The Trail Blazers’ 50-year anniversary season is temporarily on pause as the NBA goes on hiatus to slow the spread of COVID-19. During that break, Blazer’s Edge is counting down the top 100 Blazers: players, executives, and other influencers who made the franchise what it is today.
No. 61 | Chris Dudley
Games Played with Blazers: 295 Regular Season, 18 Postseason
*PTS: 4.2 | REB: 7.4 | REB: 2.8 | FG%: 42.2
*Statistics are pulled from a player’s time in Portland
Joined Club: August 1993, signed as free agent
Departed Club: October 1997, traded to the New York Knicks in a three-team deal for draft picks
Joined Club: September 2001, signed as free agent
Departed Club: Retired, 2003
Place in History: Chris Dudley belongs nestled with #64 entry Joel Przybilla as a defensive-minded center who came in at the end of an era to try and push his team through to the next one. Dudley joined the roster in 1993-94 the year Clyde Drexler was traded to the Houston Rockets. He became one of the letters in the Alphabet Soup in the years that followed. Along with Cliff Robinson and Aaron McKie, he became one of only three players on Portland’s 1994 roster still suiting up for them in 1996 (all three would be gone by the start of 1997).
Dudley came to the Blazers heralded as a defensive center. That was good, because his offense was...woooof. Until Shaquille O’Neal came along and stole the headlines for everything, Dudley was routinely lampooned as the worst foul shooter in the league. Scientists are still trying to figure out how he shot 31.9% from the charity stripe in 1989-90. If you like the phrase, “Thank God he made 1 of 2! That’s progress!” then Chris Dudley is your man.
But Dudley could rebound. He averaged 4.0 offensive boards per game for the Blazers in 1994-95, just off his career-high average of 4.2 with the New Jersey Nets. Dudley could block shots as well. He was the classic, “I’m going to defend, you just do what you do well, wait why are you giving me the ball?” player. If he couldn’t score like Kevin Duckworth (the man he replaced) and he wasn’t a deity in the eyes of fans like Arvydas Sabonis (the man who replaced him), that was fine. Chris Dudley was going to Chris Dudley.
As mentioned, those qualities alone might have placed him right by, maybe a little underneath, Przybilla on this list. Przybilla’s stats are better; he had more longevity. Two added factors push Dudley upward.
- He played his entire NBA career with type 1 diabetes, becoming a spokesperson for diabetes awareness and an important example for people diagnosed with the disease. This was uncommon among professional athletes and a large part of his story.
- You know that pesky NBA salary cap rule where a player has to play for the same team (or at least under the same contract) for three years before Bird Rights kick in? You know the other one, where player option years and opt-outs can only happen in the last year or two of their contracts? Chris Dudley did that. Well...mostly. (He had help from forwards A.C. Green and Toni Kukoc, who both ended up in the same boat.)
When Dudley came to the Blazers in 1993, Portland wasn’t the only suitor. Heads were scratching when he accepted a 7-year, $11 million deal to play in the Pacific Northwest. Even a back-up center could expect to make more than that. His incumbent team, the Nets, had offered him twice that over fewer years. Yet he chose Portland. Hmmmm.
The mystery was solved when league officials looked in the fine print and realized the Blazers and Dudley had inserted an opt-out clause after Year 1. With Bird Rights accruing in a single year in those days, it seemed obvious that Dudley would opt out of the small contract in the Summer of 1994, then the Blazers would re-sign him to a better one even though they technically didn’t have the cap space to do so.
Sensing the salary cap about to go to heck, David Stern and company pushed the void button on the opt-out, claiming it was an obvious effort to circumvent the rules. Courts and arbitrators came back with some version of, “If you didn’t want the rules to allow that, you should have written them differently, neener neener.” Dudley got to opt out and signed a new contract worth (surprise, surprise) far more than his original. His pay jumped from $800,000 in ‘93-’94 to $3.5 million in ‘94-’95. That gave him one of the Top 25 salaries in the league. He was happy, the Blazers were happy, the league office was not happy. With CBA negotiations happening right at that instant, the loopholes were closed and Dudley’s contract became an anomaly.
For being at the center of it, both on the court, in the courts, and in the fight for diabetes awareness, Chris Dudley earns the 61st spot on our list of Top 100 Trail Blazers players and influencers.
Share your thoughts and memories of Chris Dudley below, and stay with us as we continue the march towards #1!