The Temporary Quasi-Phenomenon

April 19th, 2012 by Colin McGowan

Dick Clark died on Wednesday, which means there are a lot of obituaries of the TV Host/DJ/Ageless Relic splashed across the front pages of websites I visit daily. My favorite is the one Alex Pappademas did for Grantland. Pappademas argues that Dick Clark existed as an emblem of the mainstream at which self-styled leaders of the counterculture—your Lester Bangses, your John Lydonses—could lob their derision. Pappademas thinks Clark’s willingness to play the role of zeitgeist-producing megacelebrity is crucial to understanding his importance. In some sense, Clark helped facilitate the existence of a counterculture. After all, if you’re full of antipathy for mainstream culture, it helps to have a picture of somebody attached to your dart board as opposed to a piece of paper with the word “SOCIETY” written on it. The article is obviously more nuanced than that, but my point is that Pappademas’s obit does what most great obits do: it takes a magnifying glass to a famous figure, then pans out, plucks them from the abstraction they swim in, and aims to contextualize them.

So what would an obituary for Lester Hudson look like? He’s not dead, just now a tenth man in Memphis, but Lester Hudson: Temporary Quasi-Phenomenon is gone; that dude is never coming back. He appeared in only 13 games for the Cavaliers and played particularly well for a span of five days in which he hit up the Raps, Nets, and Bobcats for 23, 26, and 25 points, respectively. His other performances ranged from better than okay (15 points on 6-13 shooting against the Sixers) to atrocious (2-for-8 with four turnovers against the Knicks). The body of work is ultimately Sonny Weems-ish, but for a brief moment, the prospect of a nobody from the University of Tennessee at Martin being actually maybe kind of good was a reality. Develop a short-lived habit of taking over professional basketball games and you too can whip people into a frenzy that amounts to them having microwaved premonitions about whether you might be a poor man’s Kerry Kittles.

We never really had an earnest conversation about Lester Hudson being good. It was a nascent thought; then, by the time we had formulated it into words, it was no longer applicable. Importunate announcers tried to wrap their mouths around “Les-sanity” (which: if you’re going to insist on using “-sanity” as a “-gate”-like suffix, “Hudsanity” is much easier to say), and Dan Gilbert praised his temporary superstar between yawns as Hudson slalomed between D-League detritus against the Bobcats. The internet needed a new obscure name to render in caps and append with exclamation points so it chose Hudson. This wasn’t debate so much as noise. And the links made between Hudson and Jeremy Lin were, of course, lazy and tenuous. Like a 27 year-old journeyman putting up 20-point games for the Cavs is the same as the singular cultural moment in which an Asian-American Harvard grad sent 100,000 volts through Madison Square Garden.

But the fleeting Lester Hudson Moment means something regardless of the fact that the name Lester Hudson will likely mean nothing by this time next year. Hudson’s brush with pretty good-ness is a window into the psychosis of the depressed fan. Even a condensed season leaves the fan of a horrible team with too much time between the loss of a season and its conclusion. Games, in this despairing between stage, become glorified tryouts, and exceptional D-League players rotate through the rosters of lottery teams as if on a buffet conveyor belt. What is there to do but talk oneself into these blank slates? In your weakest moment, how great did you let yourself dream Lester Hudson might be? I bet it was embarrassing. But one lapses into fantasy when reality is the smell of decay. When presented with a wasteland, sometimes all you can do is draw happiness in the dirt.

Alonzo Gee—some also-ran who got cut by the Spurs, then the Wizards last fall—is, it turns out, a strong defender who can knock down a few jumpers on a fortuitous night. He is the lone functioning DVD player plucked from the scrap heap. The realization of this hasn’t been swift. I didn’t give myself over to Alonzo Gee in a fit of passion; it was more like breaking in a new apartment. At some arbitrary point, you open the door, walk to the fridge for a beer, fall into the couch cushions, and realize you’re home. So to say there was some eureka! moment in Gee’s Cavalier career is overstating it, but the night I fully recognized I really liked his game was when the Cavs played the Heat in late January. The team was shorthanded at the 2 and the 3, and that meant Gee was going to have to play a lot of minutes and check either LeBron or Wade the whole time he was on the floor. I thought I think he’ll do okay. He’s a tough dude. I harbored no grand notions; I just felt good about him. I have never had the same thoughts on, say, Christian Eyenga.

I don’t think it’s difficult to appreciate Trill AG—he’s a blue collar player who isn’t well-known enough for announcers to spoil him for fans by constantly mentioning his “relentless motor”—but context helps: for every Alonzo Gee, there are at least 30 Ben Uzohs. And maybe three Lester Hudsons. By which I mean most players suck right away. You can see they don’t have it. Lester Hudson had the decency to let us dream. Thanks for the memories, Lester. Thanks, additionally, for the hallucinations. You built a ferris wheel in our wasteland, and, while we actually needed a hospital or a power plant, ferris wheels are fun just the same.