As a child, former Tennessee basketball player Dane Bradshaw, like many kids his age, dreamed of meeting his favorite NBA player, Chicago Bulls’ small forward Scottie Pippen. Unlike most kids, though, Bradshaw actually had an opportunity to do so when he attended the Scottie Pippen Basketball Camp in Conway, Arkansas at the impressionable age of 11.
It was not a good experience. Except for one fleeting moment, Pippen was nowhere to be found at his own camp, and the one brief meeting was horribly disappointing. After Bradshaw had agonized over whether to wear his Pippen jersey or his Bulls t-shirt for the face-to-face meeting, Pippen finally arrived only to say, "All right. What do you want me to sign? I have to hurry. There are a lot of kids to get to." He scratched his name on some miscellaneous paraphernalia and promptly disappeared. When Bradshaw won the camp MVP, he received his trophy not from the "sponsor" of the camp as he had hoped, but from the Central Arkansas assistant coach. Woo. This disappointing run-in with his childhood idol prompted Bradshaw to resolve that if he ever had fans, he would treat them right.
Roughly ten years later, Bradshaw not only has fans, but he’s one of the most beloved players in Tennessee basketball history. What fan of the Hulk and his Pantheon will ever forget the Blender’s one-armed, game-winning tip in against Oklahoma State? Or the All-Glue Guy’s sweet steal and spin move to beat Florida? Or the perfect night, a dominating win over the Abomination on senior night with Dick Vitale courtside, Peyton Manning in the crowd, and Pat Summit at the top of a cheerleading pyramid? Indeed, Bradshaw will not soon be forgotten.
Through it all, Bradshaw remembered the promise he made to himself resulting from his disappointing audience with Pippen. He treated Tennessee fans not only to highlight reels and memories of back to back magical seasons, but also by being an accessible, enthusiastic, and gracious hero to his fans.
One of the ways he has done this is through the publication of Vertical Leap (Tennessee Valley Publishing), a journey of journaling through the 2006-07 season. This quick and easy read offers glimpses into the locker room, the huddles, the workouts, and the minds of the players that fans usually don’t get to see. Bradshaw’s stated goal in writing the book was to "develop an even greater appreciation and bond between fans and players." Consider it done.
I mean, we knew that Bradshaw always said the right things to the media, but we didn’t know what he was really thinking while giving those diplomatic answers. ("Yeah right, that sounds good, but . . . now we have to compete against the nation’s number three recruiting class?") We knew that he put in that game-winning bucket against Florida, but we didn’t know why he was all alone at that end of the court at precisely the right time. (He "had just fallen down trying to get a rebound and had trouble getting up with one hand" because he had torn a ligament in the other hand earlier in the game. He chalked the play up to divine intervention.) And we knew we loved Dane Bradshaw the player, but we didn’t really know Dane Bradshaw the person.
Vertical Leap goes a long way toward remedying that. The book is full of Bradshaw’s humor, insight, and unique perspective into all of your favorite moments of the season. Buy the book (if you buy through that link, you'll get an autographed copy) and find out:
- What Bradshaw thinks about those who say that coach Pearl painting his chest for the Lady Vols basketball game against Duke was unprofessional and a blatant attempt to promote himself at the expense of Pat Summit’s team
- What Bradshaw considers to be one of his most embarrassing moments (hint: when the doctor finally cleared him to run after his injury, he "decided to get into shape in one day," and failed with flare in front of several onlookers)
- The story of the Tropicana Assassin
- What happens when teammate Josh Tabb attends Bradshaw’s girlfriend’s "little white party" wearing a t-shirt reading, "HELLO, I AM A PIMP"
- The details of Bradshaw’s hilarious conversation with an elderly lady who was clueless about Bradshaw’s identity despite the fact that she was sitting next to her husband who was reading a newspaper with Bradshaw’s picture on the front page
Those are just a few of the highlights of Vertical Leap, Bradshaw’s almost daily chronicling of the Volunteers’ 2006-07 season. The book goes a long way toward successfully bridging the gap between the Pantheon and us mere fans. It is your chance to really get to know the person behind the player you love.
And let me be the first to tell you, Dane Bradshaw is no Scottie Pippen. No, when you meet Dane Bradshaw through the pages of his book, you will not be disappointed.