Last Monday night colorful Miami Heat Forward/Center Chris “Birdman” Andersen did something he had never done before…..hoisted an Eastern Conference Championship trophy. Some may say the copiously tattooed, perma-energetic Andersen was the wind beneath their wings.
At the start of the 2013 NBA season Andersen (known by his self dubbed ‘Birdman’ moniker) was one of the least likely players that came to mind when mulling over who or what NBA MVP Lebron James and the 2012 NBA Champion Miami Heat needed to improve their weak front court. Yet, in his traditional comeback kid form, Birdman has once again soared since Miami signed the controversial Andersen to a 10-day-contract last January. When they signed Birdman Miami made it clear that if he didn’t improve their team within 10 days he would be cut. Now NBA analysts are calling him one of the keys to the newly galvanized Heat defense. Andersen has once again resurrected himself from near career suicide and is recapturing the hearts of basketball fans in the process.
The tale of The Birdman is by no means a traditional heartwarming yarn. Bird was born in Long Beach to Linda Ogle, a former member of the Bandidos motorcycle gang, and Naval corrections officer dad Claus Andersen. Bird’s Norwegian immigrant father Claus was so egregiously deadbeat in his treatment of Linda and their 3 kids that he moved the Andersen family from California to a sparse Iola, Texas dirt farm before running off with all their loan money; never to return. Linda claims Claus premeditated the move to Texas to escape California’s strict alimony and child support laws.
Chris and his siblings grew up in abject poverty, Ogle working multiple jobs just to be able to put food on the table and keep the lights on. The family went without heat in the winter and had to live in a barn for an extended period when their shack/house became temporarily unlivable. In junior high at the height of Ogle’s financial struggles Mother Bird sent Chris and his sisters April and Tamie to live in a Texas group home for 3 years. Andersen would never speak to his father Claus again and later grew estranged from his mother too.
After finding athletics as a natural outlet for his teenage angst Andersen bounced from one sport to another, struggling to find a suitable sport for his already 6’9″, 198 pound body. His 4.7 40 yard dash time turned zero heads on the soccer or football teams and his inability to hit the curve kept him from baseball. Finally the Iola varsity basketball coach convinced him to play center for their team and the entire town became aware of Birdman’s high-flying, hyper athletic abilities. At that point Andersen began to find himself and formulate his enigmatically wacky basketball persona. That said, Bird’s roller coaster ride of a life was barely out of its infancy. Bigger peaks and valleys were waiting on the horizon.
For starters though Birdman had generated his fair share of hype and NCAA recruiting interest he also had picked up a drug and alcohol abuse habit predicated on hard partying and rock star like behavior. Mother Linda took him to get his first tattoo when he was 18 and attests that early on she attempted to teach Chris substantial temperance. Instead he chose to grow his hair long, increase his toxin intake, and chase girls instead of studying for college. This would lead to Birdman being offered and then subsequently blowing the opportunity to play on scholarship for NBA Hall Of Famer Clyde Drexler at the University Of Houston due to poor grades.
However, like most Birdman anecdotes, he managed to maximize his slim remaining hoop opportunities….at minuscule Blinn Junior College in Brenham, Texas. His high school coach’s father happened to be Blinn’s head coach and took a shot on Andersen. In his one year on the team Birdman averaged 10.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.7 blocked shots in a mere 21.3 minutes per game. Playing half the minutes of his NCAA contemporaries Andersen still lead all college players in blocks that year. Talk of Bird’s NBA caliber body and potential began. And then the next ginormous misstep occurred.
After declaring his eligibility for the NBA following his year at Blinn Andersen went unpicked in the 2000 NBA Draft. Birdman had ‘declared’ for the NBA Draft….but then hadn’t known to fill out and submit the requisite paperwork to be Draft eligible. It nearly cost him his shot at the pros.
After this major letdown Andersen’s high school coach arranged for Chris to play a series of exhibition games with The Texas Ambassadors, a semi pro traveling club team that featured several former college players. While playing in China Birdman caught the eye of a Chinese professional coach who was impressed by several huge blocked shots Chris sent into the stands. Once again lemons morphed to lemonade and Bird was signed to his first pro contract by the Jiangsu Nangang Dragons.
For 4 1/2 months Andersen lived in a Beijing hotel while playing in non heated Chinese gyms where people were still allowed to smoke cigarettes indoors during games. The self branded “country boy” was appropriately overwhelmed by this dramatic scene change and spent his time excelling at basketball and building enough buzz to receive an invite to try out for the NBA’s newly formed Developmental League (or D League) back in the U.S. Birdman went to the tryouts in Georgia, made the cut, and then 2 games into the D League season became the first Minor Leaguer to get called up to The Show, inking a one-year, $289,747 contract with the Denver Nuggets on Nov. 21, 2001. And then the real party began.
