“It’s something God put inside him.”
Around the clock
Energy is what separates Bradley, says Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.
And Thibodeau repeats it twice more — “His energy, his energy” — to drive home that it’s unusual for anyone to play that aggressive up and down the court all game long.
But Bradley is wired differently, so much so that his mother, Alicia Jones, says candy helped him sleep growing up. But even then, she’d find him in a semiconscious state, sleep-talking about basketball. Then he’d wake before sunrise.
“I used to wonder, ‘Who is outside at 5 o’clock in the morning on the basketball court in my backyard?’ ” asked Larry Owens, Bradley’s uncle, who lived next door.
He’d look outside, and it would be Bradley, shooting that early if he had school or not, returning in the evenings after homework, shooting until 10 or later.
He followed that routine for years. If it rained or was cold, Owens might take the goal down to keep Bradley away — “That’s the only way to get him to stop,” he says — and then Bradley would knock on Owens’s door, upset, asking why he would do such a thing.
But Bradley didn’t kill energy on just anything.
“He didn’t hang out of spend time in the streets,” says his brother, Tim Mack. He was focused, “self-made,” Mack says.
On the court, Bradley quickly earned the nickname “Spiderman.” The idea was that he seemed to be everywhere at once.
He was a one-man press in AAU games growing up, says Abdul Gaddy, a childhood friend and teammate. Bradley would guard the player inbounding the ball, then whoever he passed it to, then whoever got the ball next.
“It seemed like he was guarding everybody,” Gaddy says. “He was unhuman to us.”
Karl Drusch coached Bradley in AAU in Arlington, Texas, and remembered tournaments where his team played four games a day for days on end. But Bradley never needed rest.
“He would just never slow down,” Drusch says.
Near game’s end, he had plenty left to take over.
Ward cited one game where his team trailed by 7 points with a minute left. Ward was stomping mad.
“Coach, don’t worry, we’re gonna win,” Bradley told him.
Bradley stole the ball four times and scored four times in a minute. They won.
But Bradley also treated practices as seriously as he did games.
Ward had Bradley and other players run up this especially steep hill in Renton, Wash., and only Bradley could sprint to its peak five consecutive times with ease while others walked after 1½ trips.
“He just never gets tired,” Ward says.
“He’s a freak. A freak,” says University of Texas assistant coach Chris Ogden, who recruited Bradley to play for the Longhorns. “He’s not the bounciest guy in the world, but he’s a freak when it comes to athleticism and running all day.’’
The Celtics have a conditioning drill wherein players run a “10” – that is, 10 consecutive lengths up and down the court, also known as five down-and-backs. For centers, a good finishing time is between 1:05 to 1:06; for guards, it’s 1:00 to 1:01.
Bradley completed three straight 10s at sub-minute times — 54 seconds on the first two, 55.8 on the third — with a minute’s rest between each set. However, Bradley was late on his final run; he was supposed to complete it at 55 seconds, not 55.8.
Infuriated, Bradley then ran 10 consecutive 10s (100 total sprints), finishing all of them in less than a minute with about 40 seconds of rest in between each set.
Celtics officials were blown away.
“God has given me a gift, I guess, not to be tired, to always be able to run, to have heart,” Bradley says.
“We always used to say he had two hearts,” adds childhood friend Darnell Williams.
Bradley says he can fatigue, and that he started playing football when he was young to help wear him out. It became, he says, his best sport: “It was not even close,” he says.
Owens coached his nephew on the Lakewood Lumberjacks, where Bradley faced players three years his senior. Owens estimates Bradley was 3 feet 5 inches, 70 pounds.
“I ain’t never seen a little guy have so much heart,” he says.
Bradley played all over, and in his first year, he led the team in interceptions and fumble recoveries, showcasing a nose for the ball, of how to pry it loose from its owner.
And when there was a scrum, he always seemed to emerge with the pigskin, running the other way for a touchdown. “I would look for it, every time,” his mother says.
He also showed nastiness. Owens cited one play when Bradley was playing cornerback.
The opposing offense ran a sweep toward the side of the field opposite Bradley, but Bradley tore across, running the ball-carrier down. They met at the sideline, where Bradley’s thunderous tackle split the running back’s helmet open.Continued...