Just like he overcame his nightly struggles at the free-throw line to craft a 16-year career in the NBA, former Portland Trail Blazer Chris Dudley now hopes to overcome a Democratic stranglehold in Oregon to become the state's first Republican governor since 1982.
And like fellow NBA veterans turned politicians Kevin Johnson (in Sacramento) and Dave Bing (in Detroit), Dudley is trying to make the transition from private sector to public office without having previously served in, or run for, office.
"I would argue that life experience outside of working for government is at least as valuable, if not more valuable, in learning to lead the state," said Dudley. "In a lot of ways it's viewed more as a strength than as a weakness."
Trading hip bumps with Hakeem Olajuwon as a Trail Blazer for six seasons undoubtedly has provided Dudley the name recognition every politician needs to win votes. Seeing the link between grabbing a rebound off the glass 82 nights a year and governing, though, is a little less direct.
"In the NBA you're working with 12 or 15 players of completely different backgrounds usually," Dudley said. "They're from all over the country working toward a common goal and that's winning a championship. That element of teamwork and working with others is something that translates well into politics."
It didn't translate, though, to voting, which Dudley failed to do in seven of the last 13 elections, he admitted soon after announcing his run for governor. While the Yale grad has used the revelation to express his campaign's transparency, it also offered a glimpse of the unforgiving microscope with which his life will be examined this year.
"Clyde Drexler, who encouraged me to run, and I were talking about the personal side of it and that politics can, unfortunately, get ugly at times," Dudley said. "And we talked about how being a professional athlete gives you a little more preparation for that. A lot of times in the NBA if you win three games in a row you're a hero, if you lose three games in a row you're a bum. You have to know who you are and realize that you are neither and stay grounded."
Or as grounded as someone who can call on one of the 50 greatest players in league history and the NBA commissioner for support can.
After running a foundation for children's diabetes and becoming a partner in a Portland investment advisory firm, Dudley felt the state was due for change -- change that would end Oregon's run as one of the nation's leaders in unemployment, hunger and homelessness.
Hoping to reel in voters and endorsements with a pro-business (i.e. lower-taxes) message, Dudley has garnered support from party insiders and business associations, but his statewide appeal is still in question.
"People are clearly curious about him, said Jeff Mapes, the senior political reporter at The Oregonian. "He certainly has an excellent chance to win the Republican nomination ... and I've heard several people talk about how personable he is, but some have also said he doesn't seem to have a solid understanding of the issues. Dudley has to show he has some leadership abilities and knowledge of the issues to persuade voters he can be a good governor. He does have the advantage of being a newcomer in politics when voters are pretty upset with incumbents, but learning how to be a candidate is not easy."
To his credit, Dudley is trying, regularly putting in 12-hour days and traveling across the state to speak with potential voters before his run gets its first test in a May 18 gubernatorial primary.
"It becomes all-consuming," Dudley said of the campaign trail. "My schedule is no longer my own. I get told where I am going and when and how long I need to be there. Life as you know it completely changes."
• The Jazz. After stumbling into the New Year with an 18-14 mark, Utah has reeled off 14 wins in its last 16 games, toppling the likes of Cleveland, Denver, San Antonio and Portland twice. While a home-heavy slate has helped, the Jazz have started to show they can win a few on the road (4-2 since Dec. 31), a weakness for the past few seasons and one that must be solved if they hope to make a long run in the postseason.
• Amar'e Stoudemire. A spate of lackluster performances landed the Suns' All-Star on the bench for the fourth quarter of a recent win over the Mavs. But Stoudemire has been impressive since then, averaging 27.8 points on 55.6 percent shooting and 12.3 rebounds over four consecutive road victories.
• Blueprint in Memphis. With the Grizzlies sniffing at the playoffs, Zach Randolph being named an All-Star and Marc Gasol emergingas a promising young center, many have begrudgingly admitted that general manager Chris Wallace's plan wasn't lunacy when he shipped Pau Gasol off to the Lakers two seasons ago. When the trade went down, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said it was "beyond comprehension." But the players, draft picks and salary-cap space Wallace secured have helped transform a 24-58 team last season into one that has already notched 26 victories this season. Even Popovich, who still says the deal "changed the whole landscape in the West," admitted recently his initial analysis of the trade was him "just trying to be a wise-ass."
