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Bradley's look at basketball illuminates life lessons

Values of the Game
Values of the Game
By Bill Bradley

Broadway/Doubleday: 1999

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This review first appeared in the March 5, 2000 issue of the American Reporter.

He's walked the halls of Congress as a U.S. senator, wined and dined among the globe's elite, and now crosses the nation seeking the most powerful office on Earth. Yet, to read "Values of the Game," Bill Bradley learned everything he really needs to know on his junior high basketball court.

What could have been painfully trite (a la Robert Fulghum's treacly books) instead, in Bradley's straightforward if sometimes plodding style, comes across as a warm, often shy reminiscence about growing up. About learning how to fit in, how to find your place in the world. About how to be a man.

It is somewhat ironic that Bradley learned these lessons on the basketball courts of his youth. As he points out in "Values of the Game" (just out in a softcover edition), basketball today is more likely to coddle a talented youth than teach any real-world lessons. Too many adolescent males, gifted at putting a sphere through a hoop, are exempted from the very lessons the game taught players of Bradley's generation: That to sacrifice is to bring greater gain. That the team is larger than the individual. That hard work will be rewarded.

Bradley does find hope in the successful programs from today, though. The Chicago Bulls of Michael Jordan did not win championships until Jordan's teammates learned to help him, Bradley points out, rather than simply waiting for him to do it all for them.

The book is organized into ten short chapters, each a standalone essay focused on one value or lesson: discipline, selflessness, respect, courage. Bradley does a nice job of blending his memories with more contemporary players to draw out what basketball in particular, but sports in general, have to teach us about life.

Anyone who loves basketball, who grew up shooting free throws while the rest of the neighborhood was in watching TV, who dreamed of making the winning basket in a championship game, who remembers the musty smell of an old gym, will cherish this book.