One night the 6'10" Russell was at Slade's, the Boston restaurant he owned, when a diminutive man approached. "You may or may not be the best basketball player I've ever seen," Hudson said by way of introduction, "but let me ask you, What else can you do? Can you read? Can you write?"
Russell had never encountered such temerity, except perhaps in Wilt Chamberlain. "Are you crazy?" he replied, shocked. "Sit down, you little s—-!"
A friendship blossomed. Other Celtics, from then coach Red Auerbach to future Hall of Famer Sam Jones, became friends of Hudson's, and soon the little man, who had learned about refereeing while a student at Central State, was officiating at the team's practices. "Kenny had this ability to include himself without being obnoxious," says Auerbach. "Everywhere you went, there he was. He was a low-key guy and he was a high-key guy, if you know what I mean."
In 1968 Hudson became the first full-time black referee in the NBA. It took only two games for his chutzpah to surface. "The Cincinnati Royals were playing the Celtics in a preseason game in Columbus," recalls Hudson, who officiated some 400 games from 1968 to '72. "The night before, I had a long talk with [Royals guard] Oscar Robertson, who told me how so many players were pulling for me to succeed. He told me to be strong."
During the game Hudson whistled Robertson for a ticky-tack foul. The Big O became unglued. He barked, "What is this s—?"
"Technical foul," announced Hudson, who then turned to the culprit and, lowering his voice, asked, "Is that Robinson or Robertson?"
"I like Kenny, I like him a lot," says Minnesota Timberwolves vice president Kevin McHale, who first met Hudson at Celtics preseason camps in the early '80s, where Hudson would ref. "He's always so positive. Ken knows that life is fun."
"Watching a budget isn't fun," says Hudson, "but it's like refereeing. To enjoy the game you need someone to officiate." That's what he's doing now at Central State. Athletic spending has been trimmed from $2.07 million a year ago to $1.2 million this year. When the Marauders' gridders went to Jackson (Miss.) State on Nov. 9 for the final game of the season (they finished 4-4 under first-year coach Jack Bush), they traveled by bus. That is a 10-hour trip each way.
Former president Thomas, of course, had it wrong. The primary purpose of an athletic program is not to be a public relations tool. In early November, Hudson phoned a reporter to relate that over the weekend the Marauders' basketball team had hosted Cedarville in a scrimmage and that he is working on renewing regular-season play next year. Sport is about mending fences, Hudson says. He may not be in over his head after all.