What a long, strange trip it has been for Chris Andersen.
March Madness is supposed to be the time for human-interest stories. When kids emerge triumphant after turmoil, it is all the more gripping.
Over at the adults table, though, there have already been several notable redemption stories during this year's NBA playoffs.
From comebacks to surprises to underdogs to last hurrahs, the pros have their fair share of inspirational figures as well.
Everyone loves the little guy.
Nate Robinson spent his early years in the NBA with the New York Knicks, becoming a fan favorite on a franchise in disarray. He arrived at the height of the Isiah Thomas era, a rookie in 2005-06 playing alongside the likes of Stephon Marbury, Eddy Curry, Steve Francis and Penny Hardaway.
As the roster was purged of the riff raff, Robinson took on a major role with the team, but his boom or bust style of play eventually led to him being traded to the rival Boston Celtics.
Unfortunately for the three-time NBA Slam Dunk Contest champion, the C's rotation was set, so he sat and sat and sat. He was more mascot than difference maker for most of the season.
Then Doc Rivers called his number—in the NBA Finals.
He had already had a few key contributions in the playoffs, but in Game 4 of the championship round, both he and Glen Davis got some extended minutes, combined for 30 points and helped the Celtics charge to victory.
For a while, it looked like that would be Nate-Rob's last hurrah as he bounced around from Oklahoma City to Golden State to Chicago. He had become bench fodder—good enough for a small, short-term contract, but nobody that any team would want as a major cog in its rotation.
But with Derrick Rose hurt, Rip Hamilton falling apart and few other options for head coach Tom Thibodeau, Robinson once again forced his way into the mix, playing more minutes this season for Chicago than he had for any team since his New York days.
It was a nice year for him, but ultimately not that memorable. Then, the "Nate Robinson Game" happened. With his team trailing by double figures and less than six minutes to play in Game 4 vs. the Nets, the Bulls looked to be dead in the water.
But from Nate Robinson? Unreal.
His heroics forced overtime, and the Bulls eventually won a triple-overtime thriller to take a 3-1 series lead over the favored Brooklyn Nets. A few games later, they would advance to the second round.
Baseball has Josh Hamilton. The NBA has Chris Andersen.
Talent-wise, there isn't a comparison, but each has resurrected his career—and life—after a rock-bottom battle to emerge from a reckless lifestyle centered on addiction.
Better known as "The Birdman," Andersen climbed up from the depths of despair to become an energetic spark plug for a Denver Nuggets team that made it to the Western Conference finals in 2009. That season was his first meaningful NBA stint in years, mostly due to a two-year suspension for violating the league's drug policy.
Four seasons later, it all seemed to be coming to an end. At the start of this year, he was out of the league dealing with an online extortion case, waiting for a call from a team—any team.
The Miami Heat finally picked up the phone and gave him a shot, signing the embattled big man to a 10-day contract.
"This opportunity and being with the defending champs, it's a dream come true," Andersen said. "They're taking a chance with me and I'm here to give them everything I've got, defensively, diving on the floor, blocking shots—you know, the usual that a Birdman does and what Birdman brings."
Needless to say, that week-and-a-half long contract was extended through the postseason.
Since joining the Heat, has become an integral member of the team's front-court rotation. Against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, he almost made TNT's Kevin Harlan lose his mind after a dunk.
The Birdman has risen again.
In 2009, Patrick Beverley was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round. Up until 2013, though, the former Arkansas star had never played an NBA game for the Lakers—or anyone else.
In 2012, after bouncing around Europe and trying to catch on somewhere, he found himself playing in the Russian league for Spartak St. Petersburg.
I'm not sure if Daryl Morey had scouts scouring Russia for talent, but something must have made Beverly stand out. With the Houston Rockets in need of some backcourt help, they ended up buying out his contract with Spartak to bring him to Houston in early 2013.
That should have been the end of the story. Beverly got some minutes in the regular season, posting six double-figure scoring games, but like many others who get a short-term, low-value deal to serve as a stopgap for an NBA team, he was expected to be playing somewhere else next season.
But in the playoffs, the Rockets were another man down. Jeremy Lin got injured in the team's first postseason contest, and Beverley was thrust into the starting lineup. He delivered, finishing with 16 points and 12 rebounds in 41 minutes against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Houston couldn't quite pull out the win, but his high-level play in Games 4 and 5 helped the Rockets crawl back into the series.
They ultimately couldn't climb out of the 3-0 series hole and rewrite the history books, but Beverley made a name for himself.
It is a bit fitting that he got to shine in place of an injured Lin, the poster child for out-of-nowhere NBA success. Lin's unprecedented rise to fame in New York has become the model for rags-to-riches tales, and while Beverley didn't have that sort of impact, he likely changed his life with his first-round performance.
By playing high-level basketball for just a few games on the biggest stage, he is unlikely to be fielding any calls from professional teams in Moscow or Athens anytime soon.
Tim Duncan might be immortal. For years, we have expected a slow down, and have experienced it to an extend. Fact is, he is not the player he was when he entered the league in the 1990s and almost took it over.
Age does that. As they say, Father Time is undefeated.
But this season, after several years of regression, Duncan found the proverbial fountain of youth—and has been dancing in it like a kid next to a broken fire hydrant on a scorching summer day.
His per-36-minute scoring average this year was higher than it has been since 2004-05 while his blocks-per-minute and free-throw percentage both ranked as the best of his storied career. It is unfathomable that, in some ways, one of the top 10 players in NBA history is still improving—at 37 years old.
Yet he still flies under-the-radar.
Kobe Bryant, playing for a sideshow of a team, gets the press. Derrick Rose's decision to rest his knee is discussed every day. Mark Jackson makes a flippant comment to the media about "hitmen," and it is debated ad nauseum for a week.
But the "Old Fundamental" saddles up one more time to try to win his fifth ring, and it barely registers as news.
He probably likes it that way. His coach, who says he will retire the day Duncan does, according to Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News, definitely prefers it that way.
Now, with Russell Westbrook done for the season, the San Antonio Spurs have become the odds-on favorites to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.
Being a contender is nothing new for Duncan. There is nothing special there. His Spurs have been one every year since he stepped in the league.
The only extraordinary part is how little attention we pay to arguably the best champion since Michael Jordan retired. He may be old, but his body is working as well as it has in years.
Duncan is a legend in the twilight of his career who is currently winning—and up big—on Father Time. I suppose we will all start to realize this once the Spurs get to the Finals and the highlight shows run out of other people to talk about.