Jim Bradley

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Jim Bradley

Postby rlee » Tue Dec 01, 2009 6:05 am



When Pam Fitzgerald got the unexpected news, she didn't know whether to scream or cry.
It was as if a giant yoke had been lifted from her shoulders.
Jim Bradley, the father of her 26-year-old son Jamahl, was finally going into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.
Valparaiso High School graduate and former Munster varsity coach Mike Copper is also part of a 15-member class that includes longtime prep basketball writer Dave Krider of LaPorte and Bradley's 1970 state championship team.
The 6-foot-10 power forward is considered one of the Region's greatest players ever. He led E.C. Roosevelt to a 28-0 record and state title his senior year, averaging 20 points and 15 rebounds a game.
From his sophomore through senior year, the Rough Riders won 69 of 72 varsity games.
Recruited by more than 300 colleges, Bradley chose Northern Illinois and soon pushed the Huskies into the national spotlight. They were 21-4 his senior year, which included an 85-71 win over No. 5 Indiana. Bradley was being called the next Magic Johnson and made the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Much of his pro career was spent in the original ABA and by the winter of 1982, his playing days were over. Along the way, the good-natured, fun-loving Bradley had fallen in with a questionable crowd.
In the early morning hours of Feb. 20, 1982, Bradley was shot to death on a Portland backstreet after leaving the Copper Penny II, a local bar often frequented by drug pushers. Robbery was the motive, according to police.
Because of the nature of Bradley's death, the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame had chosen not to induct him. But growing public support and new HOF leadership finally kicked down the door.
ECW alum Jim Platis got the ball rolling in 2008 when he inducted Bradley into his East Chicago Hall of Fame. And last September, D-East Chicago state Sen. Lonnie Smith presented Indiana Hall of Fame officials with more than 1,600 signatures -- many of them former pro and college stars -- calling for Bradley's induction.
"James was extremely kind-hearted," Pam Fitzgerald said via phone from her Oregon home. "He was contemplating on going back and getting his degree and maybe going into coaching at a school to help the youth. A lot of people didn't realize that side of him. He loved his son very much. He was a genuine person.
"People judge others when they don't know what they're judging. There seems to be a lot of that in our society. He was a fantastic person. He was a fantastic talent. And for people to deny him (the Hall of Fame) was not right."
Fitzgerald and Bradley met in 1977. Jamahl was 7 1/2 months old when Bradley was killed.
"He's got a lot of his dad in him and there's no way he learned that. It's just in the genes," she said.
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, a 1966 Merrillville grad, also believed Bradley's induction was long overdue.
"I'm sure Jim Bradley's family is very moved by it," said Popovich, a 2009 inductee. "His play on the court was exemplary and certainly qualifies him for this great honor."
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Jim Bradley finally recognized

Postby rlee » Wed Mar 24, 2010 4:47 am

Former Huskie star finally recognized

For years, it appeared that Northern Illinois University’s Player of the Century Jim Bradley was put on hold by the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. Always a Top 25 candidate, never an inductee. Strange dichotomy for this former East Chicago hardwood legend and the most celebrated performer in the Huskie record book.

In 2008, staff writer Steve Hanlon of the Northwest Times of Indiana asked the question in print: “Is Jim Bradley the greatest Indiana high school player not in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame?” Not anymore, Hoosiers and Huskies.

Forty years after leading the East Chicago Roosevelt High School Rough Riders to a perfect 28-0 record and the 1970 Indiana High School Athletic Association state championship, Bradley will be enshrined posthumously as an individual and as a member of that fabled state title quintet in the Indiana Basketball HOF today in Indianapolis.

Believe me, this is a major story for the northwest Indiana region and a triumph for the Bradley family. Veteran Chicago Tribune sportswriter and author Fred Mitchell, who grew up in Gary and graduated from Tolleston High School in the late 1960s, agreed.

“Mike, no doubt in my mind,” Mitchell said, “Jim Bradley is one of the all-time great athletes
from the northwest Indiana area.”

As far as oversight perception or controversy, just think Pete Rose and baseball’s Hall of Fame shrine in Cooperstown. That familiar “on the field vs. off the field” debate reopens. Athletics achievement vs. politics. Wait until Tiger Woods retires from golf and becomes eligible for the PGA Hall of Fame.

In the prime of his life at age 29 on February 20, 1982, Bradley was gunned down, murdered, shot in the back in an alley in Portland, Oregon, where he contemplated a free agent tryout with the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers.

This crime has never been solved, but, ever since, a cloud of innuendo hovered over Bradley and his basketball legacy. To me, his only misdeed was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not to sound naive, but admission to any Hall of Fame should be determined within the field of play.

Leading the crusade to rectify this oversight were Bradley’s former Roosevelt High School coach Bill Holzbach, sideline successor Ron Heflin, local politicians, friends, and media who presented letters and a 1,600-signature petition to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame Board
of Directors and screening committee. Congrats to all – including the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. You did the right thing. Better late than never, I always say.

If Jim Bradley was still with us, he would be 58, probably entertaining all of us with that infectious smile and stories about the Rough Riders, the old neighborhood, his Northern Illinois days and teammates, and times in the ABA with “Doc”, Artis, and “The Iceman.”

No doubt, he would have spent many days paying the game back and working with inner
city youth on the playground.

For many Northern Illinois loyalists, the Bradley name evokes passionate memories, the ultimate potential and dream for a Huskie program in a revenue sport. With no local NCAA Tournament bid since 1995-96 and 12 losing seasons in the last 14 winters that Tom Jorgensen era sometimes feels like a mirage or hallucination. Can you tell those days still sustain us hardcore Huskies?

