Tribeca 2023 Review: Bill Bradley Scores by Traveling in “Rolling Along”

Early on in “Rolling Along,” Bill Bradley admits it’s his first time on stage since an 8th grade play, and after hearing him sing a small bit of the operetta, it is clear he didn’t miss his calling after playing a king, only to become one in New York as a Hall of Fame forward for the New York Knicks. Although Madison Square Garden is as big a stage as they come, it somehow doesn’t seem much of a stretch to see him at ease on a smaller one giving an entirely different performance, treading the boards at the Signature Theatre in New York for a one-man show that is less surprising for the fact that the Rhodes Scholar is a tremendous storyteller than how it may serve as an autobiography, but far more about how people who passed through his life affected him rather than the other way around.

There’s nothing fancy about the production, which counts Spike Lee and Frank Oz as executive producers and with “The Last Dance” producer Mike Tollin behind the camera, with the only stylistic flourish really arriving when Bradley recounts his speech on the U.S. Senate floor during his tenure representing New Jersey in Washington, and he was unable to hide his anger when the Rodney King verdict was read. There’s a handful of clips from Bradley’s playing days tastefully interspersed throughout, though fittingly they’re illustrations of the team chemistry he had with Earl Monroe, Willis Reed and Dave DeBusschere, who became a friend for life, and while he might be approached by fans on the road, his teammates would take notice that Bradley was just as prone to approaching strangers to start up conversations at airports and coffee shops to pass the time and placate an insatiable curiosity.

Yet when one suspects Bradley wouldn’t have the time to properly cover his adventures in two remarkable careers in a concise 90 minutes, “Rolling Along” embraces the ordinary to let the extraordinary emerge as his interest in other people becomes its primary thread. Recalling his youth in Crystal City, Missouri where he was raised as a devout evangelical Christian, it becomes clear how he was set to become a man of principles even as a boy, but his physical growth would lead him to basketball where even before he reached the NBA, he was the subject of a New Yorker profile and although he would get accepted at Duke, even then a powerhouse, his conscience called on him to attend Princeton where athletics took a backseat to academics. Bradley’s love of the game would lead him to turn pro, but “Rolling Along” suggests it wasn’t the competition that appealed to him, but the camaraderie, offering the opportunity to travel with players of different backgrounds than himself and meet people along the way who would come to shape his views towards race and religion, not losing his faith in God, but in a denomination that he could see growing increasingly hostile towards civil rights for all.

The epiphanies seem to occur all over again to Bradley as he relates them to an audience, and the anecdotes are shared with great care and humility when he’s not one to suggest they came easily to him. Wisdom is seen coming as early as when Bradley could see the injustice of being unable to eat at certain restaurants where his Black teammates wouldn’t be served when they all were playing Little League through becoming a father and seeing the world through the eyes of his daughter, taking care of her as his wife worked as a tenured professor, and while there may be a professional polish of a former politician on display when engaging with the audience, the candor feels as if it’s coming from someone no longer concerned with pursuing a higher office. Still, even after such a public life, you suspect “Rolling Along” will offer as much for those already familiar with Bradley as it will for anyone coming in cold and even though he’s up there all alone, he’s generous in sharing the spotlight.

“Rolling Along” will screen at Tribeca Festival at AMC 19th St. East on June 17th at noon and June 18th at 9 pm. It will be available to stream from June 19th through July 2nd on the Tribeca at Home app.

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