In 1963, Bill Bradley was the best free throw shooter in the country. As a college freshman he made 57 straight, setting a new NCAA record.
He woke up the sleepy college town of Princeton, N.J. Town-gown tensions were soon forgotten as he filled up the Tigers' then tiny (3,000 seats) basketball home, Dillon Gym. Townies could still find a way into the games; the campus was our back yard after all. There were always some great seats over the Gothic door frames.
Bradley was the consummate man-in-motion, dogged by two or three defenders, but always finding a way to get open and get to the line. He replaced Albert Einstein as the quiet, lovable, respected, kind-of-rumpled guy you'd see walking across campus or down Nassau Street.
During his senior year, while other Ivy League campuses were reveling in protests against the war and Defense Department funding for research on their campuses, Princeton was surprisingly calm. Folks said it all had to do with Bill Bradley's influence. He took the campus and the town to the Final Four. A few months later he spurned the New York Knicks to go to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar.
A young New Yorker journalist living in town decided to do a profile on Bradley. In an effort to know the athlete in a familiar setting, John McPhee took Bradley to visit a local prep school gym. Bradley began shooting 14-foot jumpers from the right side. "He kept missing them," wrote McPhee. "Six in a row hit the back rim of the basket." Making a mental adjustment, Bradley moved to another spot and made five in a row. Clean.
He turned to McPhee and paused, "You want to know something? That basket is about an inch and a half low." John McPhee then tells how he went back a few days later, borrowed a ladder and a steel tape and discovered Bradley was right.
Four years ago, as a junior in high school, Duke's J.J. Redick made 61 consecutive free throws. Last year he made an ACC record 54 free throws in a row. This year he leads the nation with a 93 percent rating. No one has ever finished the season with that high a number. He's money.
Last week in the first half of a laugher against Virginia Tech, Redick missed three free throws on the North rim. (After the game, he admitted that it reminded him of when he was 12 years old.)
The Cameron Crazies love J.J. Redick, and they're the best part of this story. As Redick stepped to the line, already having missed a pair from the stripe, two things happened almost spontaneously. Everyone started clapping, showering the love, even the sitters above the brass rails.
And then when the shot rimmed out, Cameron rang out with the chant, "Fix the rim! Fix the rim!"
Shooting on the south rim in the second half, Redick was dead-on, perfect. I'm thinking after the crowds thinned out, someone must have found a ladder and tape measure and checked that north rim. I'm thinking it was an inch and a half low.