He didn't have a 'plan' to play in the NBA, instead calling it more of a 'dream.' But Yale's Chris Dudley had a 16-year dream before recently turning to the career that basketball had interrupted.
Chris Dudley's name probably wouldn't come to mind if someone asked who has had the longest NBA career of the Ivy League's 45 NBA players. Perhaps NBA Hall of Famer Bill Bradley of Princeton, or Columbia's Jim McMillian, who played alongside Wilt Chamberlain during the Los Angeles Lakers' championship teams of the early 1970s.
But it is Dudley who has logged the longest career, at 16 seasons. Ask him about it and he says simply "I'm not a better player, just better longevity. I was blessed with good health and took care of myself."
He seems to do everything in this understated manner. Dudley grew up in Philadelphia, where his father taught religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania. When he and his family moved to San Diego he starred at basketball in high school, and was "recruited by some west coast schools" for college. But Dudley was looking east, ultimately choosing Yale, where his mother, father, and grandfather were alums (his parents met there).
During this time "I had a dream to go to the NBA," says Dudley. The dream became real for him after his sophomore season. "I was first team All-Ivy and went to Chapel Hill and worked the summer camps," he remembers. "In those days NBA players like Michael Jordan and Brad Daugherty would play. I was able to play in these games, and hold my own."
The logic seemed impeccable: If one can play against NBA players, one can play in the NBA. But it took two more years to see if the chance would actually come. Dudley was first team All-Ivy his junior and senior seasons, leading Yale in scoring and rebounding both seasons, but he wasn't Player of the Year in either season, and the Elis didn't claim an Ivy championship during his time there. "But we did sweep Penn and Princeton on the road one season," points out Dudley, "and we beat UConn senior year."
His record was good enough, however, to earn a fourth round draft selection by the Cleveland Cavaliers. One sportswriter announced Dudley "doesn't look bad in the Cavaliers camp" and from this inauspicious beginning he started his NBA career, playing in 55 games but starting only one, and averaging 3.1 points per game. "Going in I was tagged an Ivy Leaguer," says Dudley, "but I don't play like [what others thought of as] an Ivy Leaguer. My style was physical, not soft." The Ivy tag receded.
Indeed, Dudley's play took on an aggressive defense and rebound-oriented style. One writer noted in 1991 that Dudley is "emerging as one of the best backup centers in a loop where one can make a long and excellent paying career in such a position." Dudley did just that.
Dudley averaged only 3.9 points per game over a career spent with seven teams. Rebounding, however, was a different story. One respected statistical analysis website determines 'Rebound Rate,' which is an approximation of the percentage of available rebounds gathered by a specific player while on the floor. Dudley is 10th in NBA history (at 18.8 percent), ahead of the likes of Tim Duncan, Charles Barkley, Wes Unseld, Shaquille O'Neal, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajawon, Nate Thurmond and Patrick Ewing.
Dudley also was known for his unusual contract dealings, perhaps not surprising for an Economics and Political Science major. Essentially, he would take less money in salary for the right to become a free agent at the end of the season. Describing such a contract for a reporter in 1997, Dudley said succinctly "It's a risk, but if I lose, I lose.'' He was adamant about taking this risk. And while the NBA felt that his approach violated its Collective Bargaining Agreement, the courts upheld Dudley multiple times.
Chris Dudley also was known among knowledgeable fans as someone with exceptional discipline: though diagnosed in high school with Type I diabetes, he nonetheless played in college and the NBA for two decades, winning the NBA's J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 1996 for the example he set and for his work as a Diabetes spokesman. In 1994 he founded The Chris Dudley Foundation to empower "children with diabetes, educational programs, advocacy and support in finding a cure."
After retiring in 2003 Dudley began to work in finance, and is currently Senior Vice President for M Financial Wealth Management in Portland, Oregon. "I've always been interested in investing," says Dudley, "if I hadn't played in the NBA I would have gone to Wall Street."
He earned his Certified Financial Planner credential after retiring, and finds his NBA background a "mixed blessing" in his new profession. "It's good for opening doors," says Dudley, "but then I have to prove myself, and that's where the Yale economics [degree] and the CFP come in."
So his Yale degree turned out to be a professional asset after all. "I have great feelings for Yale," says Dudley, "it was a tremendous experience."
— Stephen Eschenbach