In 2005 Ken Hudson published his autobiography,
"A Tree Stump in The Valley of Redwoods." In mid May Ken Hudson died
after complications from a fall. Ken was 72 years old and did more for
race relations and sportsmanship than any person I can recall.
was a diminutive figure at 5 feet 6 inches but was a giant among
athletes of all ages. Ken grew up in Pittsburgh and in 1968 became the
first African American to become an NBA referee.
years in the NBA Ken moved to Boston where he held a number of jobs
including director of community relations for the Celtics and eventually
an executive with Coca Cola. Ken befriended NBA stars with the same
genuine sincerity as he did a Coca Cola truck driver or an eighth grader
searching for his identity. I first met Ken when he was an NBA referee
and later worked with him while a struggling rookie at a radio station
and a high school basketball referee. At the time race relations
in Boston were simmering each night. Ken always saw sports as a bridge
between races, cultures and economic disparities. He took a chance and
formed the Boston Neighborhood Basketball League (still in existence to
this day) bringing together teenagers from every corner of the city. He
told me one night to bring my "whistle and referee shirt" and meet him
at a playground in Roxbury.
With trepidation I showed up for
the game that featured an all white team from South Boston and an all
black team from Dorchester. Ken blew the whistle to bring the two
captains together, introduced me as his partner and instead of going
over the ground rules and warning against physical play, Ken asked the
white kid what kind of pizza he liked. He asked the same question to the
black player. Ken went on with more questions about their favorite NBA
and NFL players and then he said, "see, you guys have more in common
than you think. Now lets have a good game."
The game was
incident free and after the game Ken invited both teams to the trunk of
his car which was stocked with a couple of cases of Coca Cola. That was
how Ken lived his life until the day he died. He used to tell me that "
you reach twice in your life. You reach out for help, and you reach back
to help someone." Ken helped thousands to reach their dreams. Ken was
hardly a "tree stump."
To those he reached, he was the tallest "redwood" of them all.