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Height: 6' 11'' Weight: 255
Born: 2/22/1965, in Stamford, CT
High School: Torrey Pines in Del Mar, CA
College: Yale University
Chris Dudley was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 16 while living in San Diego. One of his biggest fears was not being able to play the sport he loved which was basketball. Thanks to a supportive health care team, Chris was not only able to play basketball again but went to the pinnacle of the sport and played in the NBA. Chris played 16 years in the league with diabetes where many players only last for a few years due to the intense competition to make an NBA squad.
Below is an interview with Chris after he gave a heartfelt address to an audience celebrating Lee Iacocca's twenty-year anniversary of his foundation to find a cure for diabetes.
Rick Philbin: When diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 16 what were your first thoughts?
Chris Dudley: My first thoughts were would I be able to play basketball again? Once I realized I could I thought, "I can handle this" and it was a great sense of relief. When I realized it could be managed I set my focus on getting into good control.
Rick Philbin: How long after diagnoses did it take until you returned to basketball?
Chris Dudley: Being diagnosed just after the basketball season there was not an immediate concern about getting back on the court. It was probably several weeks before I got back to playing full court pick up basketball games.
Rick Philbin: Was basketball the only sport you participated in High School?
Chris Dudley: Yes, it was the one sport I wanted to concentrate on during that time in my life.
Rick Philbin: What was your major at Yale University?
Chris Dudley: I majored in Economics and Political Science.
Rick Philbin: What insulin regimen did you use early in your career and what do you use now?
Chris Dudley: I used Regular and Lente insulin early in my career taking 2-3 shots a day. Now I am using Lantus and Humalog taking 4-6 shots a day.
Rick Philbin: Why have you never tried an insulin pump during your career?
Chris Dudley: The size of an insulin pump was always a concern for me. I did not think wearing a pump that was big and bulky in the early days would work for me. Also, the technology was not as good as it is today. Because the pumps are smaller and the technology is better I am going to go on an insulin pump now.
Rick Philbin: What was a typical day like in the NBA?
Chris Dudley: On home game days, I would leave my house around 9am for a 10am shoot around at the arena. This was relatively low intensity and lasted only about an hour or so. Sometimes I would stick around longer to work on parts of my game I felt needed some extra work. I would get home around noon for lunch and take a nap in the early afternoon. I would leave for the arena at 4:30pm after eating for a 7:00pm game time. We had to be there an hour and half before game time but I often arrived early to work with an assistant coach on specific parts of my game. On away games, my down time was in my hotel room or at meetings with the team.
Rick Philbin: How many times a day did you test on game days versus other days?
Chris Dudley: It was always more on game days. I would test 12 or 13 times on game days versus 8-10 per day on other days. I did not want to make a mistake in front of 20,000 people.
Rick Philbin: What was your highest and lowest BG?
Chris Dudley: My highest blood sugar other than when I was diagnosed was in the 400s and my lowest was in the low 30s. In fact, one time I did go as low as 28 mg/dl. As good as control as I have had I know that every once in awhile I would get a number that was totally out of range. I try not to beat myself up over a single bad blood glucose.
Rick Philbin: What was the most challenging part of diabetes when you played basketball?
Chris Dudley: The most difficult part was trying to keep my blood glucose at a good level before games. My ideal goal range prior to a game was 175-200mg/dl, which sometimes was hard because of the stress from nerves occasionally would increase my levels higher than I would like it to be.
There were 82 games in a season and it was virtually impossible to get it right 100% of the time. Our athletic trainer (the person who managed our injuries throughout the season) had an extra glucose meter and juice for me if I needed it during a game or at practice.
Rick Philbin: What BG number did you strive for before practice?
Chris Dudley: In practice, I was okay with a blood sugar above 170 mg/dl. I would test during breaks to make sure I was where I wanted to be.
Rick Philbin: Were you ever discriminated against due to your diabetes?
Chris Dudley: No, I was fortunate throughout my career to be on teams that dealt with my diabetes in a professional manner. I do remember in my sixth year in the league I was negotiating my first big contract with the New Jersey Nets and my agent decided to be proactive about my diabetes. He had me see an endocrinologist in New York who did a report for the Nets stating that diabetes would not stop my playing in the NBA. I was more than happy to do this because I realized most people do not understand the disease very well and I knew I was in good control.
Rick Philbin: Did you ever have to come out of a game due to a low blood sugar?
Chris Dudley: No, but I have had to drink juice on the bench when I was feeling low or I have tested my blood sugar and it was below my target range. I remember one game with the Denver Nuggets we were winning by a lot and during a time out, my level was low but my stubbornness kept me in the game. As I look back on it now I probably should have taken myself out of the game. Sometimes the altitude would wreak havoc on my control, which could have contributed to that night in Denver.
Rick Philbin: What was your most exciting event in your career?
Chris Dudley: It was with the New York Knicks when we won the eastern conference title in 1998-99 against the Indian Pacers. I was starting in place of an injured Patrick Ewing during that series. The atmosphere at Madison Square was unbelievable!
