The man Knicks fans remember fondly as Dollar Bill Bradley is asked: Do these Princeton Tigers remind you more of your 1965 Princeton team or your 1969 Knicks team?
The former Senator chuckled.
“I don’t know, I’d have to see ’em play more games. … They played, I think, like the ‘69 Knicks team,” Bradley told The Post.
Bradley was asked specifically how so.
“Well they move the ball,” he said, “and they had great poise. When there were double-teams they didn’t panic, and they made sure that when they had an out-of-bounds play, guys were spaced. They did a great job on offensive rebounds, which means you box out first. I think that’s a tribute to the coach and to the players, and the coach for teaching them what they’re gonna do, and them mastering the fundamentals and being unselfish.”
I suggested to him that Red Holzman, who led Bradley’s Knicks to NBA championships in 1969 and 1973, would have liked this Princeton team.
William “Bill” Bradley posed in Princeton basketball uniform.AP
“I think he’d love this Princeton team,” Bradley said. “I don’t know them, right? So I can’t tell you, but they played strong and tough, they were fundamentally perfect in terms of boxing out, they spaced the court exceedingly well, they had poise, they did not panic, and they hit the open 3 shot.”
Bradley is only the greatest player in Princeton and Ivy League basketball history, a magical scoring machine who led the Tigers to the national semifinals in 1965, when there were 23 teams in the field and it had yet to be called the Final Four.
Head Coach Red Holzman of the New York Knicks looks on against the Washington Bullets in 1978.Getty Images
Princeton coach Mitch Henderson was touched by Bradley’s remarks.
“Coach [Pete] Carril used to love those Knicks teams,” Henderson said at Jadwin Gymnasium. “I take a lot of pride in that because I think those are the things that matter. We’re a very good passing team. The guys pass the ball with purpose. We put a lot of emphasis on that, like what’s the difference between a 20-foot pass and a 15-foot pass? And they’re listening. I can’t always get my 10-year-old to listen to me, but these guys listen. They’re in it together with us.”
Bradley’s ’65 Princeton team defeated Providence in the East Regional Final at Maryland’s Cole Field House before losing to Cazzie Russell’s muscular Michigan team at Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Ore., in the national semifinal. The Tigers beat Wichita State in the third-place consolation game and Bradley — 22-for-29 shooting, an NCAA Tournament-record 58 points — was voted Most Outstanding Player.
“I’m most fond of our East Final against Providence,” Bradley said. “Providence was No. 3 or 4 in the country, we weren’t even ranked, and we beat ’em by 40 points. One of the best games I ever played in for team effort.”
And how could he forget the reception waiting for the Tigers when they returned to campus.
“I still got pictures of me on the top of a bus,” Bradley said. “How the hell I got up there I don’t know. The whole team was on top of the bus.”
Bradley was bitterly disappointed when Russell and Michigan proved too big and strong.
“They were much stronger physically,” Bradley said. “They had Bill Buntin and Oliver Darden, these guys were 6-8, 6-9, 230, and then they had Cazzie of course.”
The Tigers had been seeking revenge for losing a Holiday Festival nail-biter at the Garden.
Bill Bradley at the New York Knicks game, a night where the Knicks honored the 50th anniversary of the 1973 championship team.Michael Simon/Shutterstock
“That was going to the mountaintop and suddenly crashing to the bottom,” Bradley said, and laughed. “We were up by 11 or 12 with about three or four minutes to go, and I fouled out, and they just chipped away at it, and ended up winning on a shot by Cazzie in the last seconds.
“In Portland, I remember once again I got into foul trouble. We came off the high of the Providence game. We actually thought we’d win, but we didn’t.”
Nobody, of course, expected an Ivy League school to be that close to winning a national championship.
“I had a moment of great truth the other night,” Bradley said, and chuckled. “One of the commentators, they were saying, ‘You know, Princeton was only 10-4 in the Ivy League, boy the Ivy League quality of play has really come up since the old days.’ That’s a backhanded way of saying that they deserve it, you know?”
Bradley’s Princeton team felt the same way about the Cinderella label that the current Princeton team does.
“Well we were Cinderella in the public’s minds,” Bradley said. “We weren’t Cinderella in our own minds ’cause we were playing to win the championship.”
Tosan Evbuomwan, Ryan Langborg, and Caden Pierce of the Princeton Tigers react on the bench during the second half against the Missouri Tigers in the second round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.Getty Images
Creighton is next on Friday night in a South Regional semifinal.
“Mitch has made believers out of all of them,” Bradley said.
Just as Butch van Breda Kolff did for Bradley & Co. in ’65.
“We had a total meeting of the minds on what basketball was all about,” Bradley said. “It was about movement, it was about defense, it was about passing. He had a freelance offense, so you really had to know the game. If somebody was overplaying, go back door, and he encouraged that and he coached that.”
Asked what advice he would have for these Princeton Tigers, Bradley said: “Continue to execute as they’re executing now. Believe you can win. Know you can win. And go out there and play unselfishly. Follow Mitch’s lead. Mitch has done a great job, a really great job. He’s a great representative for the university.”
As was the Rhodes Scholar who is happy that a university that values academics over athletics can also field a team such as this one. No one was better in the big games.
“Friday’s a big game — because it’s the next game,” Bradley said. “That’s important to remember. The big game is always the next game if you’re a champion. You can quote that — the big game is always the next game if you’re a champion. Write that down. I want to see that in the article.”
One more swish for Dollar Bill Bradley.