Chris Dudley Talks About Playing with Diabetes

What was it was like at 16 years old to find out you had diabetes?
Scary.

Did you know what that meant?
I did not know much about diabetes, the first questions I had for the doctors were: Am I going to live? And, will I still be able to play basketball? I was obviously greatly relieved to hear a “yes” on both questions.

What methods of detection were in place back then?

When I first got diabetes in 1981, we went to the pharmacy and used something called Tes-Tape. This would check urine to determine if you had elevated blood sugar. Fortunately the technology improved right around this time, and the Glucometer was introduced. This tests your blood sugar levels with a pin prick of blood.

How do they differ, if at all, from today?
Today’s meters are greatly improved from those of the early 1980s, sort of like the difference from today’s cell phones to the first phones. For example, the early meters took a minute to get the results and today it takes 5 seconds – big difference if you are trying to test your blood sugar during a 20 second timeout!

What steps did you take to ensure that diabetes would not deter you from your goal of playing in the NBA?
I took on the responsibility of making sure that having diabetes would not stop me from achieving my dream of playing in the NBA. This meant that I had to stay on top of my diabetes and my blood sugar levels. It certainly was not easy, I would test my blood sugar as much as 14x a day on game days, but it was worth it and I was proud to never have missed a game due to having diabetes.

What was a typical day like playing basketball at Yale?
At Yale, for academic reasons, the league games are played on Friday and Saturday nights and we would travel by bus. I tried to always eat at the same time to develop a routine, but it was not always easy.

In the NBA?
In the NBA, I again tried to keep a consistent routine, eating at the same time. This could be difficult, especially with back-to-back games and late night travel. It was also difficult when we switched to different game times (7pm, 6pm or 1pm) as the routine would have to change.

Did it affect your game preparation at all?
For game days, I would test my blood sugar as many as 14x and take as many as 6 shots that day. I wanted to have control and awareness of my blood sugar levels. It can be difficult because there can be so many different factors that affect your blood sugar. You could control the carbohydrate intake but it was difficult to control the other factors such as stress, insulin absorption rate, and the effect of heavy exercise.

What was the most difficult part of playing with diabetes?
Controlling my blood sugar could be difficult and the worry of getting a low blood sugar during a game. Obviously you want to be at peak performance levels when you are performing in front of 20,000 fans!

Did you ever discuss diabetes with your teammates/coaches?

Yes, I found that the awareness of diabetes increased dramatically during my 16 years in the NBA. By the end of my career it seemed like everyone knew of diabetes and many teammates had someone in their extended family that had diabetes. Teammates were curious about my diabetes and would ask questions, which I encouraged.

Did you encourage them to get tested?
Yes, it is a conversation that would come up and it was a part of our yearly physical. I had a trainer (and good friend) develop diabetes while I was playing for the Blazers, and we would discuss diabetes frequently.

Speaking of testing, there are over 7 million people that have diabetes and don’t even know it. How important is it for young men and women to get tested for diabetes?
It is extremely important to get tested to see if you have diabetes or are at risk for having Type 2 Diabetes. Type 2 Diabetes can usually be controlled by diet and exercise early on and if you do not take care of it, you may end up having to take insulin shots or have complications.

Can you explain to them just how easy it is?
There are many places that offer free screenings, including our event in Portland (Pacific Northwest Diabetes Week). You can also get tests at most pharmacies.

What is your message to kids today knowing that you have lived a successful and healthy life and played professional basketball with diabetes?
Do not let diabetes (or anything else) keep you from following your dreams. You can succeed with diabetes in any field, provided that you take care of yourself. Follow your dreams!

What’s your advice to kids living with diabetes who want to pursue a career in sports?
Get to know your body and how it reacts to rigorous exercise. Then develop a routine (with the help of your Dr.) that works for you. You have diabetes; it does not have you, take control of it!

What does it mean for the NBA to have programs like Dribble to Stop Diabetes?
It is incredibly important. The NBA has such an impact on everyone, especially kids, and I am proud that they are using their resources to highlight diabetes and healthy living. The NBA is making a big difference in the awareness of diabetes, thank you to the NBA!

Can you tell us a little bit about the Chris Dudley Foundation and what it does for kids living with diabetes?
My wife and I established the Dudley Foundation in 1994, with the mission of helping youth with Diabetes achieve their goals while living long and healthy lives. We then established the Chris Dudley Basketball Camp in 1995 and it continues to be sold out every year. We also have done clinics and programs around the country, as well as starting the Pacific Northwest Diabetes Week (PNDW). PNDW highlights Diabetes Awareness and Health Living and kicks off in the Rose Garden where we will have over 100 vendors, offer free basketball clinics and have Dominique Wilkins and myself discussing Diabetes.