Former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley is now 80 years old, and more than a half-century removed from helping lead the New York Knicks to two NBA Championships.

Thanks to age and ailments, though, he hasn’t touched a basketball in nearly two years – a far cry from the days when he’d be practicing and playing for three or more hours every single day.

It’s been more than twenty-five years since Bradley served in the United States Senate, serving three terms before running unsuccessfully for president in 2000.

When Bradley exited the spotlight, he voiced frustration with the political climate – an era that in retrospect seems downright functional compared to current Washington.

“Neither party speaks to people where they live their lives,” he lamented back then. “Both have moved away from my own concept of service and my own vision of what America can be.”

A Princeton graduate, he even invoked the words of a famous poet. “As I leave the familiar surroundings of the U.S. Senate, I don’t know where the future will lead,” he said.

“But, I recall the words of Robert Frost: ‘’The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep; and miles to go before I sleep.’”

Bradley is back in the spotlight the last few weeks as he debuts a new documentary, Rolling Along: An American Story, a production that Forbes describes as a “One-Man Plea for Better Politics.”

What constitutes “better” when it comes to politics is somewhat in the eye of the beholder, but the long life of Bill Bradley is both fascinating, instructive – and sobering, too.

It was as a junior in high school when Bradley accepted Christ. He enthusiastically wrote about it during his rookie NBA season in a pamphlet distributed by the American Tract Society.

It was titled “I’ve Made My Choice,” and the basketball all-star left little room for doubt concerning his spiritual convictions.

“I knew I had been giving my life to the wrong goals,” he wrote. “I knew then that I wanted to give my life to Jesus Christ and His service.”

As a player on the 1964 United States Olympic Basketball team, Bradley even tracked down a bible in Russian from a Christian bookstore in Tokyo to give to a player he was witnessing to at the games.

“I’d give anything to know I had helped just one person commit his life to Christ,” he would later say. “I’m talking about the person who doesn’t know Christ, who’s never committed his life to anything or anyone. That’s the kind of person I’d like to reach, the way I was reached when I was a junior in high school.”

Bill Bradley even spoke at a Billy Graham Crusade in London in 1966, witnessing before 20,000 people.

He was fervent about his Christian faith – until he wasn’t.

Faith is rarely lost in an instant, and one could even argue that in his immaturity and youth, Bradley hadn’t ever fully made a commitment. Only man knows what’s in his heart and what transpires between him and the Lord.

But talking about his turn away from his evangelical faith today, Bradley references a Sunday sermon where a pastor “blatantly defended white Rhodesian power.” He said he was so rocked and frustrated that, “I walked out, never to return.”

Bradley’s beliefs and politics would evolve over the years, largely centering on systems and policies he believed were unfairness and unjust.

Regarding his Christian faith, Bill Bradley recently said, “I felt God’s love was more important than God’s judgement.”

Why some feel the need to prioritize one aspect of Christ’s character over the other is something that derails countless people on their journey. It would seem Bradley’s objection to perceived or actual racism was justifiable – but walking away from the faith altogether because of this one incident?

The late Chuck Colson said it well:

Bradley’s story is a cautionary tale, not just for Christians who go into politics, but for all of us. Here was a man who was converting others to Christ, and somewhere along the line, he got off the rails. It’s a warning that we need to constantly keep ourselves fresh in the faith, to attend discipleship classes, and to hold one another accountable. It’s a cautionary tale, as well, as to what the political system does to candidates … As for Bradley, I hope and pray he will to reconsider the words that he himself wrote in that long-ago tract: “The choice is simple. It is between the eternal and the passing, between the strong and the weak… between Jesus Christ and the world.”

We hope and pray the same.


Images from Getty.