Monday, December 5, 2011

Washington Generals Top Players: Gene Hudgins

Gene Hudgins (Left)
As some fans of the Washington Generals know, many Harlem Globetrotters started out playing for the Generals. But Gene Hudgins made the jump before anyone else.

Born in 1935 in Cape May Courthouse, N.J., Hudgins first made his mark in basketball playing at Atlantic City High School. In his senior year Hudgins became an All-State and All-American basketball player, while becoming an honor student in the process.

He graduated in 1952 (coincidentally, the same year the Washington Generals were first formed) and initially attended Virginia State College in Petersburg before transferring to Morgan State University in Baltimore, M.D. He was a star player at Morgan State and graduated with a bachelors in health and physical education.

After graduating from Morgan State in 1956, Hudgins signed with the Washington Generals, becoming the first black player for the previously all white team. It was there he met and became long time friends with Washington Generals owner Red Klotz, Who Hudgens has described in interviews as being like a second father to him.

Klotz said in an interview once that with Hudgins skills it was only a matter of time before the Globetrotters would want him. Sure enough, the following season Hudgins became the first Washington General to ever make the jump to the Harlem Globetrotters, paving the way for future players like Frank Stevens, Clyde Sinclair and current Globetrotters Derick "Dizzy" Grant and Jonte "Too Tall" Hall.

Gene went on to play for the Globetrotters for six seasons, playing alongside such Globetrotter greats at Wilt Chamberlain, Meadowlark Lemon, Herbert "Geese" Ausbie, and baseball great "Bullet" Bob Gibson. He was also part of several World Series of Basketball tours, and performed in front of such legendary figures as Pope John XXIII and Nikita Kruschev.

Most experts say in an other time Hudgins would have found his way to the NBA. But during that period the NBA had an unofficial "cap" on how many black players were to be on one team. The result kept Hudgens out of the NBA, but he more than made the most of it.

After leaving the Globetrotters in 1963, Hudgins turned to teaching and coaching in the Atlantic City and Pleasantville, N.J. school systems. Most notably coaching basketball at Pleasantville High School.

Hudgins went on to become a prominent figure for his community off the court as well.

He became active in the union with Local 54, which he is credited with helping clean up after years of mob ties. He later went on to become manager for Local 54.

Gene was a local television figure in Altlantic City, most notably as a color commentator for the Atlantic City Seaguls.

He also has been the recipient of too many rewards to count. The one he was reportedly most proud of was being inducted into the Atlantic City High School Hall of Fame in 2003. He told a local reporter "There's nothing like an in-town award.

Hudgins passed away in 2008 at the age of 73, but his legacy lives on. Not just with the many Washington Generals who have followed in his footsteps to make the jump to the Globetrotters. But also with the community he loved, the Harlem Globetrotters, and the many people on and off the basketball court he inspired.

Being born at the wrong time kept Gene Hudgins from rising to the top of basketball in the NBA. But he no less made his mark.

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