There was something about the way Chris Dudley set up for a free throw that was just painful. His elbow under the ball would just jut out in a comic way. He would hold the ball, almost laboriously, contemplating his shot. His motion looked like it was powered by a couple of rusty, rickety gears, held together with scotch tape and rubber bands.
No wonder why “Ugly Dudley,” as my brother used to call him, was such a historically bad free throw shooter – still the not-so-proud owner of one of the worst nights at the charity stripe in NBA history, when, while playing for the Nets in a 1990 match-up against the Indiana Pacers, Dudley missed 13 consecutive freebies and finished 1-18 for the game. You would think that Nets coach Bill Fitch would have taken Dudley off the floor at some point, but he did provide some value:
“I stuck with Chris because he was the only guy playing defense,” Fitch said after the game.
And that’s why, despite the indignities and humiliations that his free throw shooting inspired, Dudley is a worthy member of the Nets family. He spent three-and-a-half seasons in New Jersey and played in part of 17 seasons in the NBA. Do you think if his only claim to fame was the fact that he couldn’t hit free throws he would have lasted that long?
Put it this way: Do you think Johan Petro is going to stick 17 years in the NBA? Remember how people said that Josh Boone would stick because he was a gamer who could rebound? Where is he now?
Dudley was the quintessential back-up big-man during a period in the NBA where wing scorers like Michael Jordan and Clyde Drexler dominated. He could spot-start, doing so in 331 of his 886 NBA games, because you didn’t have to worry about someone with such a limited offensive skillset matching up against a Shaquille O’Neal or Tim Duncan in his prime.
Yet he was better than people give him credit for. During his 1991-92 season with the Nets, a year that saw New Jersey make the playoffs as it was building around Derrick Coleman, Kenny Anderson and Drazen Petrovic, Dudley led the league in offensive rebounding percentage and snared about 22 percent of all available defensive rebounds when he was on the floor. And despite his tall, dorky white-guy appearance, Dudley was a heckuva shot blocker, swatting back more than 2.5 shots in a shade over 25 minutes per game during his first full season in NJ in 1990-91.
Additionally, as a fan, you had to respect Dudley because he was intelligent. He graduated from the esteemed Yale University, and when you heard him talk, you always got a sense that he would have something to fall back on if the NBA ever stopped working out for him. That kind of happened for him in 2010, when he narrowly lost a race to become Governor in Oregon. I wouldn’t be shocked to see his name on another ballot in the future.