This story was originally published on April 15, 2001. With news of Shawn Bradley’s cycling accident that left him paralyzed, we’re bringing it back.
Annette Bradley no longer cries after home games, the way she did when her husband Shawn played for Philadelphia. Dallas fans, she says, are much kinder, especially now that the Mavericks are winning.
But there are occasional nights when her pulse quickens, her temperature rises and the back of her neck turns red. Occasionally, she hears Reunion Arena fans express not-so-nice sentiments about her 7-6 husband.
“It’s really hard,” she says. “When I hear it coming on, I’m sitting there and I’m starting to get hot and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh. I’ve got to tell them so at least they know I’m here. Maybe they’ll stop.’”
These, Annette emphasizes, are isolated cases. She and Shawn say they love Dallas’ friendliness and lifestyle and are blessed to be raising their four young daughters here.
Shawn is eagerly anticipating his first playoff trip in eight NBA seasons. “This is the greatest time in my career,” he says.
So, why hasn’t Dallas fully embraced Shawn Bradley?
This season’s Mavericks have surpassed all expectation, halted the franchise’s 11-year playoff drought and awakened the Reunion Rowdies from their Rip Van Winkle slumber.
For the first time since his Feb. 17, 1997, arrival in Dallas, Bradley is receiving more cheers and fewer jeers. Yet he remains a lightning rod for passionate opinion, pro and con, with little gray area in between.
“I know there’s radio talk shows,” Bradley says. “I know you can write an article, and people can take it as many ways as there are people that read it.
“I know there are people out there that no matter what I do, say or become, they’re not going to like me. Conversely, there’s going to be people that no matter what I do, say or become, they’re going to love me.
“My job is to go out and not let the people who like me go to my head and not let the people who don’t like me pull me down into a depressive state.”
How effectively Bradley does his job depends on whom you ask. From general manager-coach Don Nelson and owner Mark Cuban’s perspective, Bradley on most nights does what is asked.
He is expected to block shots, alter others and gather as many rebounds as possible in roughly 25 minutes of court time. Unlike at his previous NBA stops, Philadelphia and New Jersey, Bradley is not the first or second offensive option. He isn’t the third or even the fourth (since Juwan Howard’s arrival).
His role is about as narrowly defined as his shoulder width. But fan expectation is more proportionate to his 90-inch wingspan and $44.2 million contract, which expires after this season.
“It’s one of those things where, if you dunk the ball, you’re supposed to dunk it: You’re 7-6,” Bradley says. “If you don’t dunk it, it’s, ‘Oh, if I was that tall, I would dunk it.’
“They either love you or hate you. But not only me — a lot of people who are different or out of the ordinary.”
Hall of Fame center Wilt Chamberlain called this double standard the giant syndrome. Chamberlain, who died in 1999, chided in his 1991 autobiography:
“I suggest you buy a pair of stilts and see the world — and the likes of all of you — from my point of view.”
Shawn Bradley is no Wilt Chamberlain in ability, physique or personality. But his viewpoint is no less unique.
How many people are raised on a 2,000-acre Utah ranch, grow to 7-2 by age 16 and get a VW Beetle as their first car?
How many kids sprout at that rate yet learn piano, play drums in the junior high band, attain Eagle Scout by ninth grade, play high school golf and bat .407 for the varsity baseball team?
How many guys leave college after their freshman year and put the NBA on hold while serving a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
How many NBA players juggle the rigors of an 82-game season while being a husband, father of four girls — Cheyenne, 6; Ciera, 5; Chelsea, 3; and Charity, 2 — and teach Sunday School to 12- and 13-year-old boys?
“Shawn knows who he is, where he came from and where he’s going,” says Bradley’s mother, Teresa. “That helps him in his life. He’s got his wife and his children, and that’s the most important thing to him.”
Family values and togetherness are core Mormon tenets. Bradley has never hidden the fact that basketball is nowhere close to No. 1 in his life, nor will he apologize for it.
One doesn’t have to buy stilts, or spend a day in Bradley’s size-17 shoes and 42-inch inseam pants to understand his point of view. His family and friends wonder if some of the criticism would be so harsh, so personal, if more fans truly knew him.
“He really is a gentle giant,” Annette says. “He’s so kind-hearted. He never wants to offend people or hurt their feelings.”
Shawn and Annette say most Dallas fans are friendly and supportive when they see the Bradleys in public. Game nights sometimes are another matter. Shawn is convenient prey for fans who regard their ticket stub as a hunting license. Big target. Large contract.
“One time there was a guy in front of me who was kind of bad-mouthing Shawn,” Annette says. “I nudged him and said, ‘Hey, that’s my husband you’re talking about.’”
The fan apologized profusely, offered to buy Annette a soft drink and spent the rest of the game cheering loudly for Shawn.
A similar episode this season, however, produced a different result. After Annette identified herself to a fan who was “just really killing Shawn,” the man stammered for a few seconds, then explained: “Well, I’m a fan.”
It is no wonder Shawn is protective of Annette and the girls, seldom allowing family interviews or photos. But Annette wishes more fans could see Shawn through her eyes.
The husband who arises at 6:30 a.m., even after returning at 3 a.m. from a road trip. The husband who makes breakfast, helps with the dishes and helps bathe the girls before bedtime.