The next few years were a blur of hoops, hi-jinks, booze, loose women, and hard drugs. Birdman seemed to gravitate to Jack & Cokes with a Molly chaser (you know…That White Girl). The original $200,000 payday was squandered in a haze of $900 bar bills and limousines, sleeve tats and stalker sluts. His poor money management ruined his mother’s credit and led to their eventual falling out. Yet while his personal life became a bigger mess his star continued to rise faster than ever. Denver traded Andersen to the New Orleans Hornets and his exuberant play garnered him a 4 year, $14 million contract from them in 2005. Bird had finally broken through and beaten poverty. The Hornets began using his likeness on promotional billboards. Then the next shoe dropped. It started with the biggest choke job in NBA Slum Dunk Contest History.
After his home was badly damaged during Hurricane Katrina and going through a painful breakup with his fiance Birdman admits turning to hard drugs more heavily during the ’05 season. Andersen then failed a drug test (testing positive for the NBA’s “Drugs Of Abuse” which includes Cocaine, LSD, Meth Amphetamine, & Heroin) and was suspended indefinitely from the League. According to Bird he did not shed any tears over the verdict. Instead he took it as a wake up call and entered a rehab facility, detoxing entirely while 86ing his entire cast of enabler friends in the process.
By 2007 Birdman had recommitted himself to making an NBA comeback. He moved in with his manager, staged public workouts, and after 2 years in career limbo was welcomed back to New Orleans by early 2008.
Shortly thereafter the Hornets traded Andersen back to Denver and Birdman redundantly seized the moment and became one of the Nugget’s most beloved and enigmatic role players during Denver’s ensuing winning renaissance. The Nuggets had recently decided to draft and cultivate a number of exciting, young players and Bird’s team first mentality and gonzo gravitas were the perfect compliments to their new identity. The Nuggets made a few impassioned playoff runs with Bird as their poor man’s Dennis Rodman. Fans loved his ever increasing neck tats and spiked mohawk hairstyles. Denver kids started dressing and wearing their hair like Andersen. Birdman was back and bigger than ever. Again.
Around 2010 Bird’s star began to fade again. Nuggets coach George Karl went on record stating that he still thought Andersen had plenty of NBA mileage left on his tires but that Denver ownership had insisted that Karl bench Birdman in favor of younger players with more future upside. By 2011 with that dictum still firmly in place Bird languished Denver’s bench and began making public statements about his desire to either play or be traded.
Then in last year’s 2012 NBA Playoffs things got considerably more fucked up. During the Nuggets series against the Lakers (which Birdman had not seen a minute’s playing time in) the Denver P.D. came to Birdman’s house with a search warrant. Bird was being accused of Internet Crimes Against Children. Hard drives were seized and other ‘evidence’ gathered. No official charges were filed by the police at first….just statements of a continuing investigation into his activities and need for more evidence examination. Feeling the need to promote his version of the truth Bird released a statement through his attorney claiming he was the victim of a former fling who was attempting to extort money from him.
The Nuggets instantly suspended Andersen from the team in order to settle the dispute. Over last summer Denver released him entirely. The investigation is still ongoing.
As news of his court case blew down the pipe the public began to get a clearer picture of Andersen’s new legal trouble. When one hears the term ‘Internet Crimes Against Children’ most people jump to child pornography or sexual abuse of a minor. Birdman had consummated with an underage fan who had shown up with a fake i.d. to have sex with him, sent her packing, and then was the target of a calculated money shakedown/smear campaign.
Anyone who has watched Miami play this postseason can attest how valuable Birdman has been to The Heat. Andersen has fortified their defense, given a back court heavy team 6 hard fouls and a loony bin’s worth of manic passion, and helped Miami get their tough guy swagger back. This was most obvious when Bird was suspended for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals due to a physical altercation with Indiana’s Tyler Hansborough where Bird shoved him hard before being restrained. The Heat lost Game 6 due to a humongous let down of defensive energy. When Andersen returned for the deciding Game 7 the Heat won in a route. Birdman shot a near perfect 15 for 16 field goal percentage through the series but most importantly fired his teammates up when necessary.
After the series everybody wanted Birdman to hoist the Eastern Conference Championship Trophy. Andersen did it with unusual grace and humility.
Though Denver Police Department officials claim the Internet Crimes Against Children case is still open there hasn’t been a single new development in over 6 months. In all likelihood Birdman will settle with his accuser out of court and another infamous chapter of Andersen’s life will come to a close. Before that day comes he will get to play for his 1st NBA Championship in his 11 year career. Vintage Birdman.
Tucker Booth writes for Locash Magazine , Hip-Hop Club and is a recording artist for Tantrum Niche Records. Tucker also hosts the Internet Radio Podcast ‘Tucker Booth Needs A Job’ Mondays 2-4 PM PST on www.killradio.org. Check out past podcasts/interviews at www.radio4all.net under ‘Tucker Booth’ in the podcast directory.