by Russ Bengtson
The following interview has never been published.
Before I get to Shawn Bradley’s words, some words on Shawn Bradley. The first SLAM piece on him appeared in the very first issue, a Hype item on he and then-teammate Moses Malone aptly titled “Dinosaur and Junior.” He was also the topic of the first piece I ever had published in SLAM—a 700-or so word diss-fest that was ruthlessly cut down to 200 or so and squeezed into the Hype section of SLAM 6 under a photo of him lying flat on his back.
From there, things only got worse for Shawn. No more words, though, outside of the usual NOYZ cheap shots. Mostly, he just appeared in other people’s photos. The slammed-on of the month. Then, around the same time as the ’98 lockout, we found a photo of him golfing. That ran several times, most noteably as SLAMadamonth and Last Shot. Fortunately, the lockout ended before we got a chance to run it as a poster—or, God forbid, the cover.
Some time in between, most likely early 1996, we found out that Bradley would be available for interviews near our office (at the Empire State Building, in fact). As I was the lowest editor on the totem pole AND Bradley’s biggest detractor, I was the one who got to go. If I remember correctly, the meeting took place in the Beverly Hills Polo Club clothing showroom. Re-reading the following transcript, I don’t think I pulled too many punches—and Bradley, to his credit, rolled with them.
After all, he was used to it.
SLAM: How do you wish to be remembered, and do you care how you are remembered?
SB: How do I want to be remembered, I never really thought of that… I’m gonna go out and do the best that I can do—my attitude is, that at the end of my career, I’ll know I’ve done the best that I could’ve done. And by doing that, going out, working hard, trying to improve, trying to become the best that I can, whatever anyone else thinks, or says, or how they remember me, is up to them. Because there’s millions of people out there and they’re all gonna have their own ideas. So I just go out there and try to do the best I can.
SLAM: You rarely get good press. Does that bother you?
SB: Well, for the first two years of my career, Philly was a very hard media town. I realized that the bad press that they said, most of the people had come back and said—one guy said ‘all the things that I said about Shawn the day he was traded don’t apply now.’ They’ve almost recanted what they said before. I’ve always known that as long as I go out and try to improve—it’s gonna take some time, because I was very inexperienced—that things are gonna work out for the best.
SLAM: Do you feel you ever got a fair chance in Philly?
SB: I think they got impatient. When I was there, I was very straight up, very forward with them. I said ‘I haven’t played basketball in two years. I have one year of college experience in a mid-range conference That’s who I am.’ And they decided to draft me. And then I told my agent, look, when you feel a contract’s fair, or when you think I should sign a contract, bring it to me, I’ll sign it. I trust him enough. A week later, earlier than any other rookies signed in the summer, I signed a contract. They wanted me to sign, I signed, and they said it was going to be a three or four year process of me really coming into what they wanted me to be as a center. And it lasted just over two years. They got a little impatient, and made some trades, and made some other trades. I had some good times there, I had some frustrating and hard times, but, they just got impatient. They decided to make a move, and it’s been a good move for me.
SLAM: Have you been happier in Jersey?
SB: Much happier. If you saw me play before and saw me play now, it’s almost like I’m a different person—I’m a lot more relaxed, I’m a lot more confident, and I feel really good about myself.
SLAM: Who has helped you the most since you’ve been in the NBA?
SB: There have been a couple guys who have really helped me a lot. One of the guys who’s really helped me a lot is Rick Mahorn. He’s on the Nets now, but even in my rookie year, we worked together in the summer, working out and things like that. Clifford Ray lately, has really, really helped me a lot, he’s instilled a lot of confidence in me, and I worked with some people in Philadelphia, like Kareem and Lee Haney, who added little pieces here and there that have helped. Pat Croce—everybody that I’ve worked with really has done a little something that’s helped me, but the major guys have been Rick and Clifford.
SLAM: What facet of your game do you think you have to work on the most?
SB: Well, I definitely need to get stronger. I’m not worried about gaining a lot of weight—but my strength is something that I’ve worked on, and I need to continue to work on. Between that, and doing the things I can do, and not trying to play out of my game. Just slowing down, and focusing on what I can do.
SLAM: How do you compare yourself to other NBA centers right now?
SB: Right now, I think I’ve moved to another level. I think I can compete with them—I wouldn’t say I’m a great center or a bad center, I would say I compete with most everybody I go against. Shaquille, or David, or Hakeem, or Rik Smits, or people like that—I’ll compete.
SLAM: How strong is your love for the game?
SB: I love the game. It’s great. The only things that mean more to me than the game are my family and my religion. Those two things are basically one and the same. The only thing that would ever take me from this game is my family—that’s the most important thing to me in life, is being able to raise kids, and stuff like that, but I still believe having that number-one in my life still allows basketball to be a very high priority. I don’t care what people are going to say, that question whether or not basketball should be the number-one priority in my life, it’ll never happen. I realize basketball lasts, an average in the NBA, four years. For me, I’m lucky to have an eight-year contract, and should be able to play into the teens, in years. Say I choose to play 12-14 years. My family, I’m going to be with them for the rest of my life. I love basketball—but in the long-term, it’s a short-term thing.
SLAM: Has your love for the game grown stronger over the past year?
SB: I think I’m enjoying it a little more than I was before. Deep down, I think the love never changed but the enjoyment of it has. I think back to when I was a kid and I used to go out in the backyard, shovel the snow and shoot with gloves on just to have fun—and I’m starting to have that kind of fun again.
SLAM: Would you like to play for Utah at some point in your career?
