Bradley's retirement ends up-and-down era

Updated: June 28, 2005, 2:49 PM ET
By Mark Kreidler | Special to ESPN.com

This just in: Shawn Bradley was a load. Seriously. People look at him now and can't figure what the NBA ever saw in the man, but, boy, there was a time.

There was a time when the basketball world debated – maybe only half-seriously, but debated all the same – whether Bradley would be a player who revolutionized the pro game. With his 7-foot-6 frame and his pterodactyl wingspan, he was hypothesized as the vanguard for a new generation of centers: Extra long; extra lean; capable of changing the shot of almost any opposing player; a 17-rebound evening waiting to happen.

There were smart people who argued that Bradley should be the first player taken in the 1993 draft. There weren't really all that many people in the game who vehemently argued against his being the second player taken, as he eventually was, by the Philadelphia 76ers.

Upon further review: Missed it by that much.

Need a reminder that the pro basketball draft is still, in the words of Sacramento GM Geoff Petrie, "The NBA's version of 'Which stock do you like'"? We've got him right here.

Shawn Bradley went to the 76ers with that second pick in 1993, after Chris Webber and before Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway. He was so intriguing as a college prospect that even a two-year Mormon mission to Australia didn't deter the scouts and executives, who loved him based upon a single season at BYU.

Yet by the time word got out last week that Bradley was actively discussing terms of his retirement with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, you couldn't have lined up a more perfect case of the career that never was. Bradley will finish his 12 seasons with 67 games in which he fouled out. His retirement talk comes after back-to-back seasons in which he averaged fewer than 12 minutes per game for the Mavericks. He hasn't averaged double-digit scoring in seven years.

It's not to demonize the man, of course. Bradley was what he was. He was the kind of player that teams were almost afraid to pass up in the draft for fear of looking like fools if, two or three years later, he blossomed into the kind of NBA force that so many observers believed he might be.

In the end, though, you'd have to say Bradley played about as well as he actually was. He was a big guy who could indeed block shots, but who had trouble scoring and was never close to being quick or strong enough to seriously thwart an offensive drive from a physically gifted power forward or center. Gradually more immobile, slowed by injuries to knee and hip, he became the human foul, unable to stay on the floor for long stretches because of his propensity to pick up personals.

It's not fatal – and it wouldn't even be terribly noteworthy were it not for where Bradley landed in that 1993 draft, so high and with such industry buzz. But, look, the whole thing is a very elaborate crapshoot, and Shawn Bradley is a fairly dynamic working example of that premise.

Actually, you look at the '93 draft at the top, and you see the kinds of yellow caution flags that keep team presidents and GMs up at night. You see that Webber went up top, only to get shipped out of Golden State with a bad reputation after a fractious time in Don Nelson's company. Webber then became part of an underachieving Washington squad before asserting his elite-team bona fides in Sacramento, whereupon a knee injury chopped down his All-Star status.

You see Penny Hardaway, who was Grant Hill just before Grant Hill was. Penny could run and shoot and dish and rebound, only he couldn't stay healthy long enough for anyone to really appreciate that, much less fall in love with it. He was the right draft pick at the right spot, and he still wound up costing teams millions of dollars while he recuperated and rehabilitated and generally tried to get back all that his body kept giving away.

And there was Shawn Bradley, a popular choice for a lot of reasons. There was the game itself, of course, and the ways in which he might change it, but Bradley was also interesting, funny, intelligent. He struck most people as a person with the right mental makeup to stick in the NBA – and handle it.

He began walking away last week from that same league, having left barely a mark upon it. Oh, Bradley blocked some shots – more than 2,000, in all – and grabbed some rebounds. But he never did change a team, at least not for the superlative. He never did move a loser to a winner by the sheer force of his presence, the way those top-three picks are always hoped to do.

He never did any of it, really. None of which makes Shawn Bradley a bad guy in the slightest. All it makes him, you get right down to it, is one hell of a draft-day cautionary tale.

Mark Kreidler is a columnist for the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Reach him at mkreidler@sacbee.com

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