On February 6, the shorthanded New York Knicks topped the Utah Jazz at home. The team’s two best players were inactive, dealing with various issues ranging from personal to health. The hero of the day — and subsequent weeks — was a hardwood vagabond, a scrappy guard who had been bounced from multiple NBA franchises, left to trudge through the murk and muck of the NBDL.
Jeremy Lin, the first American-born NBA player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent, was the protagonist of the ultimate professional sports narrative. Player left for dead on the end of a 15-man roster, cast aside for reasons beyond comprehension, endearing squatters rights on the couches and guest bedrooms of friends, only to shock the world by displaying a skill set that only he had known of or at least been confident in. Injury leads to opportunity and the box score fills up like a hole-laden boat. Headlines soon follow as the spectacle of a D-League player providing such excitement, transcending across fans of all franchises, was a once-in-a-lifetime story.
Or a once in a two-month-span story.
Two months after “Linsanity” took over the sports world, leaving nothing but dropped jaws, a fired ESPN dot com editor and an insane inventory of unsold Nike t-shirts in its wake, Cleveland’s Lester Hudson is proving that Lin’s accession may have just been the first in a long line of talented-yet-undiscovered. Certainly, Lin’s third contest — dropping 38 points in a shocking win over Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers — came with a bit more fan fare than Hudson’s — 25 points, eight rebounds and six assists in a win over the woeful Charlotte Bobcats, but a three-game trend is a three-game trend. And while we can debate the merits of Lin’s storybook season being larger than life due to its consistency and longevity, to offer nary a fraction of like-minded attention to Hudson appears dishonest at best.
Lin had high expectations? Filled up the box score? Had a profile written about him in college? So did Hudson, the owner of the only quadruple-double in NCAA Division I history. Oh, and an ESPN feature profile dubbed him “one of college’s best-kept secrets” and a “maestro on the hardwood.”
Prior to the Friday night win over the Lakers, many NBA pundits were waiting for Lin’s run to come to a screeching halt. It didn’t. Three games into Hudson’s run as a key bench player for the Cavaliers, the complete absence of attention may be warranted based on sample size alone, but did this stop the world from embracing the same story just 450 miles east? Comparing Hudson’s career-high 26 point outing this past weekend to the Masters Tournament, the fact that the former was merely a blip on the radar everywhere outside of Cleveland was understandable. The fact that most NBA fans outside of Cleveland have nary a clue as to who Hudson is is preposterous.
We were told that Lin’s narrative was not fueled by race. We were led to believe that the fact this all took place in New York, where everything is more important merely because it’s New York, had no bearing on the importance of a castaway leading an otherwise star-crossed team to three-straight wins. Lin is four years Hudson’s junior, but made the leap to the NBA after playing at a high level for an otherwise successful Division I program. Hudson has done so after laying claim to the record books in the halls of Tennessee Martin — a campus of UT, boasting just over 7,000 students who call themselves the Skyhawks, just to save those from having to verify existence.
Hudson’s on-court mantra appears to echo the one he took off of the court. “It’s not about the last shot,” he said following the recent win over the Bobcats, “it’s about the next one.” He praises his teammates, adding that he hopes this same cast of characters are residing in the lockers next to him come October. He likely did the same in Boston and Memphis and Washington, but the fiery guard didn’t average 19 points five assists and four rebounds per game since earning minutes within Byron Scott’s rotation, nor did he do such with utmost efficiency — his slash line over the last three games is eerily similar to that of Kyrie Irving. Like Lin, Hudson proves that opportunity is everything. Also like Lin, Hudson proves that playing in New York magnifies said opportunity, blowing a bevy of hot air into the balloon of importance; in Cleveland, Hudson could hit up a Giant Eagle without breaking stride — on the road, he could wear his jersey on the street and not even derive a double-take.
Both Jeremy Lin and Lester Hudson will head into the offseason with relative uncertainty. Lin is nursing a meniscus injury and will have to find a suitor with cap space willing to take a gamble. Hudson has proven that he’s more than a one-trick pony despite being undersized; he’s embraced Scott’s demands of defense while providing points in the paint as well as from long-range. In the recent win over the Bobcats, Hudson — typecasted as a shooting guard in a point guard’s body — led the team in points, rebounds and assists. Hudson is also doing such within Byron Scott’s system, the guard-and-forward-heavy system that thrives on slashing and hitting open shots. This, opposed to mere garbage time running and gunning.
Players like Lin, and even Ramon Sessions before them, needed injuries to prove that they were worth the jereseys they had been handed. Sessions did most of his damage in garbage time for the Milwaukee Bucks, following injuries to Charlie Bell and Mo Williams. Lin did his in the wake of injuries to Baron Davis and relative ineffectiveness by everyone else. Hudson is now getting his chance due in large part to the shoulder injury sustained by the first-overall pick in Irving. Slashing, scoring and doing so with swagger. Even leaving the follow-through up there for a few extra seconds.
Where Hudson ends up this fall remains to be seen. Where he is now, however, needs to not only be embraced by Cleveland fans while it lasts, but by NBA fans alike. It may not be for a storied franchise looking for a glimmer of any sort of hope, and he may not be the first to market, but it’s time for Lin to give way to Lester, at least for another 11 games.