Six-time NBA All-Star guard Lou Hudson died Friday in Atlanta after recently suffering a stroke. He was 69.
The No. 4 pick in the 1966 draft, Hudson played 11 seasons with the Hawks franchise in St. Louis and Atlanta before finishing his career playing two seasons for the Lakers. He retired in 1979 with career averages of 20.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists, and he averaged at least 20 points per game for seven straight seasons from 1968-69 until 1974-75.
''Young people today don't know how good Lou Hudson really was,'' Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins told the Associated Press. ''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 and you understand.''
A 1967 All-Rookie selection and a 1970 All-NBA Second Team pick, the 6-foot-5 Hudson scored a career-high 57 points in a 1969 game, and he later teamed with Hall of Famer Pete Maravich to make up a lethal backcourt combination.
Frank Deford wrote in a 1970 Sports Illustrated article that Hudson "resembles everybody's favorite younger brother," and that he was "friendly, open, handsome."
In 1973, Peter Carry wrote at length in Sports Illustrated about "Sweet Lou."
Sweet as in cool jazz put down by a lightly plucked bass and the hushed swirling of brushes around a drumhead. His skin is the color of light coffee, his features regular and smooth, his temperament equable. His game is heavy on the sugar: there is a gentle rhythm to his constant motion on offense and a classic softness in his jump shot, of which there is none prettier."
Hudson remains the quiet purist, a man so well versed in his art that before he returns to the floor after releasing an errant jumper he can tell why the shot failed to go in. While praising his defense, many pros consider his shooting technique the best there is. When he jumps, his body goes straight up with none of the sideward drift that throws lesser shooters off. His right elbow is tucked close to his side and the ball rests high on his fingertips. Over the last five seasons only five NBA players have averaged more than 20 points every year. Hudson is one of them; West, John Havlicek, Dave Bing and Elvin Hayes are the others and none have a shooting percentage to match Lou's .491 for his seven seasons. Yet he is a star without cachet, a man admired within his profession but rarely noticed outside it.
"I've always played with guards who controlled the ball," he says. " Archie Clark and I were together at Minnesota. When I came with the Hawks we had Lenny Wilkens and later Mahdi Abdul-Rahman and now Pete. All you can do is try to get open because that's the only way they'll notice you and throw you the ball, or at least you hope they do.
"I didn't intend to become a player like I am. I always wanted to be like Elgin Baylor. When I came to the Hawks, I tried his stuff. I'd shake my head one way and go the other, I'd shoot 15-foot hooks, sometimes I'd give a double pump on my shot. Richie Guerin was the coach then. He told me to cut it out, that that stuff was for the playground."
There is no flamboyance left in Hudson's game.
The Hawks announced Hudson's passing in a statement on Friday.
''Lou Hudson holds a special place in the Hawks family, in the hearts of our fans and in the history of our club,'' co-owner Michael Gearon told the AP. ''As a fan growing up with this team, I'm fortunate to say I was able to see almost every game Sweet Lou played as a member of the Hawks."
Hudson's No. 23 jersey is retired by the Hawks and his No. 14 jersey is retired by the University of Minnesota, where he played from 1963-66. He was one of the school's first African-American basketball players, and he is a member of the university's athletics Hall of Fame.
''I enjoyed playing the game,'' Hudson told the New York Times in 2004. "I was a loyal team person. I went out every night and played to the best of my ability because I enjoyed basketball. The chips fell where they fell, and I don't have a problem with where they fell. Guys that won championships, I tell them, 'You won a championship, but you still weren't as good as I was.'''