The Tao Of Shawn Bradley

By: 01.04.13
Matthew Pierce

Matthew Pierce (photo. Matthew Pierce) contributor Matthew Pierce writes letters to his two young daughters in case he dies early. Sometimes, the letters are about basketball…

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I hope that one day you can discover the game of basketball as I once did. You won’t find it on the same terms, and your reasons for playing may be different, but the game will reward you just the same. You will learn more about life from your time on the court than you will from any class you could take.

I hope that I can be there to sit in the stands and cheer you on. If I’m not around, though, I want you to choose your basketball role models wisely.

For instance, work to be a consummate teammate like Tim Duncan. Pay careful attention to detail like Bill Russell did. What’s more, and this is going to sound very strange,

Play like Shawn Bradley.

Let me explain.


I was blessed to have a long enough basketball journey that I got to experience both the sensation of dunking on someone and the sensation of being dunked on. In a game, the excitement or embarrassment only lasts for a moment, but dunks tend to take on lives of their own apart from the games they were birthed in. Dunks live forever on the Internet, little islands of athletic feat that become completely detached from their original context.

[RELATED: We Reminisce – The Top 10 Dunks On Shawn Bradley]

Perhaps as much as any other player, Shawn Bradley has been defined by these highlight clips. Throughout his playing days, Bradley had a penchant for being in the wrong place at the wrong time – moored to the floor, cowering helplessly as smaller, sleeker players flew over him and jammed down buckets. Toward the end of his career, Bradley became a joke on the Internet. People edited clips together showing nothing but him being embarrassed over and over again. It was supposed to be funny, I guess – funny that one player could be so horrible.

But then there’s this number:


That’s the number of times that someone took the ball and went up against – or anywhere near – Bradley… and he stopped them. Two thousand, one hundred and nineteen blocked shots. Not all of those shots would have gone in on their own, but most of the layups and dunks would have. It probably comes out to around 3,000 points that one man erased.

So about all those times he got embarrassed: he wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time after all. He put himself in harm’s way, knowing full well what might happen. Knowing full well that he might get humiliated. Knowing that no one would remember him unless he failed miserably. Whatever fear he felt, he kept putting himself between the ball and the basket.

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