To paraphrase Mick Jagger, it was a gas, gas, gas. Talk about NIU ownership and unconditional fan support. And why not? Numerous sellout games, wild SRO crowds, space shuttle launch decibel counts in venerable Chick Evans Field House.

Students lining up with sleeping bags for an Associated Press Top 20 team for two weeks (reaching No. 19), the first and only time in school history. They finished the year ranked third
in NCAA scoring offense at 95.2 ppg. and reached the 100-point barrier ten times (years before the three-point basket) while starting four NBA or ABA draft picks.

At 6-foot-10 and 221-pounds with Bob Cousy-like perimeter skills, Bradley was The Franchise, the difference-maker that lifted the Huskies from pre-1971-72 respectability (13-11 record in 1968-69, 13-12 in 1969-70, and 13-10 in 1970-71) to the national stage with 38 triumphs in 50 games during 1971-73.

He went from the cornfields to the Top 20 and Madison Square Garden, all less than a decade before the advent of ESPN. Can you imagine the Bradley, Billy “The Kid” Harris, and Jerry Zielinski highlights on “SportsCenter?”

Those were the days. We would give almost anything to view film of the Jim Bradley-led (24-point, 20-rebound “double double” vs. 6-8 duo Steve Downing and Joby Wright, plus breaking IU’s full-court, man-to-man press with the dribble) 85-71 victory over Bobby Knight and his fifth-ranked Hoosiers in the field house or purchase the famous Sports Illustrated college basketball preview issue with the smiling Bradley on the cover from that magical 1971-72 season. Sadly, save your money.

The Bradley SI cover is urban myth. The famous four-color, full-page shot of No. 24 wearing his Northern Illinois jersey and that Pepsodent smile appeared inside the magazine’s college preview issue. North Carolina State’s Tom Burleson was featured on that cover. The game films were destroyed decades ago.

Bottom line, how good was Bradley? Called the “first ‘Magic” (Johnson), compared to ABA small forwards Erving and David Thompson, and propped “up” as better than Gary product Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson, Bradley was a prep and collegiate All-America selection and played on the 1974-75 ABA champ Kentucky Colonels.

Recruited by over 300 schools – including Purdue, Kansas, Southern Cal, Iowa, Indiana, and
Wisconsin – Bradley made Tony Hinkle’s all-time state “Dream Team” with the likes of Oscar Robertson, John Wooden, Bobby Plump, and George McGinnis in the early 1970s.

Can you say Blue Chipper? Roosevelt, I believe, is one of only four undefeated IHSAA kingpins in a rich state history.

“I think Jim Bradley was as talented a player as I ever saw,” said six-time ABA all-star and Colonels teammate Dan Issel after Bradley’s death. “I mean talent-wise, I would put him in the class of Julius Ervings and David Thompsons of the world.”

Added 7-2 Kentucky Colonels postman and eventual NBA Top 50 pick Gilmore in 1982: “He was a super, super-talented player.”

In 1974, the Indiana Pacers’ McGinnis and former ABA co-MVP with Erving (1975) commented: “On a given night, Bradley can be better than me. He can be better than Julius Erving.”

The two-time Huskie MVP and future NIU Athletics Hall of Famer was always in good company. In 1971-72, Bradley made a Soph All-America squad with “Bird” Averett (Pepperdine), Burleson, Gervin (Eastern Michigan), Tom McMillen (Maryland), and Bill Walton (UCLA). Picked in the ABA undergrad draft after his junior year, Bradley left school to sign with the Colonels in January 1974. He also played with the Denver Nuggets.

“Of all the players I’ve coached, Jim Bradley was the best,” said Jorgensen, a former full-time NBA scout who recruited Michigan All-America Cazzie Russell as an assistant. “God, was (Jim) good. At 6-10, he could do anything. Jim made the Northern Illinois program. I had the pleasure of coaching Cazzie Russell and Bill Buntin at Michigan
and Jim was a talented as either one of either.”

In an early 1971-72 game, Bradley pushed the ball up court in one of Jorgy’s classic fast breaks with teammates on both wings.

“Jim is dribbling the ball, gets to the top of the key, and brings the ball around his body with that huge right hand, then changes to the left (hand), fakes left, and wraps the ball around his waist back to the right for an easy lay-up for Billy or Larry (Jackson) – all this in mid-air,” said then assistant coach Art Rohlman, who served as Huskie team captain as a senior (1970-71). “That ‘Magic’ Johnson stuff was legitimate.

You didn’t see 6-10 guys facing the basket and making those type of plays back then.

“Bradley was a raw talent and a national Blue Chip player,” Rohlman continued. “When he wanted to play and was motivated, look out. He was a great leader and team player. I mean, Jim was a prolific scorer and rebounder, but he wasn’t a ball hog. When you passed him the ball, you got it back.”

Two personal ironies here. No. 1: As a Northern Illinois senior in 1970, I watched Bradley and East Chicago Roosevelt win the Indiana state title on WTTW-TV, which carried the game that year.

I was thinking, wow, this Bradley is twice the player that Jim Brewer (Proviso East) was in 1968. I had no idea that Jorgy was recruiting him. On the day of the spring football game in May, Jorgy brought the National Letter ofIntent up to the press box.

No. 2: In full disclosure, and due to my obligation to the U. S. Army, I only saw Bradley play once when I was home on leave. But over these many years, so many others have talked or
asked about that time. This was a story that needed telling.

Jim, from my generation, this is only a small payback for that short-lived glory era. You’re still a winner.

• Mike Korcek is a former Northern Illinois University sports information director. His historical perspective on NIU athletics appears periodically in the Daily Chronicle.
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