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A NOT-SO-NEUTRAL CORNER by Ciro Scotti November 17, 1999

Does It Matter a Whit That Bradley Was a Hoops Star?
At a Madison Square Garden fund-raiser, a slew of sports heros sang his praises as a team player. So what?

Bill Russell was there. And Willis Reed, Clyde Frazier, Earl the Pearl, Dr. J., the Big O, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Bob Cousy, Nancy Lieberman-Cline, and a string of other basketball greats. Also on hand, a sprinkling of entertainment celebs like Harvey Keitel (who ducked out early), Spike Lee, Ethan Hawke, and the pop star Usher.

All were assembled on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 14, at Madison Square Garden to bear witness to the team spirit, the brilliance, the innate goodness, the incredible incandescence of Bill Bradley.

Make no mistake, it was heartfelt, this fund-raiser billed as "Bill Bradley: Back at the Garden." The always-elegant Bill Russell set the tone when he said: "In this era of spin control, Bill Bradley is one of the most honest people I have ever met."

GOOFY HOMAGE. And Bill Walton (lots of Bills on hand), who seemed to be running for something himself, boomed that Bradley "stands tall against the politics of greed and arrogance." That brought cheers, though some folks did scratch their heads, and Bradley seemed to wince when Walton blurted out something about "the bad joke that's been played upon us -- the fact that Clarence Thomas has been put on the Supreme Court."

Mostly, through, the homage to Bradley was as goofy as the protester in a chicken costume who was led away by security. Forget about the silly dribble-and-shoot contest that got a lot of kids out on the hardwood or the grainy videos of Bradley when he was a Knick. It was the old athletes sitting on stools at center court extolling the admirable qualities of Dollar Bill that really seemed at once awkward and redundant. At one point, aging tennis bad boy John McEnroe, with nothing much of merit to share, shouted: "Let's hear it for the athlete as President."

Why? Why should we cheer for the political jock? Is there something about the playing field that breeds leaders who can run a roaring economy, soothe social ills, and keep us out of harm's way abroad? (Would you like Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino picking the next chairman of the Fed?) And who says the chief of all chief executives ought to be a team player, anyway?

AL GORE, REPORTER. More important, why should we care about candidates' early careers -- any more than we should care whether in their wild youths they smoked oregano or drank grain alcohol? Does it matter whether George W. Bush was successful or unsuccessful as an independent oilman in Texas? Do we really give a tinker's damn if Al Gore was a fair yet dogged reporter when he worked for The Nashville Tennessean? Is it pertinent that Steve Forbes has never held a job outside his family's business or that John McCain has never been employed in the private sector?

The answer is: That depends. George W.'s efforts to coax black gold from the sands of Texas seems a lot less on point than his years as governor. And why look back to Gore's days as an ink-stained wretch when we can reflect on his performance as Vice-President?

In Forbes' case, however, there's not much more to go on than his almost 30-year career at Forbes --mostly as a flunky for his father. McCain, on the other hand, has been in Congress since 1983, so there's a public record by which to judge him. And you can't discount his distinguished military service when assessing his leadership potential.

As for Bradley, he, too, has a long record in the Senate. So it's hard to make the case that his 10 years playing pro basketball should be a factor of any significance. Certainly, being a star foward in the NBA gives him more candlepower as a candidate. But it doesn't make him the best person to sit in the Oval Office -- no matter what Dr. J, the Big O, and all those other gray legends say.

Scotti, BW senior editor for sports business and government, offers his irreverent views every week for BW Online

EDITED BY DOUGLAS HARBRECHT _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

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