Former Viking Finds Success on Paper, Not on the Court

Post a Comment » Written on February 26th, 2007     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

CHICAGO, IL (February 26, 2007) – Jerry West doesn’t do endorsements.

The basketball legend known as the best “pure shooter” in the game’s history – the Hall of Famer who retired as the Los Angeles Lakers all-time leader in scoring, assists, field goals made, free throws made and minutes played; the franchise’s general manager who guided the team to four national championships; the man whose silhouette is used on the NBA logo – has not given his name to promote anything.

That changed with Paddy on the Hardwood, written by Rus Bradburd, who somehow managed to notch a handful of minutes and score 13 points during two seasons playing – but mostly sitting on the bench – for the North Park University Vikings. “I was the worst player ever to play at North Park,” Bradburd muses.

BradburdHe writes much better about the game than he played it. West’s contribution to the dust jacket of Bradburd’s first book reads, “Paddy on the Hardwood is hilarious, heartbreaking, and touching – I couldn’t put it down. I’m an avid reader, and it’s the best sports book I’ve read in a long time.”

The unlikely endorsement is every bit as ironic as the path Bradburd has taken to writing Paddy, a memoir of his two years spent coaching a bedraggled basketball team in the professional Irish Super League.

Bradburd never played high school ball, but had an impassioned, if unrequited, love for the game. With little natural talent, he willed himself onto the North Park team with countless hours of practicing at home, especially focusing on his dribbling skills. He declared a major in physical fitness “so that I would have more time to play basketball.”

He spent his time on the 1978 and 1979 championship teams overshadowed by several future NBA draftees and was cut from the Vikings prior to his senior season. Still, Bradburd eventually coached for 14 years under two of the game’s best: Don Haskins at the University of Texas-El Paso, and Lou Henson at New Mexico State University. (He says North Park Coach Dan McCarrell was as good).

Bradburd burned out, however, and grew disillusioned with the big-money college game. He walked away and earned a master’s degree in creative writing, determined to write fiction.

“I’d outgrown basketball and didn’t want the game to control my life anymore,” he writes. “I had two new romances: literature and music.”

Bradburd traveled to Ireland, enticed by its mythic literary and musical history that made the Irish countryside an ideal place to fall deeper in love. He would finish his book and learn to play the fiddle. Coaching the Tralee Tigers of the much-ignored Irish Super League was supposed to be a part-time job that helped him pay bills and “allow me to maintain a psychological distance from the job.”

But, he grudgingly fell in love with a cast of quirky characters even as they lost game after game. “I think more than anything, I stumbled upon a good story,” Bradburd says. He quickly began a journal, although he didn’t know what the reflections would become.

He provides the perfect accompaniment to the basketball scenes by chronicling his struggles to learn to play the fiddle through private lessons and by sitting in with the local legendary performers during late night pub sessions. “I think there’s a surprising connection between music and basketball,” he says. Learning to play the fiddle required hours of solo practice as well as learning how to play solidly with other musicians.

Bradburd’s revelation of the connection came early during his time in Tralee. “After a practice, I told the team, ‘You guys are trying hard, but you weren’t raised in the tradition, so you have a lot of bad habits. It’s going to take time to straighten these problems out,’ ” Bradburd recalls. “A week later, after my first (fiddle) lesson with Paddy Jones, he said the same thing to me.”

Paddy on the Hardwood draws its title from one of Bradburd’s first compositions, which he whimsically named because hundreds of tunes – for no particular reason – begin with Paddy. Many of the four chapters and sections are drawn from the names of Irish fiddle tunes.

Stories of misfit sports teams that pull together and win championships have made predictable plots for countless books and movies, most of them awful. Making a book that was different despite the similar plot was a challenge. “I was always conscious of working against formula and clichés,” Bradburd says.

Paddy also is no work of self-promotion. “I tried for the book to be honest,” Bradburd says. “There’s a lot of times I look like a fool.”

The author says he tries not to get caught up in the reviews, but admits to the task being difficult. “I’ve gotten attached to the success of the book, which is a dangerous thing for a writer because it’s my story.”

The story was only recently picked up by an agent, and Bradburd, who now teaches English at New Mexico State University, hopes the book will get wider distribution.

Meanwhile, the reviewers continue to echo West, as they read Bradburd’s tale.  Dan McGrath, assistant sports editor for the Chicago Tribune, wrote “Paddy on the Hardwood was the best book I read in 2006.” That’s saying a lot, especially when the second best book was written by David Halberstam, the holder of a Pulitzer prize.

Paddy can be purchased online at Covenant Bookstore.

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