LUMINARIES FROM the world of professional basketball converged on New York's Madison Square Garden yesterday to support one of their own and wallow in purposeful nostalgia for a bygone age in the hope of making a mark on America's future. The event, "Back to the Garden" was a rally and celebration for Bill Bradley, the Democratic presidential contender and former basketball star whose strong showing in early campaigning has given Vice-President Al Gore the scare of his career.
One of the biggest - perhaps the biggest - political fund- raisers ever held, raising $1m-$2m (pounds 600,000-pounds 1.2m) for Mr Bradley's election war chest, it was also a far cry from the black-tie dinners where politicians commonly raise money. Dress informally and wear trainers were the instructions to Bradley backers, who had paid up to $1,000 apiece to stand on the court where Bill Bradley once played and where his number, 24, still hangs. The biggest contributors were invited to "shoot hoops" with the stars - present and past. So were selected local schoolchildren, who had entered a campaign-sponsored competition to say what they would do if they ever became president.
Many of Mr Bradley's former teammates in the Knicks, the New York team he played for from 1967 to 1977, returned to the Garden to support "Dollar Bill", as he was then called because of his legendary earnings. But they were also joined by many former opponents, including arch-rivals from the Boston Celtics, Bill Russell and John Havlicek. "Remember," said Mr Bradley's spokesman, Eric Hauser, "that a lot of these guys actually played against him." The new face of the sport was also represented with the presence of several leading female players.
In the Bradley campaign, the event was seen as crucial test to gauge whether their candidate could break out beyond his natural constituency - white men of a certain age, sports …