The Sixers' failed Shawn Bradley experiment

Posted: February 08, 2013

Seventh in a series of 13

THE SETUP:The 76ers drafted Shawn Bradley with the second pick of the 1993 draft. There was probably never a pick who had so much promise but was so disappointing.

SHAWN BRADLEY fooled us.

Announced he was turning pro on April 1 (April 2 in Australia). No joke.

The fans and the media weren't the only ones to be fooled. Experts from Sonny Hill to the late Rick Majerus to Jim Lynam. Shawn Bradley, all 90 inches of him, was going to revolutionize the game, it was said.

He was not a 7-6 kid who happened to play basketball because he was tall; he was a basketball player who just happened to be tall, they said.

Sixers fans fell in love with the idea that the team had a 7-6 center who was athletic enough to hit over .400 for his high school baseball team, play golf, ride horses, wrestle and even water ski. As a friend of the family said, "When he water skis, it's like launching the Eiffel Tower."

The person who was really sold on Bradley was Lynam, the Sixers' general manager.

"He's a very unique player," Lynam said of Bradley after finishing second to Orlando in the 1993 NBA lottery. "He has a terrific feel for the game. His defensive instincts are outstanding. Obviously, his size and his long arms allow him to get to shots similar to the way [7-7] Manute [Bol] does. Unlike Manute, he's very comfortable at the offensive end. He passes the ball well. He has a good variety of shots."

It was universally believed that the top two picks would be Bradley, who played only one season at Brigham Young, and Michigan's Chris Webber. So it wasn't as if the Sixers were reaching higher than Bradley's noggin.

Bradley, they were saying, was a sure thing at No. 2. No brainer. Forget about Anfernee Hardaway and Jamal Mashburn; Shawn Bradley's the real deal.

"The biggest mistake since not drafting Michael Jordan would be passing on Shawn Bradley," said Majerus, who was the head coach at Utah in '93.

Golden State's Don Nelson wanted Bradley badly, even tried to move up in the draft to get him, but that wasn't happening. And Lynam, maybe worrying about the disastrous goings-on of the 1986 draft, wasn't about to test fate and trade the No. 2 pick, whether it be Bradley or Webber.

But what everyone seemed to be overlooking was the fact that Bradley, on the eve of the lottery, was a week away from returning home to Utah from a 2-year Mormon mission in Australia, where he hardly touched a basketball but did put on 45 pounds - not all muscle.

"If his body has improved," said Sacramento Kings GM Jerry Reynolds, "and if he shows he is willing to do the things he needs to do, he will be the No. 1 pick."

"If he shows he is willing to do the things he needs to do . . . " Key words. Bradley came to Philadelphia, started working out with Pat Croce, said all the right things and the city embraced him. We wanted Shawn Bradley to be great.

We were being told that it could take 2 to 3 years for him to develop, but that it would be worth the wait. We read where Croce loved the kid's work ethic.

"There comes a point in a workout," Croce said, "when you get nauseous, tired, sore, when you turn pale, when you want to sit down, put a towel over your head, just stop. I thought maybe he had reached that point. But he rested a little, came back, said he wanted to finish."

The appetite had been whetted.

"I think fans are going to give him a little leeway," said Sixers assistant coach - speaking of 1986 - Jeff Ruland. "He's an athlete. I've looked at a stack of tapes taller than he is. The kid is a player."

And then the games began. All that athleticism, toughness, offensive game disappeared.

His rookie year, which ended after only 49 games because of a dislocated kneecap, was not successful. His one highlight was the eight shots he blocked in his first game. For the season, he scored 20 or more points only four times and grabbed double-digit rebounds on only seven occasions.

In Year 2, Bradley took a step backward, until the final 15 games. In the first 67 games, he averaged 8.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.0 blocks. In his final 15 games, he was what the team was looking for, averaging 37.4 minutes, scoring in double figures in all 15 games and pulling down double-digit rebounds in 11, averaging 16.3 points, 11.5 rebounds and 4.9 blocks.

In Year 3, owner Harold Katz and coach/GM John Lucas ran out of patience. Only 12 games into the season, on Nov. 30, 1995, Bradley was traded to New Jersey for, among others, Derrick Coleman.

"I wanted to see desire and commitment from Shawn," Lucas said, "but I didn't see it every night. I was frustrated that the consistency wasn't there. I knew he had it, but I wasn't getting it. And I didn't like what teammates were beginning to say about the situation."

The 3-year project was over. He would go on to appear in 832 NBA games over 12 years, averaging 8.1 points, 6.3 boards and 2.5 blocks. Not exactly revolutionary.

"It's been a good growing experience," Bradley said after being traded to the Nets, "but people have been telling me they didn't know if I'd ever become that player in Philly. I think I now understand what they meant."

Didn't become that player in New Jersey or Dallas either.

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