When other people looked at Charles Bradley, they often saw a man living in the shadow of others. When the Celtics looked at him, they saw potential.
It should have been a big event in Laramie when the world champion Celtics made the University of Wyoming guard their No. 1 choice in the NBA draft. But people seemed to be more interested in a baseball player for Toronto by the name of Danny Ainge, who also played guard for Wyoming's archrival, Brigham Young.
Bradley was averaging 19.2 points a game for the Cowboys, the best at the school since the two-season spree of former NBA star Flynn Robinson in the '60s. It should have been enough to indicate that he was blue-chip material. But not until it was mentioned that Charles was the younger brother of Dudley Bradley, a star player for North Carolina and a first-round draft choice of the Indiana Pacers a few years ago, was he given real credibility.
"All I know," suggested Celtic coach Bill Fitch, "is that Charles Bradley might be as good an athlete as was taken in the entire draft. His potential factor is more than his achievement factor. But when you draft at the pro level, you have to have an idea of what you'd like to do with a particular athlete.
"How many times have you seen college players with big reputations who didn't have much of a pro career? To play in the pros, a player might need a different set of tools, a different wrench. You only have to look back in our own organization to see how Red came up with a John Havlicek, who was overshadowed by Jerry Lucas and Larry Siegfried at Ohio State."
No one is suggesting that young Bradley is the second coming of Havlicek just because he happens to be a marvelously built player with tools that lean heavily towards defense and physical strength. But now that the Celtics have had a couple of weeks to assess their selections, the feeling is that they have at least four players, including Ainge if he should for some reason abandon baseball, who have a shot at the newly created 12th position on the club's roster.
In addition to Bradley and Ainge, Fitch is also high on Tracy Jackson of Notre Dame, his first choice in the second round, and Johnny Johnson of Michigan, who was such a sleeper that even Fitch forgot he was a senior, and who was still available when Boston's turn came in the third round.
"We've got four players who have a shot at that 12th spot," said Fitch. "They all are players who can play either guard or forward. I know a lot of people are worried about the age of our guards, meaning Tiny Archibald and Chris Ford. But I don't because I know they keep themselves in such good shape.
"However, you know the day will come when we'll have to make an adjustment. When it does, you have to be ready."
And the Celtics figure that Bradley, 22, has a good chance to be the man, providing he can show his potential in the proper surroundings. It was his improper surroundings, Fitch surmises, that made him available in the first place. Bradley was considered a sure mid-first-round choice before this year's all-star game in Hawaii. But Bradley, who has been a guard for the last two years, was switched to forward by Oregon's Ralph Miller, who had two of his own guards, Ray Blume and Mark Radford, available. Bradley shot poorly.
"That game brought his marks down to where we had a shot at him," said Fitch. "There were other players out there, but in our situation, we'd be foolish not to look for a guard for that 12th spot."
The Celtics did not make a foolish pick in Bradley, who led his club to a 24-6 record and the Western Athletic Conference title. Wyoming advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Western Regionals at Los Angeles, where it was upset by Illinois. Bradley finished his three-year career with 1744 points, which would be the record at most schools. But, at Wyoming, Robinson scored 2049 in just two seasons.
That Bradley should be chosen just ahead of Ainge is another irony, for he has spent the last three seasons in the shadow of the BYU guard. Their rivalry has been intense, but they are good friends. Ainge had 31 points to Bradley's 23 in a game at Provo, Utah, early in the season. In the rematch at Laramie, which decided the league title, Bradley had a career-high 31, with 7 rebounds and 5 steals in Wyoming's 84-82 double-overtime victory. Ainge wound up with 21 points.
"I think Ainge is a great player," said Bradley from Laramie, where he is staying this summer to finish up work for a degree in education. "I did all right, and we had some good games against him. But you're not going to stop a player of his caliber. UCLA found that out. You can only hope to contain him."
Coming to the Celtics with the idea that he might be the man to step into a starting guard slot is the farthest thing from Bradley's mind.
"It doesn't have any impact on me," he said. "I'm going to finish school, then come to Boston and try to work hard and make the club. After that, let the chips fall where they may. Obviously, I'm very happy. Anytime you get drafted by the World Champions, you've got to be pleased. But it wasn't altogether a surprise. Red Auerbach, I understand, had talked with my lawyer (Donald Dell) and told him that the Celtics might draft me if I was available.
"To me, the strong point of being drafted by Boston is that they are a good organization with a strong winning tradition. When you have winning aspirations, it's great to be with people who know how to win. I got a lot of credit here, but the people who surrounded me are what made us a team. I'm a very team-oriented player."
Bradley said that he was luckier than most in that the player he most looked up to as a role model happened to be a member of his family. Charles was a sophomore and brother Dudley a senior in 1977 when their Edgewood High School team won the Maryland state championship. Dudley was later a college star at North Carolina.
"I've always looked up to my brother," said Charles. "Just knowing him on a personal basis, I found out what it takes to be a winner. You've got to have talent, but you also have to have a lot of heart."
When he came to Wyoming four years ago, Bradley was a 6-foot-5 quick forward. But when coach Don DeVoe left for Tennessee, the man who replaced him, Jim Brandeburg, decided Bradley would be better suited to play guard. He is quick and has Don Chaney arms. A weight program that Bradley has been using since he was a junior in high school has made him very physical and very durable.
"He needs work on his shooting," said Fitch, "but the potential is there, and he's got a chance to make it. He wanted to go to California and play in the pro league out there this summer. I'd much prefer he finish up school and then come to us ready to play."