Basketball | HOOP SCOOP

Bill Bradley details Chiune Sugihara's heroism in award-winning radio documentary

by Ed Odeven

Bill Bradley, captain of the U.S. gold medal-winning basketball team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, was recently involved in another winning (and historically important) project with ties to Japan.

And it has nothing to do with basketball.

The weekly satellite radio program “American Voices with Senator Bill Bradley” on SiriusXM won a National Edward R. Murrow Award for one of its December 2018 shows. The award was announced in June.

The Basketball Hall of Famer, senior producer Devorah Klahr and assistant producer Christine Whelan devoted one episode, nearly 30 minutes in length, to a lesser-known chapter in history. While World War II covers a lot of ground in the annals of history — many of the biggest stories are about battles, heroes of land, air and sea combat and defeated forces — American Voices, , which was launched more than 14 years ago, focused on something different for the Dec. 31 episode.

The program was introduced this way on its website: “Remembering Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese consul who risked his life to save thousands of Jews during WWII. In Lithuania, in 1940, he acted against his government and issued thousands of visas to Jews who were desperate to escape from the impending Nazi takeover. Today, it’s estimated that at least 40,000 people are alive because of his heroic actions.”

Bradley, who celebrated his 76th birthday on Sunday, prefaced Sugihara’s story at the outset of the program. He reminded listeners that the show is usually “about people doing wonderful things in this country, but this week we have a special presentation for you.”

Descendants of Jews who fled Lithuania appear on the program. Voices of gratitude: children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren repeated the same message, saying they were saved by Sugihara.

“We’re alive thanks to this incredible man,” one of them said.

“What he had was an unbending devotion to doing what was right,” another said.

“If they didn’t leave, they knew they would be sent to concentration camps,” Bradley narrated.

Bradley, who represented New Jersey in the U.S. Senate from 1979 to 1997, pointed out that Sugihara’s actions defied the Japanese government’s wishes: “The cable from the Foreign Ministry told Sugihara to stop writing these visas — no exception, no further inquiries, it said. But Sugihara refused. He wrote visas day and night.”

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles poignantly detailed the Gifu Prefecture native’s commitment to helping the Jews.

“Even when they closed the foreign embassy down, he took with him the stationery that was the official stationery of the government and kept writing them individually on his own,” Wolpe said of the visas, which enabled Jews in Lithuania, including those who had already fled from Poland, to travel to Japan and eventually China, England and other nations.

Wolpe visited Japan in 2018 and spoke to schoolchildren about Sugihara’s heroism. It’s a chapter in history that he didn’t publicize, but the program informed listeners that an Israeli Embassy worker in Tokyo eventually found Sugihara in the late 1960s, planting the seeds for Israel to honor him. His fourth son, Nobuki, was invited to continue his education at Hebrew University on a scholarship secured by the Israeli government, starting in 1968, and lived in Israel for many years.

In 1984, Sugihara was recognized by Israel as Righteous Among the Nations, an honorific bestowed upon non-Jews who saved Jews from being killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust, doing so while putting their own lives at risk. Yad Vashem, also known as the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, presents the honor.

Lawyer Philip Rosen, who resides in New York, discussed his family history and its ties to Sugihara, who died in 1986. Speaking on the program, he said that his father and uncle were saved by the Japanese consul after they had left Warsaw and stood outside the embassy in Kaunas, Lithuania.

“My father said it was the only hope that they could ever think exists for survival,” Rosen told Bradley before adding, “I feel like I’m the beneficiary of a miracle.”

Earlier this week, Klahr reflected on the episode devoted to Chiune Sugihara’s heroism. She said it was a true honor to tell his story.

“I think that especially in today’s climate, we were honored to highlight a hero such as Chiune Sugihara,” Klahr told Hoop Scoop. “In fact, Sugihara wasn’t sure that his efforts in giving out visas would even save one person, that even one or two people might survive, which means that he took on much risk, in order to save only a few. We see from that how much he valued even just one person, one life, and how much the trajectory of one person’s life meant to him.”

What else can people learn from this episode?

“Another lesson that people can learn from Sugihara is that this visa issue presented itself,” Klahr said in an email. “He had his own career path that he was trying to excel at, but there he found himself with Jews lining up outside the consulate, desperate to get a visa and flee from the Nazis. So, for anyone who might feel that his or her big moment of making the world a better place hasn’t come, Sugihara’s story shows you that your time might come to be a hero. This wasn’t in his career plan, but it presented itself, and he chose to show enormous kindness and compassion.”

She went on: “His wife, Yukiko Sugihara, wrote a memoir, and as she reflects back on that time, she writes that our religion is different, but that ‘our hearts are the same.’ I found that to be a very moving and loving thing to say, and that is a lesson that’s relevant today, that we as a human race have more in common than what separates us.”

For this landmark episode, American Voices also received a first-place prize (documentary and public affairs category for radio networks) in the 85th National Headliner Awards in April. The Press Club of Atlantic City established the awards program in 1934.

Bradley’s winning approach

A Rhodes scholar and author of six books, the 2000 Democratic presidential candidate’s warm personality, enthusiasm for knowledge and endless curiosity provide a template for success. His show’s guests are made to feel at ease regardless of the topic; there’s chemistry there, not unlike Bradley in his playing days with the Red Holzman-coached New York Knicks in the 1960s and ’70s.

Bradley and his production team seek out compelling topics and deliver timeless conversations.

Klahr, the senior producer, recognizes that Senator Bradley has a unique ability to connect with people from all walks of live.

“Ultimately what comes through in all his interviews, is that Senator Bradley has a deep respect for each person, and that affects how he listens to each guest, how he values them, and he enjoys the interaction with each person,” Klahr told Hoop Scoop. “Whether it’s a serious topic, such as the Holocaust or the crisis in the Congo, or the treatment of the Pygmie people, or lighter subjects like wellness or a stuntwoman telling us about her job, Senator Bradley relates to each person, values them and celebrates them.”

Over the years, other show segments have included: “a plumber who runs a scholarship for kids who have parents in prison” and “a married couple quit their jobs, and go sailing around the world for years.”

Naturally, there have been sports-related episodes on Bradley’s show, too. A two-part episode in April 2013, which was nearly two hours in total, featured Bradley interviewing several former Knicks teammates: Phil Jackson, Willis Reed, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Jerry Lucas, and Walt “Clyde” Frazier.

As for the episode on Chiune Sugihara, it’s an excellent listen. It’s well worth 30 minutes of your time. And I hope it gets translated into Japanese and dozens of other languages, too. It’s a valuable lesson in human kindness.

Access the program via this link: soundcloud.com/billbradley/remembering-chiune-sugihara-who-saved-thousands-of-jews-during-wwii

A consummate teammate during his playing days, Bradley never talks over his guests or rushes to ask the next question. He’s not a shock jock, nor is he enamored with his own voice.

Simply put, he finds delight in having conversations with ordinary folks and others who have accomplished extraordinary things.

There was a methodical brilliance to Bill Bradley’s way of playing basketball at high school in Missouri, at Princeton University, at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and in the NBA — perhaps even a bit understated. His broadcasting career is quite similar.

Simply put, this program is a hidden gem on satellite radio.