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Lessons From The Life Of Bill Bradley

“There is no substitute for hard work.” - Thomas Edison
“What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” - Stephen King
“Carpe the diem. Seize the carpe” - Pig Pen

Here's a little inspiration from the life of Bill Bradley. Bill Bradley is a hall-of-fame basketball player who played for Princeton and became a forward for the Knicks from 1967–1977. A few notable highlights of his basketball career are: he was the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player in 1965, won a championship in the Euroleague, won two championships in the NBA, and was the fourth Knicks player ever to have his number retired. After basketball, Bill went on to become a three-term United States Senator and author of seven books. In other words, Bill is a god among men.

Bill Bradley values of the game book cover

When you read those highlights, you may immediately attribute Bill’s success to being born naturally gifted...but you’d be wrong. Indeed, other than the fact that Bill was taller than most of his peers at a young age (though his adult 6’ 5” height is peanuts by today’s NBA standards), Bill was a totally average kid before he set his sights on becoming a basketball player.

So how did Bill go on to accomplish such remarkable success in his life? Surprisingly, the answer is obvious when you read up on Bill’s life as a kid...

Bill became obsessed with basketball around the age of 10 but had no natural gifts for the sport: he was slow, had a low vertical jump and was generally unathletic. The only thing great about Bill was his love for the game. But despite his shortcomings, Bill refused to write off a career as a basketball player. Instead, he came up with a plan to improve his game.

Bill Bradley number 24 of the Knicks


First, Bill put 10-pound weights in his shoes during practice to become faster and enhance his jump. But Bill recognized it would take more than that; he would have to become an excellent dribbler and passer to compensate for his unathleticism.

To become a better dribbler, Bill would wear glasses with pieces of cardboard taped over the bottom half of the lenses so he couldn’t see the ball when dribbling during practice. He then set up chairs as mock-opponents for him to pivot around until he could maneuver through them effortlessly (and half-blindly).

To become a better passer, Bill focused on enhancing his peripheral vision. Wearing the cardboard glasses helped, but Bill would also work on his vision when walking the streets of his hometown or the hallways of his high school by focusing his eyes forward and concentrating on the objects in his periphery.

Bill Bradley jumpshot on the Knicks

Bill Bradley draining a shot wearing his Mugsy's

Most telling, though, was Bill’s practice regimen; Bill practiced b-ball for 3.5 hours every day, except on Saturdays when he would practice for 8 hours. He followed this schedule from high school through his college years and virtually never missed a day.

So we ask again, how did Bill go on to accomplish such remarkable success in his life? The answer is simple: work ethic. That may not be the answer you want. It’s certainly easier to attribute Bill’s success to natural gifts, but it is undeniable that Bill’s unimaginable achievements are a direct result of intense focus and practice.

And Bill’s not alone on this. In fact, studies have shown that nearly all of “the Greats” (whether it be in sports, science, math, name it) were unremarkable people at first: Edison and Einstein were terrible students in their youth, Jordan was infamously cut from his middle-school basketball team, Teddy Roosevelt was a sickly kid primarily interested in bugs and taxonomy, etc.

Jimi Hendrix playing Fender American Strat with Marshall amp

Jimi Hendrix - never without his guitar

Instead, the Greats only became remarkable once they put the time in: Jimi Hendrix is said to never have been seen without a guitar strapped around him (ever), Mark Cuban spent endless nights reading system manuals to learn computers, Leonardo DaVinci spent the entirety of his lonely childhood drawing objects and his environment (he even visited morgues to study the anatomy of the human body)...the list goes on.

It will kill you to admit it, but your high-school gym teacher was right: practice truly does make perfect; hard work leads to achievement. Remember that next time you think you can’t do something.

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