Rick Philbin: What was your best game?
Chris Dudley: In the regular season while playing for the Nets, I had 20 points and 20 rebounds in one game. I have always been known for my defense, rebounding, and block shots but not too much for my scoring ability. My hustle and determination were the reasons I was able to have a game like that.
In the playoffs, playing for the Knicks, I had 14 points and 12 rebounds. The intensity was always turned up during the playoffs so everything came a little harder for everyone.
Rick Philbin: Did stress prior to or during a game cause your BG to go high?
Chris Dudley: As I mentioned earlier the stress or adrenaline prior to games was always a concern for me. That is one of the reasons I would test more on game days to avoid high blood sugars. If I tested an hour or so before the game and it was high I would correct it by taking insulin so my blood glucose would go back down to my target range of 175-200mg/dl.
Rick Philbin: What was it like guarding Shaq when he was with the Lakers?
Chris Dudley: ROUGH! It was physically challenging trying to keep him out of the lane near the basket. I knew I was doing a good job when he would take a 10-foot jumper rather than be near the basket where he is known for his dunks.
Rick Philbin: Who was your favorite/best coach in the NBA?
Chris Dudley: From an X's & O's standpoint and managing players, it was Chuck Daily. There are many coaches who are good at the X's & O's and there are some who are considered a "player's coach" but very few can do both as well as Chuck. Other coaches who were great to play for were Jeff Van Gundy, Bill Fitch, Lenny Wilkens, Maurice Cheeks, and Rick Adelman.
Rick Philbin: Who were the players you admired the most?
Chris Dudley: Growing up it was Bobby Jones and Dr. J. While I was playing a number of players I admired were Patrick Ewing, Buck Williams, Jason Kidd, Jerome Kersey, Mark Price, and Larry Johnson. They all worked hard to perfect their games.
Rick Philbin: Did your coaches and teammates understand your diabetes?
Chris Dudley: Most of them had an idea about diabetes and they were always supportive about it. My athletic trainer for the team (the person who treated injuries and coordinates rehabilitation after injuries occur) knew the most and would have back up supplies for me if needed.
Rick Philbin: What were your strengths and weaknesses in basketball?
Chris Dudley: My strengths were defense and blocking shots. I was often called upon to guard the biggest player on the other team (i.e. Shaquille O'Neal) with the task of limiting his offensive and keeping him off the boards. My weakness was shooting, especially foul shots.
Rick Philbin: What is the Chris Dudley Foundation?
Chris Dudley: The Dudley Foundation, started in 1994 was something I wanted to do to give back to kids who have diabetes to give them a chance to succeed regardless of their economical, education, or health liabilities. The foundation was a way I could help to ensure kids follow their dreams. I believe athletes have a unique opportunity to be role models within their community. A big part of the foundation is the Chris Dudley basketball camp held each summer for kids with diabetes. I was fortunate enough to be recognized during my playing career receiving the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 1996 and the USA Today's most Caring Athlete Award in 1997 due to my work with the foundation.
Rick Philbin: Tell me about your basketball camp for kids with diabetes.
Chris Dudley: Our camp, held for kids each summer for one week, has a goal to help improve their game and teach them how to control their diabetes while playing an intensive sport. The camp accepts boys and girls, between the ages of 10 and 17, who have an interest in basketball and have Type 1 diabetes. We have over 30 staff members that oversee our campers' diabetes needs and basketball skills, to help them strive toward achieving their dreams and goals. We take up to 70 campers each year and the waiting list seems to grow each year.
Rick Philbin: What are you doing now that you are retired?
Chris Dudley: It seems like I have been as busy as I was during my playing days. I am traveling doing speaking engagements and spending a lot of my time with the camp. Our foundation is working on a video to inform coaches on the rigors of participating in sports with type 1 diabetes. I think education is the best way to attack this disease and whenever we can inform people about the disease, it is good for everyone.
Rick Philbin: What advice would you give kids who have diabetes and want to excel at basketball or a sport they love?
Chris Dudley: My advice would be to pursue your dreams no matter what unfortunate circumstance you are forced to deal with like diabetes. It is better to embrace your diabetes rather than try to ignore it, it is not going away. It is important to be in good control in order to excel at your sport so keep learning about diabetes no matter how much you think you know.
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Chris never let diabetes destroy his dreams. One of his former NBA coaches had this to say about Chris. "Chris Dudley epitomizes everything an NBA player should be. He worked extremely hard. He shared his gift of being a pro basketball player with children in the community and did tremendous work with pediatric diabetes. Chris always sacrificed for the good of the team. In my time in the NBA, there is no better role model for children than Chris Dudley, who persevered over all odds to have an outstanding NBA career. It was a pleasure to coach him in New York and the NBA is going to miss him," said Houston Rockets Head Coach Jeff Van Gundy.
Chris never took "can't" for an answer when diabetes was involved. Pursue your dreams and let education lead the way. For more information about Chris and his basketball camp go to www.chrisdudley.org.
Rick Philbin, MBA, M.Ed., ATC
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