Kobe Bryant made history.
However, it was Lester Hudson who emerged as the difference maker for the Memphis Grizzlies.
On February 1, 2010, hundreds of purple and gold clad Los Angeles Lakers fans filed into FedExForum and witnessed Bryant erupt for a game-high 44 points to eclipse Jerry West and become the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer with 25,208 points.
“I didn’t know,” said Hudson, unaware of Bryant’s historic performance.
Little did the announced sell-out crowd know, an unproven rookie would produce what he proclaimed his “NBA coming-out-party.”
Hudson, the hometown kid who, weeks after graduating from Tennessee-Martin, joined a local church basketball league, scored 13 points on 4-of-10 shooting off the bench in 12 minutes for the Grizzlies, who overshadowed Bryant’s memorable night with a 95-93 win.
Though Hudson’s stellar performance against Bryant did little in terms of establishing longevity with the Grizzlies — he was waived exactly five months later — Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace always admired his assertiveness, particularly his ability to provide instant offense.
That, as a result, were among the reasons the Grizzlies contacted Hudson’s agent, Keith Glass, last week, inquiring about the former Memphis Central High and Southwest Tennessee Community College star, who recently wrapped up consecutive 10-day contracts with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Only this time, the 27-year-old Hudson will have the golden opportunity of helping the Grizzlies stage what many anticipate will be another dramatic playoff run. He signed with Memphis April 20 through the rest of the season.
Since the Grizzlies-Los Angeles Clippers opening round matchup has been determined, Memphis coach Lionel Hollins will likely rest a number of his key players during Thursday night’s regular season finale when the Grizzlies host Orlando.
That means Hudson, who is practically auditioning for a long-term contract after brief stints with three developmental league teams, two teams in China, and the Celtics, Wizards, and Grizzlies, will likely see valuable minutes against the Magic, something he plans to take advantage of.
Just as he did against Bryant and Co. two years ago.
“People always remind me of the Lakers game,” Hudson said. “That showed I could play on this level.”
Luckily for Hudson, the opportunity to return home surfaced after veteran Gilbert Arenas last week sustained a torn ligament to his shooting hand. The Grizzlies acted swiftly in reaching out to Hudson’s agent, largely because of the favorable impression the 6-foot-3 shooting guard left in Cleveland.
Signed by the Cavaliers on March 30, Hudson appeared in 13 games, averaging a career-best 12.7 points. To his credit, he was phenomenal, most notably in April when he scored in double figures in four consecutive games, including three straight 20-plus point outings. He registered a career-high 26 points in an April 8 loss at New Jersey.
So impressive was Hudson in Cleveland that the Cavaliers offered to sign him for the remainder of the season. Glass, however, had other ideas.
“It was my agent’s call,” Hudson said. “He didn’t think it a good idea.”
Glass advised Hudson that returning home to play for a team many believe is a serious threat to reach the NBA Finals was the most logical solution in terms of lobbying for multi-year deal on an NBA roster.
“It’s great being back in Memphis and playing in front of my hometown,” said Hudson, who scored nine points in 12-plus minutes in Monday’s win against the Cavs. “I’m exciting player, aggressive on both ends of the floor. This league is the greatest league in the world and that’s what makes me work harder.”
No one seemed happier to see Hudson rejoin the Grizzlies than his close friend, seven-year veteran Tony Allen. Hudson and Allen routinely spend a great amount of time together in the offseason, hanging out and partaking in regular conditioning sessions.
“When we were in the lockout, we played one on one three or four times out of the week,” Allen said. “His resume speaks for itself. Every opportunity he’s had, he’s taken advantage of it. I didn’t know we had room on the roster. I’m glad the team took advantage of it. The sky’s the limit for him.”
Whether Hudson can continue his late-season surge will depend greatly on how well he adjust to his new team. He doesn’t have much time, however. The playoffs begin this weekend.
“I am going to give him minutes,” Hollins said of Hudson. “Lester can score. We need him to learn our schemes on defense and learn our plays on offense. He’s only been here a couple of days.”
Which is, as far as Hudson is concerned, yet another huge opportunity to become a difference maker.
Only this time, it will be on a much larger stage, against another team from Los Angeles.
Andre Johnson is a regular contributor for MemphiSport. Follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.