Chris Andersen: Tattooed Tears And Broken WingsBasketball, J. Tinsley — By J. Tinsley on April 17, 2013 at 9:51 am
Last Sunday, the Miami Heat defeated the Chicago Bulls 105-93 for their then 64th win of the season. 2012-2013 has been a magical campaign headlined by a winning streak spanning nearly two months and came within the front doorstep of knocking on the 1971-72 Lakers’ 33-game winning streak.
Yet, beyond LeBron’s once-in-a-generation mastery, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh’s efficiency, Shane Battier’s willingness to do whatever and Ray Allen’s seamless role change, a magnificently documented team chemistry between the coaches and players proved they absolutely adore one another. Except, of course, when Mario Chalmers overthrows an alley oop and then proceeds to receive a tongue lashing from James or Wade, and even then it’s all love. Arguably the most personal storyline, though, revolved around something that happened midway through the season.
Chris Andersen – much like Ricky is hoping for – received his third chance at (professional) freedom. The first came when he simply made it to the NBA in 2001 with the Nuggets as an undrafted rookie out of Blinn College, impressing coaches and scouts with his high motor and carefree nature on the court. Long before he became “Birdman,” Chris was no stranger to the odds game. His mother relinquished custody of him when her $15,000 a year salary from three jobs wasn’t enough to make ends meet, let alone stand on the same street. His father left town to pursue a career in art.
Most of Andersen’s teenage years were spent largely in a Dallas orphanage. Making it to the NBA was a chance at a better life and providing for himself spoils he was never afforded growing up. He was never the greatest basketball player, though his energy, personality and body art endeared him to a legion of fans. It’s why they stood and cheered as he barreled down the court. It’s why he was voted into the 2005 dunk contest where he ironically put on one of the most memorable performances in All-Star history. Only for Andersen, it was for all the wrong reasons (it took him eight attempts to complete a dunk, though watching it live it felt like 28).
However, demons still presided heavily in Bird’s life. According to a 2006 Sports Illustrated piece, 2005 was a pivotal year. His relationship with his girlfriend ended. He and his mother cut communication. Those personal battles had him walk into training camp 20 pounds overweight. From there, the story plays out like a movie script. Chris’ on-court production suffered, and he became a “regular” at local bars. Only until alcohol wasn’t enough to ease whatever pain resided in his body.
Alcohol provided the gateway to heavier material. In one of his most powerful quotes, Birdman never revealed what drug(s) he found himself drowning in, only, “Let’s just say all that [excess] weight went away.”
One positive test provided another added negative. Bird was suspended from the league until January 27, 2008. From there, his second chance was underway. He made the most of his opportunity staying in shape and mentally cleansing himself. Starting in 2008-09, he would play in 147 of the next 162 regular-season games, effortlessly falling back into his role as an energy guy off the bench. The tats were there telling their own story, as was the intensity.
Aside from injuries, Andersen’s career appeared to be back on track. That was until May of 2012 when potentially the most damning of allegations were levied against him. It’s one thing to have a drug problem. There’s a certain sense of responsibility a person can take upon themselves saying, “Yeah, this is me. This is my problem. These are my demons.” To have his name linked to potential “Internet crimes against children” was something totally different. The stigma of “pedophile” is a permanent stain, especially stemming from the success of MSNBC’s To Catch A Predator and the country still reeling from the Jerry Sandusky nightmare.
Bird’s house was searched and property was seized stemming from leads on Chris beginning in February 2012. Ironically, he was never charged with any crime, nor was there ever any intent to arrest him. Chris’ official statement helped support such, too. In something straight out of a Catfish episode, the story goes a young woman claiming to be 21 e-mailed “scantily clad” pictures of herself to Andersen in 2010. Communication continued to the point where they eventually met a year later. She flew to Colorado showing visual identification of her supposed age. Figuring there was something off-base, Andersen fell back and eventually the young woman left Colorado pissed off with his lack of attention. She then threatened legal action if she was not properly and financially compensated. Chris was excused from team-related activities and later released from the Nuggets.