It is pretty rare for a player who never averaged more than seven points or six rebounds to receive as much praise and honor as Chris Andersen. It always went beyond the box score when we measured his impact. As he turns 42 today, we take a look back at how he broke into the league.
The NBA dream was always far-fetched for Andersen, who was not a ranked prospect coming out of high school in Texas in 1996. He took his talents to the junior college association, playing and at the relatively-unknown Blinn College. There are stats available from his lone year there, in 1997-98
He averaged 10 points and seven rebounds per game, shooting just over 50% from the floor and knocking down six threes. He played well overall but didn’t do enough to truly make a difference there. After that one season, he bounced around small leagues in South Dakota and New Mexico.
He still wasn’t putting up good numbers, but he did enough to earn a flyer from the Cavs for the 2001 Summer League.
The Historic Call-Up
Andersen was playing at the perfect time, as the NBA’s D-League had been just starting up in 2001. After being waived by the Suns prior to the start of the season, he became the first player ever selected in the draft. The Fayetteville Patriots were the ones to call his name and give him an opportunity.
After playing in just three games in Fayetteville, the Nuggets made him the first player from the D-League to be called up to the NBA on November 20, 2001. He would earn the nickname “Birdman” from teammates Junior Harrington and Kenny Satterfield.
He would play a total of six years in Denver over two stints, playing in New Orleans in between. He stuck around with his ability as a rim protector and high-energy guy. He also had no tattoos when he was first called up.
While playing in Denver and New Orleans, Andersen never got a chance to showcase what he had for a title-contending team. He was generally in the playoffs, but not on the best team. That changed when he signed a 10-day deal with the Heat during the 2012-13 season. He was a key part of their identity as an efficient defensive team.
He protected the rim, and threw down monster dunks while playing here. He brought additional veteran leadership to the table. And he helped the guys to knock off the Spurs to win the second-consecutive title for the Heat.
For Andersen, the first-ever player called up from the D-League, playing a key role in an NBA title is something out of a folktale. Small junior college. Unknown game. Fantastic career.
What Birdman Is Up to Now
Two summers ago, he began playing in Ice Cube’s BIG3 league, which has started to take off. The season isn’t happening, but it is expected to return in 2021.
He played for Power in 2018, coached by Hall-of-Famer Nancy Lieberman. They won a title with a team of primarily former NBA standouts, including Cuttino Mobley, Corey Maggette, Glen Davis, and of course, Chris Andersen.
Happy birthday, Chris!
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