In the latest installment in his "Forgotten Legends" interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with Lou Hudson, one of the all-time great players in the history of the University of Minnesota. After a fine collegiate career "Sweet Lou" played 13 years in the NBA.
Jon Teitel: You were nicknamed "Sweet Lou" due to your smooth jump shot. Who gave you the nickname and how did you like it?
Lou Hudson: Bill Russell and Sam Jones called me that, and it stuck. When I was in college, it was "Louie".
JT: Wake Forest Coach Horace "Bones" McKinney wanted to recruit you but he knew that the racial policies of the time prevented him from doing so. What were race relations like in North Carolina during your youth, and do you think you would have went to Wake Forest if race relations were different at the time?
LH: There was full segregation in North Carolina when I was there. I grew up listening to ACC games on the radio, so it might have been a possibility. However, when NC State recruited me I went to one of their games and saw their band marching around in confederate uniforms, so that would not have been a great place for me.
JT: In 1964 you scored a career-high 36 points vs. Purdue. Was it just one of those scenarios where every shot you put up seemed to go in because you were "in the zone"?
LH: I do not remember for sure, but I was probably just trying to match All-American Dave Schellhase, as he used to put up some big numbers against us (he scored 32 points the following year).
JT: At Minnesota you lettered in track as well as basketball, where you ran the 100-meter dash in 9.98 seconds. How big an advantage was your speed on the basketball court, and did you ever consider pursuing a career in track?
LH: I ran track in high school, which was great for my conditioning in other sports but my favorite high school sport was actually football. I initially started running track because as a QB on the football field, I could taunt the defensive linemen and run past them on option plays. If they caught me then they would hurt me because they were angry, so I also got a lot of penalty yardage for my team!
JT: In the summer of 1965 you were the leading scorer (17.3 PPG) for your college coach John Kundla on the USA basketball team that went 8-0 en route to the gold medal in its inaugural appearance at the World University Games (held in Budapest). What was it like to play with so many future NBA stars (Bill Bradley, Billy Cunningham, the Van Arsdale twins), and how did you adjust to playing most of the games outdoors?
LH: I still play golf with Dick and Tom Van Arsdale; they passed the ball mostly to themselves. Playing outdoors was not a difficult adjustment for me because I grew up playing outside on the playgrounds. Sometimes we even played with baskets that we hung up on street lamps. It is a lot easier to make adjustments when you are 19 or 20 years old.
JT: Four games into the 1965 season you broke a bone in your right wrist in a game against Creighton, but you taught yourself to shoot left-handed and were back in the lineup only two weeks later. How bad was the injury, and how on earth were you able to score almost 20 points per game that year?
LH: I wanted to play very badly. I had become a valuable part of the team, and my teammates were my friends. I shattered my right wrist, but we played a lot of H-O-R-S-E growing up. We would sometimes shoot with both hands, but I never thought that I would have to do it in competition. I played pretty well with my left hand, as I was named MVP of the East-West All-Star game. When you play the post you basically shoot with both hands anyway, but my free throws were ugly.
JT: The Dallas Cowboys selected you in the 1966 NFL Draft despite the fact that you had not played football since high school. Which sport did you enjoy more while growing up, and how close did you come to playing for Dallas?
LH: They drafted me mostly because of my combination of size/speed. I actually signed with them but two weeks later I found out that I was a first round pick in the NBA draft, so I had to give back the remainder of my signing bonus that I had not yet spent.
JT: In the summer of 1966 you were drafted fourth overall by St. Louis (two spots behind Dave Bing). Did you see that as a validation of your college career, or the realization of a lifelong dream of reaching the NBA, or other?
LH: I never thought about playing pro while I was in college, and I never thought about playing in college while I was in HS. One of the Van Arsdales got me tickets to an NBA game in Detroit, which was the first pro basketball game I ever attended. NBA games were not on TV all the time when I was growing up.
JT: You were 6'5". Did you feel more comfortable as a guard or a forward?
LH: I liked playing forward, as my quickness helped me a lot against bigger guys.
JT: In 1967 you scored 18.4 PPG as a rookie. How were you able to come in and contribute as a rookie, and why was the transition from college to the NBA so easy for you?
LH: The St. Louis offense was pretty much the same as the offense we ran in college, so that helped. Lenny Wilkens was one of the best guards in the NBA and he led the league in assists, so he got me the ball a lot. The guys accepted me right away. I did my part by making shots and playing defense, and my teammates sets a lot of good screens for me. We took pride in playing defense. Even if I was missing shots the coach would leave me in the game if I played good defense and gave a good effort.
JT: After a great rookie season you were called to serve in the military and did not rejoin the Hawks until 1968 after the franchise moved to Atlanta. What was it like to go from the NBA to the military, and what was it like to come back to the same franchise in a different city?
