt. But you never know. I just think the game shouldn’t be broken down into things like betting on someone scoring X points and whatever. Make the bet with your friend. Don’t legitimize it. I think it demeans the sport. There is value in sport. And these are the values that are lost when you turn everything into a betting chip. I don’t think players should be roulette chips.