Dick Harmon: National spotlight shines on Shawn Bradley's life after the NBA

Published: Saturday, May 31 2014 3:40 p.m. MDT

Former NBA basketball player Shawn Bradley, left, chats with U.S. soldiers during his visit to U.S. military base in Bagram in north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, April 7, 2009.

Rafiq Maqbool, Associated Press

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Shawn Bradley was the King of Decency before, during and after the NBA.

It’s been nearly a decade since Bradley left the league for private life.

At 7-foot-6, it's tough for him to find a hiding place if he wanted one. There are only about 30 people in the world that tall.

Moneywise, the NBA was good for Bradley. He pocketed a fortune.

But while in the league, Bradley took as much abuse as any player in history from media and fans. People love to put him down. Folks post YouTube videos on the Internet of the Top 10 Dunks on Shawn Bradley. Color posters have been made and sold of NBA players dunking on him in what is called being “posterized.”

Bradley may have been posterized more than anybody in basketball.

On its face, this should be humiliating for a guy Rick Majerus once told the world would change basketball as we know it. Nobody will ever comprehend the hurt Bradley has endured personally over the years.

That’s why it was refreshing to see ESPN’s 30 for 30 piece on Bradley, a kind of “where is he now” feature. And while posterizing was featured as a lead in, in the end, producers and writers, and the chief source, former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy, pointed out Bradley may ultimately have the last laugh.

Bradley has traveled the world, visited Iraq and Afghanistan and parts of Africa and India. He’s used his unique height to draw immediate attention to his causes, including his faith. He’s donated to Bryan’s House, a managed facility for children affected by HIV and AIDS. He is a national spokesman for the Children’s Miracle Network and Basketball Without Borders. His family has helped treat leprosy colonies in India through the Rising Star Outreach.

He works at West Ridge Academy near Salt Lake City as a mentor and coach.

For all the abuse Bradley’s endured over the years for not being the franchise legend the Philadelphia 76ers sought when they picked him No. 2 in the 1993 draft, he’s probably been more true to himself than many in the league.

He once risked a $10,000 fine by refusing to attend a players-only meeting at a topless bar. He’s put his family and church above everything in his life.

The native of Castle Dale attended BYU for one year, tied David Robinson’s NCAA tournament record for blocked shots in a game and set an NCAA freshman record for blocks. He left basketball for two years to serve an LDS mission in Australia. For a guy that size, doing so would retard physical skill development in untold fashion. But he did it. When he came home, he went directly to the NBA.

And got posterized.

His career wasn’t all bad; it just wasn’t Kareem Jabbar-esque. He remains 16th on the league’s all-time list for blocked shots. He’s had his share of slapping shots in the face of the NBA’s elite; he’s won some battles.

Van Gundy said hoop folks judge Bradley for his 12 years in the league, but who is to judge him? “He should be judged for what he’s done in the course of his life and what he’s been able to bring to this world.”

He and his wife of 20 years, Annette, have six children.

From volunteering with cleanup crews in New Orleans after Katrina, to service in the Boy Scouts of America, to humbly pausing to sign autographs across the world, Bradley has always been a Sir Thomas More to the Henry VIIIs of this world.

The NBA is famous for hatching stars who father illegitimate children by dozens of women coast to coast and millionaires who end up bankrupt. Bradley never was Wilt Chamberlain, but he absolutely has always been a man true to his standards. He’s never flinched.

In his own words in the ESPN piece, he admits being criticized for not making basketball No. 1 in his life.

“I don’t apologize for that because it never has been and never will be. I value my family and my religion as No. 1 and hold them almost in the same light. Going to the draft, I took two years off to serve my church and my God. There were no secrets, there was no deception; I didn’t ask anyone to be drafted No. 2. People said I’d revolutionize the game. Look, I made myself available and said I’d work hard and give you the best I can.

“The biggest accomplishment,” said Bradley of his NBA career, “is that I stayed married.”

The moral to the story is nobody should be judged by how they look or appear. Men are what they are and do.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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