SB: You know, that’s the place where I grew up—they really enjoyed watching me as I grew up. If something like that came about, I’m sure I’d really enjoy it. I know I’d be glad to go back to Utah—I’ve got a lot of support there, even now. But that’s not something I have a lot of control over, so if it happens, it happens, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t, but I’m sure I’d enjoy it.
SLAM: Do you consider yourself a role model?
SB: Yeah, I do. In the sense that, I know how I live my life—I don’t take drugs, I don’t drink alcohol, my wife and I have a very strong relationship, I don’t cheat on her—and those are things I think are good, moral values. If kids look up to me as being a role model, and say ‘Shawn doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t take drugs, you know, he doesn’t have promiscuity in his life, I wanna be like that,’ then great—if that makes me a role model, then wonderful. But I’m gonna continue to live my life like that. Some people like that, other people don’t, and that’s up to them to decide, but if those values and those things that I hold true to my life influence somebody for good—then I’ll be a role model.
SLAM: Derrick Coleman said “Them trading me to Philly was just done out of spite, I know that and people around the league know that as well—including the fans. You going to trade Derrick Coleman for Shawn Bradley, that’s an insult! No disrespect to Shawn…” Well?
SB: Well, that’s the business of the game. Whatever he decides to say is what he decides to say, like he said, no disrespect to me at the time—he’s been a lot of those things [All-Star, etc.] and I can become a lot of those things—other than Rookie of the Year, of course. But right now, I don’t know Derrick real well—I know he can be an incredibly great player, but ever since the trade he hasn’t played a whole lot, and I’ve been havin’ a lot of fun—I think I’ve helped the Nets, I think I’m what the Nets wanted, and they wouldn’t make the trade if they didn’t want to make the trade.
SLAM: What do you hope to contribute to the Nets?
SB: Continued shot-blocking presence, increased rebounding, and eventually becoming a team leader, because I think I can learn the game to the point where I can just be on the floor and help the other guys, and have the other guys help me in knowing the logistics of the game. And then, with continued growth, maturity, and confidence, the scoring is starting to come along.
SLAM: Would you like to coach someday?
SB: I’m not sure. Eventually—I don’t know if I’d ever want to coach at the professional level. High school, maybe college—I’ve kind of entertained that idea, but that’s kind of a long way down the line. But at those levels, possibly—unless something changes, I don’t see myself coaching professionally. I can vaguely see myself coaching at the collegiate level, or high school.
SLAM: Do you feel you could play any other sports professionally?
SB: That I could? [Laughs] No. I did play baseball in high school—but the only way I’d be able to play baseball now is if I pitched. People say that professional basketball players are very gifted athletes in many sports, but I don’t see reaching a professional level in any other sports…
SLAM: [Seattle Mariner pitcher] Randy Johnson’s intimidating enough at 6-10—you’ve got eight inches on him…
SB: Yeah, 7-6 pitching from a three-foot mound, that ball’s coming down from 12 feet. You never know, but, no…
SLAM: Did you pitch in high school?
SB: Yeah, I did, a little bit. But I would never get to the point of—I mean, if I had dedicated myself wholly to it, like I have basketball, and just cut everything else out, possibly, sure—but—I couldn’t hit the ball on the professional level. I’ve got a big strike zone, and you’ve got to have incredibly quick wrists to be able to really hit the ball. Michael’s [Jordan] 6-6, and he’s an really gifted athlete, and he struggled at hitting, although I think he did well for as big as he is…
SLAM: Do you think you’re earning your salary?
SB: Salaries in the NBA are incredible. I mean, me being able to play a game and earn millions of dollars is amazing. But whether or not—the question is, does anybody in the NBA earn their salary? Or do they not. That’s a great question. I know that I went out, and someone decided to pay me what they pay me. And the last thing I’m gonna do is turn it down. And so I go out and just try to work hard, and try to enjoy playing the game and having the security that I have.
SLAM: What’s your primary focus as a player right now?
SB: Getting better and learning the game. Becoming a better student of the game.
SLAM: Is there anything specific you feel you need to accomplish during your career to make it a success?
SB: One of the things I want to do, and that I’m looking for as a long-term goal, is I want to raise my level of play to the point where I get picked to be on the All-Star team. I get picked to be on the Olympic team. And I know if I continue to work, that will happen. It’s gonna take some time and hard work, but that’s some things I want to do on an individual level. On a team level—I won a championship in high school, college I only went to one year of school, we won a conference championship—the NBA Championship is something out there that I want to be a part of someday.
SLAM: Has being a dad changed you? How?
SB: Oh, definitely. Just being able to bring miracles into this world, and being responsible for teaching them, and helping them develop. And being able to shape them into beings that are hopefully going to be able to survive in the world, the way it is now. It’s really a humbling experience, it’s an awesome experience, but there’s such a responsibilty —there’s a lot of things I’d do before that I wouldn’t do now—certain risks. I sold my Porsche—I was having fun with it, but I realized look, I’ve got kids, I’ve got responsibilities, and they’re depending on me to shape them and help them in their lives—as well as their mother—and if I’m not there, what are they gonna do? I don’t want them to have that option. So, I take less risks.
SB: I think of two things—I think of one, blocking shots, and being second in the league, wanting to lead the league, eventually, and the other one is posting up on the block.
SB: Um… Great learning experience. Hard learning experience. I wouldn’t be where I am today had I not gone through that. I had good times in Philadephia, I had hard times in Philadephia…
SB: [Long pause] I won’t touch that one…
SB: Awesome. Shaq’s an awesome player. I’ll never be like Shaq. I’ll never be the type of player that he is, but I do believe if I continue to work, continue to improve, we’re gonna have some good battles in the future. ‘Cause we’re only like two weeks apart as far as birthdays go…