The Dallas Mavericks are back in the NBA finals and there’s no bigger fan cheering them on to a potential first league title than former BYU and Mavs center Shawn Bradley.
The 7-foot-6 self-described “freak of nature” that spent nine years with the organization now lives in Salt Lake City and just spent the Western Conference finals trying to watch his old team’s games in between Bradley’s numerous activities and spending time with his six children.
“The last time they were in the Finals (in 2006) was the year after I retired,” Bradley said. “That was very hard for me. Very difficult, having retired then watching my team go to the Finals the next year… This year I’m enjoying it a lot more.”
For starters, he’s a part-time cowboy as the owner of a ranch with 350 cattle on it. Of course, it’s not easy finding a horse that can carry one of the tallest players in NBA history.
“Bless the horse’s heart, the biggest challenge is finding a saddle that’ll fit and I had a guy help me make a saddle,” Bradley said. “So we’ve got a saddle and a 16-hand horse is the smallest I can even consider.”
A lot of his time is spent giving back to others. Bradley was recently named the chairman of the board for the nearby West Ridge Academy – which he describes as a boarding school for troubled youth – and he’s heavily involved in the philanthropic organizations Rising Star Outreach and Children’s Miracle Network.
Oh, and there was Bradley’s run for the Utah House of Representatives as a Republican last fall in which he narrowly lost. He believes things would have turned out differently if Bradley hadn’t needed to take time off the campaign trail to tend to his family after Bradley’s father passed away.
Bradley hasn’t ruled out running for public office again in the future and would welcome a political basketball game with President Barack Obama if the offer is ever extended.
When speaking to him now, the most intriguing thing about Bradley might be how completely different he is off the court than the way people perceived him on the hardwood: Stiff, awkward and passive.
Bradley is very talkative, engaging and loves to laugh. And nothing cracks him up like the Jimmer Fredette tribute video starring BYU legends such as himself that popped up on the Internet several months ago.
“That was really terrible,” Bradley joked. “The people that know me and the people that are honest with me say, ‘What on earth were you doing?’ Everyone else is like, ‘That was cool.’ “
Bradley says he’s watched it just once and it makes him cringe seeing himself as a wig-wearing guitarist as part of the “Jimmer Jammers” and their rendition of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive.”
“I’d much rather watch ‘Space Jam’ or something else that I’ve done,” Bradley deadpanned.
Unfortunately, that’s not the only embarrassing video of Bradley on the internet. Basketball fans have made a habit over the years of putting together clips of Bradley getting dunked on throughout his NBA career. There was once even a SportsCenter top 10 of dunks in his grill; number one is a montage of Shaquille O’Neal posterizing Bradley.
One ESPN writer was so harsh after Bradley’s retirement in 2005 that he described Bradley as a “carnival attraction whose primary claim to fame was getting dunked on – hard, repeatedly – by a who’s who of the NBA.”
And then there are the videos of Bradley getting body slammed by Golden State’s Mark Davis in 2000 and getting punched in the face by Houston’s Walt Williams less than three months later.
People have enjoyed using Bradley as a punching bag so much that the blogosphere even recently made fun of his stat-less performance in the aforementioned 1996 movie, “Space Jam.”
The big man insists the videos and jokes don’t bother him and points out that the videos only show part of the story.
“There’s maybe one person (O’Neal) that I’ve ever played against who’s dunked on me more than I’ve blocked their shots, so I’m OK with that,” Bradley said. “But it’s when the little guy dunks on the 7-foot-6 guy, that’s the highlight, that’s the fun thing, that’s what people talk about. It’s not when the 7-6 guy blocks the 6-5 guy. That’s supposed to happen. That’s not news.”
And how does Bradley respond to critics who say he was too nice to be an NBA center, which resulted in him being on the wrong end of highlight clips?
“Well, you know what, I was who I am and I’m not going to change that,” Bradley said.
One thing’s for sure: No matter what Bradley did on the basketball court in the NBA, it always seemed to be overshadowed by what he couldn’t do and how Bradley couldn’t live up to the hype – and height.
The expectations for Bradley were as enormously impossible as his 7-foot-6 frame when he was selected second overall in the 1993 NBA draft.
Yes, he was dominant during his freshman season at BYU in 1991 when he averaged 14.8 PPG, 7.7 RPG and 5.2 BPG. But Bradley spent the next two years on a Mormon mission in Australia before suddenly becoming the face of the Philadelphia 76ers’ franchise and receiving a $44 million contract.
[Related: Top 10 worst-dressed NBA draft picks ever]
Here’s what scout Marty Blake, dubbed the “Godfather of the NBA Draft,” had to say about Bradley at the time: “There is no question in my mind about Shawn Bradley. Anybody who thinks differently doesn’t know anything about basketball. There has never been a player like Shawn Bradley.”
Bradley certainly never lived up to that billing.
Berated by Philly fans and dubbed “Missionary Impossible,” Bradley was traded to New Jersey during his third season with the 76ers and shipped to Dallas in 1997, where he spent the rest of his career before retiring in 2005.
While Bradley never became a dominant big man, made an All-Star game or lived up to being a second overall pick, it should be noted that Bradley played 12 seasons in the league, averaged 8.1 PPG and 6.3 RPG during that time and finished with over 2,000 blocked shots.
“Whether I lived up to people’s expectations of changing the game or franchise or what not, look: I went out, I worked hard, I didn’t fib or lie or cheat anyone,” Bradley said. “I just went and I worked hard and said, ‘This is what I have. If you can use it, great. If not, fine.’ And I was there for 12 years and I retired on my terms. So I look at it as very successful and I’m very proud of it.”
And while fans have enjoyed using Bradley as a punch line over the years, in the end it was Bradley that laughed all the way to the bank by making approximately $70 million during his NBA career, which has allowed him to now enjoy retirement back in Utah with his family and give back to those around him.
Not bad for a carnival attraction.
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