It's cold outside the Maryland Transportation Authority Police Station. Crickets are chirping as the day begins to take hold, and Dudley Bradley is doing push-ups in the parking lot, preparing himself for a tryout as an officer for the agency.
The life of a police officer is a far cry from the days when the 6-foot-6-inch-tall Bradley ran up and down the basketball court with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, making a name for himself as one of the NBA's most solid defensive players. In a decadelong career in the 1980s, Bradley played for seven professional teams after having been drafted in the first round out of the University of North Carolina.
Practice no longer consists of free throws, dribbling and three-point shots. Now it's more about pistol firing, handcuffs and pepper spray.
"I just thought that I would be good as a cop," says the Randallstown resident and 1970s basketball star at Edgewood High School in Harford County. "I think first before I react. I'm poised. I'm patient. I don't fly off the hinge."
After more than 25 years on the professional and college basketball circuit as both a player and a coach -- most recently, he was coaching the Richmond Rhythm team for the now-defunct International Basketball League -- Bradley, 46, has stepped off the court and returned home.
He'll earn $36,432 as a patrol officer. That's not even close to the salary he earned playing for the Chicago Bulls and the New Jersey Nets, among others. Bradley, a journeyman player known for defense rather than scoring, made between $65,000 and $100,000 a year during his NBA career -- just above the league's minimum salary, but nevertheless good pay when compared with most occupations.
"It doesn't have anything to do with the money," Bradley said of wanting to become a police officer. "You don't do everything for money. It's a good opportunity" because the job gives him time to be with his family, he said.
The job "gives me an opportunity to help people and work with people in the community," he said. "It's similar to basketball [because it involves] teamwork."
Maryland Transportation Authority Police are responsible for keeping aggressive or drunken drivers off toll roads, and the force works with Baltimore, state and federal agencies to patrol the Port of Baltimore. The force also provides foot patrols at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
Bradley is fully immersed in the training. Roll call at the academy was at 6:45 a.m. Wednesday. When the class was inspected in drill formation by instructor Ellwood Leath, the recruits' brass wasn't shiny enough, and the leather belts holding their holsters and handcuff cases weren't up to snuff.
"It should shine," Leath said, addressing the recruits as they stood in formation after going inside the training academy. "It should glimmer. There should not be one bit of haze on that brass."
Bradley, along with 32 of his classmates, had to do push-ups and hold himself in the push-up position. Some dropped to their knees with muscle fatigue.
But the former Washington Bullets and Phoenix Suns player is used to working out early in the morning.
"That's nothing unusual for me," Bradley said. "When I played for Phoenix, you had to."
There, it got so hot during the day that Bradley would start his workouts at 6 a.m., and with the Bullets he would start running around the same time and be lifting weights at about 8 a.m.
It's hard to imagine him away from basketball. In his three-year varsity career at Edgewood High School, Bradley broke many school records and accumulated more than 1,400 points and 1,000 rebounds. Praised in the media and wooed by college recruiters, he led his high school team to the Class-B state basketball championship in 1975.
Dean Smith coached him from 1976 to 1979 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where Bradley is known for one of college's most exciting basketball moments -- a play known as "The Steal."
Bradley missed a long shot during the final seconds of the Jan. 17, 1979, game in Reynolds Colliseum against rival North Carolina State, which had rallied from a 21-point deficit to gain a 69-68 lead over the Tar Heels. North Carolina State got the rebound, but Bradley stole the ball from Clyde Austin and dunked it to give Carolina a thrilling 70-69 victory.
Drafted in 1979 from UNC after earning a social recreation degree, the first-round pick went to the Indiana Pacers, and he played with them for two seasons.
It was during those days in Indiana that Bradley first gained interest in police work. One day, he said, Roger "The Rajah" Brown, then the leading scorer in Pacers history, came into the locker room with a gun.
"As big as you are, why do you have a gun?" Bradley asked Brown. The Pacers legend said he was now a sheriff and that it was a good career to have after the NBA.
"I was interested," Bradley said, "but it was just in the back of my mind."
Basketball life, and the fame, was still good. Bradley went through several nicknames during his career: He was called a garbage man at UNC because he did the dirty, unheralded jobs of playing defense, making steals and helping others sweep the backboards. During his rookie year with the Pacers he was ranked third in the NBA in steals with 2.57 a game and was nicknamed the Secretary of Defense. With the Suns, he was called Dudley Do-Right.
After retiring from the NBA, he spent the summers of 1991 and 1992 with the Saskatchewan Storm of the World Basketball League and then coached the Brevard College Tornados from 1994 to 1999.
Even though he didn't burn out from his years in basketball, he said giving up the sport wasn't hard because he wasn't consumed by it during his years as a player.
"For me it was a game and a job," he said. It was "just time to try something else. It wasn't like I was going to die if I didn't see a basketball."
A new challenge
So, more than 20 years after talking with Brown in the locker room, Bradley decided to take a shot at becoming a law enforcement officer. He got the idea after a police recruiter showed up at the workplace of Stefanie Bradley, his wife of five years.
His first day of training was Sept. 3.
"I thought it was good timing," he said. "I wasn't too old [and was] healthy enough physically and mentally."
Bradley says it's taken some time to get used to the physical activity of the officer candidate program because he's gotten out of shape from his years of coaching and devoting time to his kids. In addition to a 19-year-old daughter, he has a 5-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter.
"I like all of it right now," he said when asked his favorite part of the program. "It's new, and it's changing. It's fun because I'm going back to school."
Bradley says he enjoys being kept on his toes, and the unpredictability of the job is what he most looks forward to about being a police officer.
"You really don't know what to expect when you go out," he said. "It's almost like playing sports."