(Photo Credit: msn.foxsports.com)
Chris Andersen, more commonly known as “Birdman,” has an unconventional look. He also gives unconventional interviews. In fact, his entire NBA career could be deemed unconventional. Most NBA fans know of him, know what he looks like, even know his story. But rarely do they know just how much of an impact he makes in the league.
It is only human nature to judge, and our society has certainly become masters of doing so. A lanky Californian with “Honky Tonk” written across his stomach and a blonde mohawk turned shaved faux-hawk, does not typically scream “hard worker” to most. Judgment beckons and names like “white trash” and “bad news” get tossed around. But as the saying goes, appearances can be deceiving, and in this case, reality is far from what first may meet the eye.
Let us travel back in time for a second, when Allen Iverson first arrived on the scene. Immediately he was labeled a “thug.” People unhappy with the fact that he showed up to games wearing baggy clothes and fitted caps, chains around his neck. They did not like his cornrows or tattoos, and thought he belonged on the street with drug dealers (or at the very least rapping, in a music video), not on the court as a professional athlete.
Iverson was a part of the league from 1996 until 2010, and never once changed his appearance or his attitude. But he did prove himself on the court, averaging 26.7 points and 6.2 assists per game over his career, revolutionizing the game of basketball. Although some may still see him as nothing more than a kid from the wrong side of the tracks, most remember him for the gifted baller that he was (and if you ask me, still is).
Andersen entered the world of professional basketball in 1999, playing for a Chinese team, the Jiangsu Nangang Dragons. It was not until 2001 that he made his way to the NBA, but even so, only as a part of the D-League for the Fayetteville Patriots. Fortunately, after only two games as a D-Leaguer, Andersen was soon called up to the Denver Nuggets. beginning his 12-year journey.
At 35 years old, the veteran is averaging 12.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per 36 minutes of play with the Miami Heat, who he signed with in 2013, taking a veteran’s minimum salary.
“We liked him for years,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra recently stated. “We always thought he’d be a great fit.”
And apparently he was right. Andersen, who currently has the best field-goal percentage in team history, was a huge part of Miami’s Game 2 Eastern Conference Final win. Only LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh played more minutes.
“He plays until he has zero in the tank,” explained Spoelstra.
Holding Indiana Pacers Center Roy Hibbert to only four points and two rebounds in the fourth quarter, Andersen finished the game with 12 rebounds, three points and one block. But the big man brought more to the table than defensive and offensive numbers. He brought energy, and motivation, never showing even the slightest signs of fatigue. Beyond the impressive ball grabs and swats, Andersen consistently delivers something even more important: momentum.
“A lot of stuff doesn’t show up on the stats sheet,” Andersen claimed of his own contributions to the team.
While most might only see Andersen as a tattooed hooligan, his background riddled with problems, exhibiting a ridiculous celebratory flap of his arms on the court, his teammates know better.
“Whenever he comes into the game, the game picks up,” explained Shane Battier.
Wade, when asked to describe him in one word simply said “energy.”
A tattoo of the words “free bird” across his neck, check. Interview quotes like “I can’t give you no keys. Steel trap. Steel trap. Ain’t no keys from a steel trap, homeboy,” check. But so what?
For Heat fans, these are just bonuses, added depth to an already multidimensional player. To us, Andersen is not just noticeable, but noticed.