What a life Bill Bradley has lived (you can hear him talk more about it in my interview with the man here). Any one aspect of his story is captivating. Want to hear about a small town kid turned NBA legend and Hall of Fame basketball player? Check. What about that same man turning around and becoming a longtime United States Senator from New Jersey? Check. Then, to top it all off, that same person runs for President? Yeah, who wouldn’t want to hear about Bradley’s life story? As an added bonus, Rolling Along is a filmed version of a stage show where Bradley himself tells it to you. It’s a small movie, but one that is among the better titles at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival.
Rolling Along is a compelling showcase for Bradley. The documentary is simple and just lets Bradley be the focus. In a way, it’s his Springsteen on Broadway, just presenting an intimate life story from a larger than life figure. While a traditional doc would have worked too, there’s something a bit special about the manner in which this is delivered. It hit me in just the right sweet spot of my personal interests, but this should appeal to everyone.
This is an oral history of Bill Bradley’s life and career, which he developed for three years, committing it to memory, before premiering it in New York City in December 2021. A live theatrical recording of the show, we have Bradley on stage, just telling his story. Born in Crystal City, Missouri, he defied the odds by going from that small town to Princeton for college, becoming a Rhodes Scholar, and then being drafted in the NBA by the New York Knicks. Bradley would become a star, leading the Knicks to two NBA championships, before turning around and running for Senate. That need to serve and to be a public servant would lead him to seek the Democratic nomination for President in 2000, challenging frontrunner Al Gore.
Interspersed with his tale are photos and videos that give you a bit of a visual cue to go with Bradley’s auditory presence. He’s telling his story so well that you don’t really need them, but the added bits don’t hurt, either.
Bill Bradley is a big presence, both in terms of his height and his personality. The story means everything to him and it shows. As much as anything, he’s great evidence that not every athlete is a self-centered jerk, as well as not every politician being an outright liar. Some of these people are genuinely good, with Bradley being chief among them.
Director Mike Tollin, working from Bradley’s screenplay, just makes the doc all about the man’s words. It keeps Rolling Along from having a particularly distinctive style, but it allows the story to shine through. I was compelled enough throughout to never mind, even if it admittedly could feel a bit repetitive at times.
Rolling Along is another strong documentary at Tribeca this year. With a focus on someone as unique and easy to admire as Bill Bradley, there’s much to like here. It’s not stylish and perhaps even uncool, but it’s compelling cinema and well worth a watch. Political junkies and sports fans alike can come together on this one!