Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” He was tall and thin with a smile that breaks hearts. He jumped up and down like a jack-in-the-box. This fellow could leap so high you wondered which part of his body would hit the rim first. In fact, he actually hit his head on the backboard, in the middle of a 1964 game against Purdue University. The lick required stitches to close the wound. He scored 36 points that night, with 24 of those points being scored after the stitches. He was born with desire and a basketball in his hands. He was sneaky quick; he could have invented the drive-by. This guy could go “Yosemite Sam” on you and moved around on his toes like Sugar Ray Leonard. When someone is in constant motion, it’s hard to get a clear look at them. In the early days of professional basketball, at 6’5”, 210 pounds, he was referred to as a swingman. Today, he would be a perfect shooting guard. This guy could take a team that made more turnovers than a bakery and make enough sweet icing to cover a four-tier cake. He could play anywhere, because he just knew how to play. On a good day, he could become an F18 with a basketball, deploying his ordinance all around you. He was the kind of player to whom you would continue to feed the ball. When this guy got dialed in, you could forget about it. He could light up a scoreboard faster than a cash register at Walmart and could scream like Little Richard. His middle name should have been “zone buster.” Crowds cheered so loud for him that the dust flew off the back of my TV when he scored. All he had to do was see the rim, and it went in. For him, the magic of round ball was just a bounce pass away. When you prepared to guard “Sweet Lou” Hudson, you added prayer to your list of things to do before game time.
Louis Clyde Hudson was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, on July 11, 1944. Like most great athletes, Lou starred in several sports, but basketball would be his ticket to stardom. “I grew up playing in the back yard like every other kid,” said Hudson. Lou attended and graduated from an all-black high school by the name of James B. Dudley, in 1963. Lou was one of the top basketball players in the State of North Carolina. Many African American kids, who attended all-black high schools in North Carolina before they became segregated, headed north to continue to play basketball. Walt Bellemy from New Bern, North Carolina, became the first African American to play at the University of Indiana. Hudson was recruited by the University of North Carolina A&T, then coached by Cal Irvin. According to an interview with the Charlotte Observer in 2009, when Coach Irvin found out that Lou had received a scholarship offer from the University of Minnesota, he told Lou, “Take this opportunity to play in the big time.” “He told me I was good enough,” said Lou. I spoke with my good friend, Cy Alexander, who is now the head coach at the University of North Carolina A&T. Cy said, “Hudson had a much better career by going to Minnesota. He would have been a great player anywhere he played, but he received more exposure in the Big Ten Conference than he would have here at North Carolina A&T.”
Lou attended Minnesota from 1963-66 and played for Head Coach, John Kundla. In 1965, Lou, the kid with the silky-smooth jump shot was selected to the All-Big-Ten Team, as a guard. He would also be selected an All-American that year. “I’ve always played with great guards who controlled the ball. Archie Clark and I were together at Minnesota,” said Hudson. Lou averaged 24.8 points per game and 10.7 rebounds. His Gophers finished second in the Big Ten Conference. The following year, Lou would break a bone in his shooting hand and was forced to wear a cast on his right wrist, most of the year. Still, he averaged 19.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, while shooting a lot of his shots with his left hand. Lou finished his college career with 1,329 points scored, while playing in 65 games. Hudson was one of the first of three African Americans to play for Minnesota.
“I always wanted to be like Elgin Baylor,” said Lou. Hudson was chosen with the fourth pick of the first round of the 1966 NBA draft, by the St. Louis Hawks. That same year, he was also drafted by the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys even though he did not play football in college. Lou debuted with the St. Louis Hawks on October 15, 1966. As an NBA rookie, #23 Lou Hudson, played very well and averaged 18.4 points per game. Lou made the NBA All-Rookie team in 1967. He did miss a part of the 1967-1968 season to serve in the U. S. Army. The Hawks moved to Atlanta in 1968, and Lou scored the first basket for Atlanta on October 15, 1968. As a kid, watching the Atlanta Hawks play in the seventies was like looking at an old photo album from North Carolina. Both Lou Hudson and Walt Bellamy were born in the Tar Heel state; as “Pistol Pete” Maravich lived in Raleigh, while his dad, Press, coached at N.C. State. These three did not win a title together, but they did have a heck of a team. Hudson led his Atlanta Hawks team to the 1970 Western Division Championship. The backcourt of Hudson teamed with Lenny Wilkins at first, and later Pete Maravich was something to watch.
From 1969-1974, Lou Hudson was an NBA All-Star six years in a row. Hudson was known for jumping straight up in the air with his right elbow tucked close to his side and the ball resting on his fingertips. He would release the ball high over his head and make the words “jump shot” a part of basketball’s jargon. He shot 50% or better from the field, four times in his career.
Hudson was traded on September 30, 1977, and played his last two NBA seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. During the 1978-79 seasons, Lou shot an incredible 51.7% from the floor, unheard of in today’s game. Hudson played in the NBA for 13 seasons (1966-1979). At the time he retired, Lou had scored 17,980 points, placing him twelfth on the all-time scoring list. Lou also snagged 3,926 rebounds and shelled out 2,432 assists. On November 10, 1969, Hudson scored a career high 57 points against the Chicago Bulls. The Atlanta Hawks retired his #23.
After his basketball career, Lou moved to Park City, Utah. There he started a recreation program that he named “The Growth League.” This program was designed to teach life skills to kids through the game of basketball. “They spend an hour in the classroom and an hour in the gym,” said Hudson. In 1993, Lou was elected to Park City’s City Council. Hudson’s #14 was retired by the University of Minnesota on March 5, 1994, with Lou in attendance. Lou was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1988. In 2002, Lou Hudson was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. In 2003, Hudson was named Humanitarian of the Year by retired NBA players. He was also selected for the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.
Hudson suffered a major stroke in February of 2005, while skiing on the slopes in Park City. Lou would be confined to a wheelchair the rest of his days. He would later be transported back to Atlanta, Georgia, where he was placed in hospice care. Sweet Lou Hudson died on a Friday, April 11, 2014. He was 69 years of age and claimed he could still shoot. Lou left behind his wife, Mardi, and one daughter, Adrienne. Lou also had a son from a previous marriage, Louis Jr., who died in 1996 from a blot clot.
“Young people today don’t know how good Lou Hudson really was,” said Hall-of-Famer Dominique Wilkins. “He was a hell of a player. The guy could score with the best in history. He was a phenomenal basketball player. He should be a Hall-of-Famer and it’s amazing to me he’s not. He was one of the best shooting guards and that’s a fact. You go back and look at his career and look at the numbers and see what he did, you will understand.” Some people pursue happiness while others create it. That, my friend, was Lou Hudson!
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