February 22, 2007

The "Birdman" Should Get a Second Chance

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It is hard to believe, but it’s been over a year now since Chris “The Birdman” Andersen last graced us and the National Basketball Association with his presence. It was on Jan. 27 of last year that the 6-10, 220-pound center was dismissed from the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets after failing the league’s stern (no pun intended) but fair, “drugs of abuse” test.

It’s rumored that the Birdman tested positive for some form of methamphetamine, although PCP, codeine, morphine, heroin, opiates, LSD and cocaine could have produced the same results. Neither the NBA, nor the Players Association is allowed to comment on a player’s test results.

Regardless of what caused his downfall, being the first player to be banned from the NBA since Stanley Roberts in 1999 was well deserved. Although he has been quoted as blaming his addiction to alcohol as the reason this all started in the first place, he acknowledges that he broke the rules. He is now forced to do his time and while there have been reports that he is staying clean at his home in Denver, Colo., only time will tell if he’ll be given a second chance to reenter the league at year’s end.

After watching last weekend’s NBA All-Star game in Las Vegas, I realized that something was missing. Sure, the dunk contest was won based on whether or not Nate Robinson could slam it down like last year and the halftime show went on for way too long, even though I’ll admit, I’m a Christina Aguilera fan. However, I’ll never be able to get over how, in the end, the All-Star game MVP came down to picking Carmelo Anthony or Kobe Bryant — two star players that stand as role models for the league despite their recent struggles with adultery and on-court combative assault. You could even argue that Anthony shouldn’t have even been in Las Vegas.

When people think of Andersen, they’ll most likely label him a “druggie” and say he threw away a 4-year, $14 million contract because he couldn’t resist the party scene. They’ll ignore the fact that the termination of a long-term relationship with a Denver woman sank him deep into depression after moving to New Orleans and that he lost his house to Hurricane Katrina. They’ll just say he took the easy way out. Andersen, after all, was a long-haired, easy going, free wheeling Long Beach native that partied like a rock star, was white, tattooed and never graduated with a college degree. They’ll say the league never needed him because he was a back-up center at best, only averaging 5.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.36 blocks in 253 career games. It’s even been documented that a Denver-Post journalist called him “the most disgraced NBA player since the drug-induced haze of the 1980s.”

What people will forget about is the kind of player the Birdman was on the court — one of the league’s last hustle players and the true embodiment of a Cinderella story. He was a junior college standout in Texas before playing for the IBA’s Fargo-Moorehead Beez. Then he was drafted to play for the NBDL’s Fayetteville Patriots in 2001, before making it big with the Denver Nuggets that same year. In five seasons with both the Nuggets and the Hornets, Andersen was given the nickname “The Birdman” because of his athleticism for a man of his size, high flying slam dunks and his energetic and animated play off the bench. It’s no surprise that he was revered as a true fan favorite, acquiring a cult following that grew its hair out, wore the signature Birdman headband and performed the Birdman celebration after every massive Birdman jam — cross the arms at the wrist, interlock the thumbs and flap your hands like a bird.

Although Andersen was certainly a personality, he helped with charity work and gave back to his community by working often with local schools. He probably should have been working on his free throws, he often spent time during warm-ups handing out t-shirts and playfully interacting with young fans. Before he knew it, Denver, New Orleans and Oklahoma City had all fallen in love with him.

What’s sad about the whole thing is that the Birdman most likely won’t be given his career back. He’ll apply for reinstatement but even if it is granted, he’ll most likely score a spot on a developmental league team and try to fight his way back on a major league roster. As the NBA goes, that’s not saying much, considering opportunities are hard to come by. Hopefully, the league will support him and help him stand on his own two feet once again, so he can get back to his nest in the NBA.

I’m reminded of an ironic billboard in my hometown that once read “Feel the buzz of the Birdman,” with a picture of Andersen gripping a basketball with one hand in a promotional effort to get the NBA’s word out and get people to buy tickets to the town’s newest show. If only we could be so lucky as to feel that buzz again, if only one more time.

Tim Kuhls is a Sun Sports Assistant Sports Editor. His column That’s Kuhl’s Baby will run every other Thursday this semester.