The father who, each Monday that he is home, presides over Bradley family night: A short scripture lesson, a round of Yahtzee or another board game, and maybe an ice cream outing.
With such a full home life, would anyone blame Bradley if he looked forward to road trips and the chance to sleep?
“I would much rather be around my family,” he says. “The times you have to get up in the middle of the night and hold one of your children because they’re scared of the lightning. Or changing diapers. That togetherness far outweighs the times you don’t get to sleep in.”
It figures that the girls participate in piano, tennis and soccer. Shawn’s father, Reiner, played basketball at the University of Nevada-Reno. Teresa played organized softball up until the time she had Shawn, who turned 29 last month.
Each of Shawn’s siblings (Justin, 26; Tasha, 27; Adrianne, 21) earned college basketball or volleyball scholarships.
Shawn’s daughters obviously take after him (and not the 5-4 Annette) in another respect: Height-wise, each is in the 95-percentile or higher for her age.
“One thing I notice is Shawn likes to throw them in the air and tickle their tummy,” Teresa says. “That is the coolest thing for those kids. No other child is going to have a thrill like that, unless Shawn Bradley throws them in the air.”
Teresa, who often visits from Utah, delights in the way Shawn has taken to fatherhood but isn’t surprised. After all, as a kid he cried while watching Charlotte’s Web and Where The Red Fern Grows.
“And Old Yeller,” adds Shawn with a laugh. “We saw Old Yeller the other day with the girls, and I cried again.”
‘Into the fire’
It is easy to spot visitors during Sunday services at the Plano 9th Ward, one of several Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints congregations in the Dallas area.
“They’re always looking over and wondering who the guy is that’s standing up,” says one of Bradley’s closest friends, Justin Pettit.
“He’s actually not standing. He’s sitting in a pew.”
To say Bradley is a giant among members of his church, literally and figuratively, is no stretch.
He earned admiration, at 19, by delaying his college and pro basketball careers to serve a two-year mission in Sydney, Australia. He not only served but became one of two top assistants to the mission’s president.
Talk about small worlds. In December 1992, Pettit went to Sydney to begin his mission. Who was waiting at the airport? Bradley, in a Corolla, his knees straddling the steering wheel.
Bradley had a fender-bender that day. Who knew Pettit’s and Bradley’s paths would later cross in Plano and that their families would become close?
“I don’t think the NBA or celebrity status has changed him much,” Pettit says. “He obviously traded in a Corolla for an Excursion, but by and large, I think he’s still the same guy. He remains committed to the principles that we taught people in Australia.”
Last summer, Bradley thrilled some teenage boys by showing up at the 9th Ward’s weekly Saturday basketball game and playing for two hours. One mother told Pettit that it was the highlight of her 15-year-old’s life.
Imagine the effect, then, that the world’s tallest millionaire Sunday School teacher could have on a group of naturally fidgety 12- and 13-year-old boys each week.
“Five minutes of attention and 10 minutes of inattention, that’s a successful lesson,” Bradley jokes. “But any one of those kids in that class, if I needed their help, they would be there.”
It is small wonder that Shawn and Annette hope Cuban was serious when he said he intends to give Shawn a new, long-term contract after this season.
The Bradleys have everything they always wanted here. A family, which has grown by two since Shawn became a Maverick. A strong and supportive congregation.
And a playoff basketball team that only figures to keep rising, without needing Bradley to bear extra weight on his shoulders.
When Shawn made his NBA debut in 1993, as the second pick of the draft and Philadelphia’s hope for the future, he and Annette had married a month earlier in Utah.
Oh, the horror stories. There was the reception in Philadelphia, a few days after the wedding. Sixers owner Harold Katz draped his arm around Annette and lectured her about how she was expected to protect his investment.
When Katz left, Annette discovered he had burned a hole in her wedding veil with a cigar.
There was the ill-fated 7,000-calories-a-day diet that was supposed to bulk up Shawn. There were the mandatory workouts with a former Mr. Olympia. There was Katz publicly labeling Bradley “a $44 million mistake” and talks dubbing him “Missionary Impossible.”
“I think that was hard for them, that first year,” Teresa Bradley says. “But they grew a lot from that and just became stronger. They just jumped right into the fire.”
Their two-and-a-half years in Philadelphia weren’t all bad. After all, that is where they met, in church. Annette was at the pulpit, speaking about her mission in Florida. Shawn, who had recently returned from his mission in Sydney, was sitting in the back of the church. Their eyes locked.
“I don’t know what happened,” she says. “I’m telling you, it was just like the unreal love at first sight, fireworks, the whole thing. It was very weird.”
That is the foundation upon which everything in their lives rests — eight years, two trades and four children later.
On a recent Saturday night, after a home victory over Charlotte, Shawn showers, dresses hurriedly and, as usual, is one of the first Mavericks out of the locker room.
Annette greets him in the hall. They walk down the long corridor, hand-in-hand, wearing matching leather NBA jackets.
Mavericks fans may never unconditionally embrace Shawn Bradley, but maybe they will understand if a petite blonde ever taps them on the shoulder.
“That’s my husband you’re talking about.”