As the Miami Heat have taken a stranglehold on the Eastern Conference Finals with a 3-2 series lead—Miami hasn’t lost two straight since Jan. 10—Chris “Birdman” Andersen is aiming to bring his bizarre NBA career full circle by winning an NBA championship as a prominent role player.
He’ll miss Game 6 due to a one-game suspension, but that bump in the road has proven to be the exception in what has otherwise been a phenomenal bounce-back season for the 34-year-old.
Pre-NBA Career (1999-2001)
After going undrafted out of Blinn College in 1999, Andersen played the 1999-2000 season in China with the Jiangsu Nangang Dragons (a team that currently has three former NBAers on the roster: Jackson Vroman, Marcus Williams and Garret Siler).
The following year from 2000-01, Andersen played for the (now-extinct) Fargo-Moorhead Beez of the International Basketball Association.
After those two brief basketball stints, Andersen was drafted first overall in the 2001 NBA Development League draft, where he played for another team that no longer exists: the Fayetteville Patriots.
Early NBA with Nuggets/Hornets (2001-2005)
From there, Birdman’s NBA career finally got off the ground. He played 24 games during the 2001-02 season with the Denver Nuggets, averaging 3.0 points and 3.2 rebounds per game as a rookie. He played for the Nuggets until 2004, before moving on to a short-lived affair with the New Orleans Hornets.
In his first year with New Orleans, Andersen experienced one of the best seasons of his entire career. Birdman played 67 games (two starts), while averaging 7.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game.
During that same season, the Birdman attempted to take flight in the 2005 NBA Slam Dunk Contest (he had competed the year before with Denver, finishing third).
Unfortunately, Andersen didn’t live up to his nickname. The Birdman looked more like a wounded quail in 2005, throwing lob after agonizing lob to himself, failing to dunk the ball time and time again.
Minutes began to feel like hours, as Andersen’s dunk contest fiasco became one of the more infamous NBA All-Star Weekend occurrences. In fact, the league changed the rules of the dunk contest afterward to include a timer so the event wouldn’t repeat itself.
Aside from a laughably disappointing showing in the 2005 Slam Dunk Contest, Andersen’s NBA career appeared to be taking off. Fans would soon learn, however, that the longhaired, significantly less tatted Andersen was about to hit bottom.
Things Fall Apart (2006-2007)
In 2006, Andersen was kicked out of the NBA for testing positive for “drugs of abuse,” according to ESPN.
“The drugs on that list are amphetamine and its analogs, which include methamphetamine; cocaine; LSD; opiates, including heroin, codeine and morphine; and PCP,” via ESPN.
At the time, Andersen was in the midst of a four-year, $14 million contract with the Hornets that was set to pay him through the 2008-09 season. He would have to wait two years before applying for reinstatement to the NBA.
Reinstatement and Redemption (2008-2012)
Upon being reinstated in 2008, Andersen’s agent Steven Heumann said, “Chris is incredibly excited to be back. He’s grateful to the NBA and the union for reinstating him and for giving him the opportunity to resume his career,” per Marty Burns of Sports Illustrated.
After playing just five games for New Orleans upon his return, a rejuvenated Andersen rejoined the Denver Nuggets, the team he started his career with, for the 2008-09 season. He played 71 games for the Nuggets, averaging 6.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and a career-high 2.5 blocks per game. He was a major component to the Nuggets’ Western Conference Finals run that season, averaging 21.9 minutes per game in 15 postseason games.
After that magical season with Denver, Birdman’s stats continued to decrease and level off for three straight years. But stats were far from Andersen’s mind in 2012, when his name surfaced in the news for all the wrong reasons.
Lows and Highs (2012-2013)
In 2012, property was seized from Andersen's home for reported Internet crimes against children. As a result of the ongoing investigation, the Nuggets cut Andersen from the roster and signed Anthony Randolph to fill his spot, according to Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post.
Shortly thereafter, reports surfaced that the NBA center was a victim of extortion. According to USA Today, a jilted female fan was the cause of Andersen’s troubles. He was cleared of all charges following the ugly, confusing affair.
Although Andersen wasn’t putting up the best numbers of his career and had recently been involved in a strange extortion case, he was still a big body with playoff experience who could contribute to a contender. Miraculously, though, Birdman received little interest from around the league prior to the 2012-13 season.
It wasn’t until late January that the Miami Heat—a team in need of interior size—took a flyer on Andersen. There was no guarantee of a full-time gig, though, because Miami signed Andersen to a 10-day contract.
Despite playing just 14.9 minutes per game for the Heat during the regular season, the veteran’s presence not only allowed him to stick around, but it also assisted Miami to tremendous success.
Andersen shot 57.7 percent from the floor during the regular season, which would have ranked him third in the entire NBA had he played enough games to qualify. Miami sports a hearty 50-6 record when Andersen plays (including playoffs).
Andersen’s inspired NBA comeback is something that has become a recurring theme. But if his regular season with Miami hasn’t been enough of a storyline, Andersen’s playoff run with the Heat has been even more exciting.
We’ve been treated to Shaquille O’Neal’s humor that created the “Birdman! Birdman!” chant/dance, as shown here by CNN’s Rachel Nichols via Twitter:
In Game 2, Paul George renamed the movie Black Hawk Down to "Birdman Down” with this monstrous dunk:
And, of course, Andersen’s fracas with Tyler Hansbrough, which NBA commissioner David Stern said warranted an ejection from the game (per ESPN):
Considering the role Chris “Birdman” Andersen has played to this point for the Heat, Miami may have its back against the wall in Game 6 without him.
Andersen’s career has been filled with some high highs and low lows. But one way or another, his time in the NBA has been a whirlwind of entertainment.