Denver's Chris Andersen: "Bird Is the Word"

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Denver's Chris Andersen:

Chris "Birdman" Andersen, after a two year suspension for violating the NBA's drug policy, has come home to Denver with the greatest purpose in sports: to prove the doubters wrong.

The Birdman has helped lead the Nuggets to a record-breaking season of 53 wins and a dominant performance in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs. Although he only averages 20 minutes off the bench, he leads the NBA in blocks per minutes played per game and provides an energy that is unparalleled in the NBA.

When the Bird spreads his wings and soars through the air to block a shot or dunk the ball, everyone in the Pepsi Center, young and old, black and white, are brought to their feet. He is one of the most exciting players in the NBA with his crazy hair, tattoos, and energetic style of play.

What has been lost in the appeal of the Birdman is his incredible ascent from his undrafted status in 1999. He went from a no-name college to playing in foreign leagues to minor-leagues to the NBA.

But then, once his dream was finally realized, his life fell apart. The money and lifestyle was too much, as he was later suspended for two full seasons. But instead of giving up, taking the money he had accumulated over the years and leaving for a life of drugs, parties, and glamour, he returned to the gym.

This time he was sober. After months and months of working on his game and sculpting his body to make a triumphant return to the NBA, he knew he had one last chance.

As I watched the Bird walk onto the hallowed floor at the Pepsi Center at the beginning of this season, chills came down my spine...he had done it. He had proved his critics wrong, sobered up, and was back playing the game he loved.

What was not expected was that he would be playing decent minutes and leading his club in swats. He gets crucial burn in every game and his rebounding as well as unorthodox but highly effective defense has helped the Nuggets grow into a powerhouse in the Western Conference.

It did not hit me until Game One against the Mavericks in the Western Conference Semifinals that Anderson's appeal was more than basketball, more than a comeback story, and more than a tale of the unlikely hero. The Bird is a symbol for hard work; his image says "stay true to yourself, and you can become anyone you want to be."

Not blessed with the God-given abilities of Denver teammates Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, he has had to work for everything he has ever gotten both on and off the court.

So as you watch him flap his wings and celebrate after making a block, realize that there is more to this man than the hair and the tattoos; he represents the heart and soul that is the foundation of basketball.

He is the "comeback kid," and he's come back to prove to fans across the country that it's not what you have, it's what you do with it.

At 31 years old, nobody knows that more than the Bird.

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