Bradley the senator becomes Bradley the teacher

Published Friday, September 28, 2007

In the midst all kinds of classic pomp and ceremony, before a faculty adorned colorfully in academic regalia, and following presentations by the Hendrix chorale and wind ensemble, former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley turned the new Grove Gymnasium into a large teaching laboratory Thursday.

Bradley, a Democratic presidential candidate in 2000, displayed as eclectic a mix of credentials as the programs and opportunities offered in Hendrix's new WAC (Wellness Athletic Center). He was the keynote speaker for the formal dedication ceremony for the state-of-the-art $23 million multi-purpose facility. He is a Rhodes Scholar, has an Olympic basketball gold medal, two NBA championship rings, served six terms in the Senate, has authored six books on politics, culture and economy and hosts a talk show on Sirius Satellite Radio. And just as impressive to many in the Hendrix student body, he's currently on the board of directors of Starbucks.

Thursday, while many in attendance were viewing bricks and mortar and wood paneling for the first time and smelling the fresh paint and polish, Bradley applied a deeper meaning and perspective to a striking facility that has competition and recreational gymnasiums, a climbing wall, large exercise rooms, a kinesiology lab and a glass-enclosed pool with a retractable roof.

"This facility represents one of the greatest things about America," said Bradley, whose bachelor's degree in American history is from Princeton. "It's a place for people to get together and do things. That's been an important part of our culture throughout American history. In a fundamental way, this will bring people together. Buildings have a way of doing these things."

In their presentations, both Hendrix President Dr. J. Timothy Cloyd and Bradley shot at the same philosophical and sociological target but from different angles.

"This is more than a dedication," Cloyd said. "It is an acknowledgement that this facility represents our values of the development of mind, body and spirit. "They complement the full flourishment of human potential."

Bradley said the value of the new facility goes far beyond the bonding and sense of community created through team competition on the Garrison Court, which formed foundation of the platform on which he stood.

The former senator and his daughter, Theresa Anne, both participated in a more formal classroom sessions before the dedication ceremony. When Bradley's time came on the dais, he efficiently and eloquently expounded on the lessons that can be learned from a building that will be commonly known as the WAC.

1. Discipline.

"That relates to how to set a plan and achieve a goal," he said. "To pay the price of discipline is to make yourself the best you can be. In the context of life, it's a community connotation. Look at health care costs. The fitter we are means health care doesn't cost as much to all of us."

2. Selflessness.

Bradley, a member of some great Knick teams known for their unselfishness and teamwork, said, "Any team sport ultimately comes down to being selfless. The No. 1 player on a basketball team can't be as good alone as five players playing together." He referred to a Chinese proverb that breaks leadership down into four categories: Those who lead out of love, those who lead out of fear, those who lead out of hate and the leaders who lead who people didn't know they were leading.

3. Courage

"It takes courage just to go out and compete," he said. "But it also takes courage to take that last-second shot knowing if you miss it, you'll be known forever as the player who missed that last-second shot."

He recalled in 1967 when he missed a shot in the last second in a key game for the Knicks.

"It took 20 years for cab drivers in New York to forget I missed that shot," he said.

He said it also takes courage to know your ability and to work to maximize that ability within limitations.

"You may be a good high school player who is not good enough to play in college," he said. "You might can run fast but not as fast as others. You might be a good swimmer but not as good as others. It takes courage to accept that and still work to maximize your abilities."

4. Imagination.

"Somebody had to figure out that when you played basketball, you could jump and shoot the ball," Bradley said. "That was Joe Fulks. Somebody had to figure out that a behind-the-back pass could be just as effective as one straight-on. That was Bob Cousy. Somebody had to figure out that you could turn defense into offense in basketball. That was Bill Russell."

But the greatest example of imagination in sports, he said, was Dick Fosbury.

"Before Dick Fosbury, the orthodox way to do a high jump was to jump with your belly going over the bar," Bradley said. "Fosbury thought about that and thought it might be better to go with your back facing the bar. People thought he was crazy. He won the Olympic gold medal in 1968 and four years after that, not one kid in America jumped with his belly over the bar. You talk about future capitalists and future entrepreneurs. They are created like that."

5. Resiliency

"Don't let the mistake of the day become the enemy of victory for tomorrow," he said. "When you face defeat, don't make the team, don't make it become like a hammer slamming against a brick and cracking and crumbling it to pieces. Make it like the hammer hitting hot steel and forging it into the shape it could become. The old saying is when you win you crow and when you lose, you cry. I think the attitude should be more like when you win, crow but crow, realizing the day will come when you'll be crying. And when you lose, cry, but realize the day will come when you'll be crowing again. Find the balance between the two emotions."

6. Integrity

Bradley related the story of basketball legend Larry Bird, who agonized through the 1992 Olympics on the Dream Team, not able to play much because of a bad back. In the twilight of his career, his contract read that if he did not retire until Aug. 15 of that year, his contract would be renewed automatically for two years at $4.5 million a year.

Bird told Celtic officials he was going to retire Aug. 10. They asked him possibly to wait a week. Turning down $9 million, Bird said, according to Bradley, "If I know I can't play, I'm not gonna take the money."

Bradley provided the punctuation, "I hope in this building at Hendrix, the integrity and character will be taught and developed so that generations of kids can gain a perspective of what's important and what's not important and the courage to act on that."

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