• NBA contract talks. Not surprisingly, the league's first proposal for a new collective bargaining agreement -- which reportedly included a hard cap, salary roll-backs even for preexisting deals and shorter guarantees for any contract -- wasn't well received by the players. "Ludicrous," union VP Adonal Foyle said of the offer. The sides have until July 1, 2011, to get this figured out, but after this opening round of non-official negotiations, perhaps they'd be wise to get an arbitrator on reserve now.
• Richard Jefferson. Wondering why the Spurs aren't playing like, well, the Spurs? Jefferson's decline, especially at the offensive end, is a factor. Part of the problem is a decrease in minutes and shots, but his production has dropped each month and he's opened February by averaging 8.5 points on 30 percent shooting in four games. "Name recognition carries you so far and then you look at the player and say he's not what he was three or four years ago," a scout said of Jefferson.
• Kirk Hinrich's trade value. The Bulls' guard has been in trade rumors for weeks but has yet to be moved. Why? Maybe because he's shooting 37.2 percent over his last 10 games and a career-low 38 percent for the season. Or maybe because he's owed $17 million over the next two seasons. And did we mention his numbers have been declining for three straight years?
• "I'd love to finish this season in Philadelphia."-- Tracy McGrady, speaking to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
• "The only skeptics that can skepticize me are the skeptics that have been where I've been." -- Shaquille O'Neal, after scoring 22 points recently in another Cavs win.
• "It literally could be the largest party weekend in the history of the United States. That's how big this thing has gotten. ... The Super Bowl, from a television perspective, is the biggest event of the year. But for attendance and partying, All-Star weekend will make the Super Bowl look like a bar mitzvah."-- Mavs owner Mark Cuban hypes this weekend's festivities in Dallas.
• "We haven't developed a trust, a communication, a camaraderie as far as executing on the court. Which is strange for us. We've never had this situation."-- Gregg Popovich, to Yahoo! Sports, about San Antonio's struggles this year.
•Hoopshype.com: Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf is still playing ball at the age of 40 ... in Japan ... after his stance against standing for the national anthem all but got him run out of the States.
•Yahoo! Sports: CAA, home to many Hollywood agents, has become a one-stop shop for this summer's free-agent superstars.
•GoErie.com: Is LeBron James indirectly preventing D-Leaguers from getting called up the NBA? A few players think so.
•Washington Post: The Gilbert Arenas fiasco has rekindled some unpleasant memories for Jermaine O'Neal and his ex-Pacers about how the Palace brawl ruined their franchise.
•New York Times: After long expressing his desire to be a head coach, Patrick Ewing has hired the agent who can make that wish come true.
•Los Angeles Times: It's early, but the L.A. media like what they see from new Clippers coach Kim Hughes.
1. Please, NBA owners, adopt Denver vice president Mark Warkentien's plan for a playoff play-in tournament. The league's competition committee is scheduled to discuss the proposal during All-Star weekend and could vote to recommend that the league adopt the plan. The idea to seed a mini-tournament for the eighth playoff seed with those teams situated from 8-15 in the year-end conference standings won't completely eliminate tanking, but if a potential playoff payday stops even a few coaches from benching their starters, it's worth it. It's bad enough so many teams are willing to ship out quality starters for luxury-tax relief. Offering any incentive to prevent the further watering down of the stretch run is a must.
2. What is with these guys? San Antonio guard George Hill became the latest NBA "talent" to be fully exposed via a cell phone photo, joining Greg Oden in this oddly expanding club. Heck, we can't even write about the topic without every other word being a double entendre. Please. Make it stop.
3. Checked in on the Bucks last Friday at Madison Square Garden and came away impressed -- by their effort, their talent and their coaching. Down at the half, and without center Andrew Bogut,who was sidelined by a migraine, Milwaukee played aggressive yet careful offense and dig-in-your heels D to quickly grab control of a game many young teams would have easily let slip away on the road. Much of the credit goes to coach Scott Skiles, who has been nimble in his matchups and willing to ease his tight reins on a team whose youth brings its share of bad shots and missed assignments. The other part of the equation, of course, is a roster of malleable talent that can play multiple speeds and understands, as Luke Ridnour told us, that there's a value in making the playoffs, even if it knows deep down a title is out of reach.