LH: It was not that bad. I was at Fort Bragg, and just looked at it as a different kind of training camp. The hardest part was shooting snakes during the day with a big machine gun, and then crawling through the same woods at night during jungle training. I did not know anything about Atlanta as I had never been there before, but I heard that one of the conditions of letting the team move to Atlanta was that they had to sign me first.
JT: You scored the first-ever basket for the Atlanta Hawks at Georgia Tech's Alexander Memorial Coliseum. How big a deal was that, and what was it like to play in a college gym?
LH: I never thought about it in advance. They just called my play and it just happened. We practiced in that gym so it was not weird for us, but all of our opponents complained about it.
JT: One of your teammates in Atlanta was Hall-of-Famer Pete Maravich. What was it like to play with Pete, and was he the best teammate you ever had?
LH: Pete wore #23 in college, but they gave him #44 because Hank Aaron also wore #44 in Atlanta. Pete's agent wanted him to wear #23 and I told Pete that he could have it if he (rather than his agent) wanted it, but he said I could keep #23. His agenda was to match Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, so as a guard he would get me the ball. He was one of the best teammates I ever had, but so were Wilkens, Kareem, and others.
JT: In 1969 you set a franchise record (shared by Hall-of-Famers Bob Pettit and Dominique Wilkins) for the most points in a single game by scoring 57 points in a one-point win over Chicago. Was it just one of those scenarios where every shot you put up seemed to go in because you were "in the zone"?
LH: I was on fire that night, but what I remember the most was that I got the assist to win the game. They ran the play for me, and I got the ball to Zelmo Beaty (a five-time All-Star) to win the game. I was there when Dominique tied the record. They took him out of the game after he got to 57, but he and I have never discussed it.
JT: You averaged 20.2 PPG and 4.4 RPG during your 13-year NBA career. How satisfied are you with your career, and how do you want people to remember you?
LH: I hope they remember me as an all-around player more than a scorer, because I showed up every night to try and win.
JT: You were one of four players to be name an All-Star for six straight years from 1969-1974 (along with Hall-of Famers Elvin Hayes, John Havlicek and Jerry West). Did you feel like you were one of the best players in the game at your peak?
LH: Of course I felt like I was one of the best in the game! I was not as good a guard as West...but he was not as good a forward as I was.
JT: You are one of only a handful of retired players who made 7,000+ FG and averaged 20+ PPG for their career who are not in the Hall of Fame (Bernard King, Chris Webber and Mitch Richmond). Do you feel like you belong in the Hall of Fame, and do you think you will get there someday?
LH: I heard a couple of years ago that I was on the short list, but it would be nice to get elected before I die. At least my nieces and nephews got to see me in a museum display in North Carolina. I always thought that I had the numbers to make it. Winning titles has nothing to do with being a great player because you cannot pick your teammates. As far as the Hall, if it happens, it happens.
JT: After retiring in 1979, you briefly worked as a radio announcer for the Hawks. How did you like the job?
LH: It was not bad, but it was a tough transition from first-class on the team plane to being the last person to get on board. Everything changes from first-class to coach, so it is a big adjustment to keep your ego intact when you are only 30 years old. I later did some broadcasting for high school football and basketball games.
JT: You later moved to Park City, UT and became a real estate investor. How did you like that job, and why did you choose to go into real estate?
LH: My wife is a real estate broker, so we formed a partnership. I am now trying to build some housing down in Mississippi with a group of developers, but we need enough fuel to clear the land.
JT: You suffered a major stroke on a Park City ski slope in 2005, and currently are an "ambassador" for the Power to End Stroke organization. Did you think that you were going to die, and how exactly do we have the power to end strokes?
LH: That day I ran five miles in the morning, then went skiing and got a bit lightheaded at the top of the mountain. I skied for about an hour, walked into the gym, and was unable to talk. I am trying to make a recovery and I promised my 6'6" therapist that nobody is going to work harder, so in May we are going to play 1-on-1 in the parking lot!
Hudson is on Jon's list of best pro players in Big Ten history (Kevin McHale is in the Hall of Fame but Jon believes Hudson's numbers are actually better).
Illinois: Johnny "Red" Kerr (1955)
Indiana: Walt Bellamy (1962)
Iowa: Fred Brown (1972)
Michigan: Chris Webber (1994)
Michigan State: Magic Johnson (1980)
Minnesota: Lou Hudson (1967)
Northwestern: Don Adams (1971)
Ohio State: John Havlicek (1963)
Penn State: Frank Brickowski (1985)
Purdue: Glenn Robinson (1995)
Wisconsin: Michael Finley (1996)