WHEN CHRIS DUDLEY retired from the NBA in 2003, he was known for two things: being one of the worst free-throw shooters in league history, and once hurling a basketball at Shaquille O’Neal after the big fella embarrassed him with a particularly gruesome dunk.

Such memories might help explain why, early on, Dudley’s gubernatorial campaign invited a collective snicker. But he went on to shock the naysayers, winning the Republican nomination in a walk and, according to polls soon after, leaving us with the very real possibility that the man who missed 13 free throws in a row (an NBA record) could be our next governor.

Jumping between the two big leagues—sports and politics—isn’t new. But according to Kari Chisholm, who blogs about sports at stiffarmtrophy.com and progressive politics at blueoregon.com, the most successful jock-to-pol transitions often begin on political farm teams. Former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jack Kemp, for instance, served as an off-season aid to California governor Ronald Reagan before becoming a congressman and running for president. NBA all-star Bill Bradley stumped for candidates for years before becoming a senator and presidential hopeful. Even wrestler Jesse Ventura was a small-town mayor before he became the governor of Minnesota. 

Consider another NBA stiff running for office this year: the much dunked-upon seven-footer Shawn Bradley. “If I were advising Dudley,” says Chisholm, “I’d suggest that he should pay attention to what [Bradley] is doing in Utah: starting at the bottom and running for the state House of Representatives.” 

But given Dudley’s fear-no-Shaq—or Kitz—chutzpah, maybe deep down leaping for governor is more about the fury of the moment than what’s on the scoreboard.