Chris “Birdman” Andersen was circling the NBA’s proverbial trash heap when he was picked up by the Heat in January. And no one could have predicted the impact he would have for the defending champs in the coming months.
The story of his NBA reclamation may even beg for a script.
“That’s already a movie. That’s Back to the Future ain't it?” quips the festooned Andersen after a recent practice.
With most of his body covered in tattoos, the mohawked 6-foot-10 Texan is known more for how he looks, than how he plays. But the looks can’t mask the way he plays, which is hard, all the time.
“I just put in the work and show the coaches, show the organization what I’m capable of doing. I just put my head down and get on the grindstone and just keep on rolling with it, because that’s what I do best.”
That’s why the 34-year-old Andersen has fit right in with the hard-working Heat. He became part of the rotation just as Miami was embarking on its late season run--which included a 27-game win streak--on their way to a franchise record 66-win season.
Birdman stands out on the court not for his hairstyle or body art, but for filling a much-needed rebounding and scoring void that had threatened to derail the Heat’s chances at a repeat.
“That’s why they brought me here, to provide energy and go to the glass and be disruptive on the defensive end.”
His activity around the basket even led to 18 consecutive field goal attempts this postseason.
A year ago though, The Denver Nuggets decided the Birdman was more like an albatross than an asset.
He was given his release by the team after an ongoing police investigation into his internet relationship with a minor.
Prior to that, he was kicked out of the NBA for two seasons between 2006 and 2008 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Andersen is reluctant to discuss his past, though he does admit though that each of the tattoos, which cover about 75 percent of his body, reflect the challenges he has had to overcome in his life and basketball career.
But for teammates like forward Udonis Haslem, he only sees the player. “(He’s) another hard-nosed guy that competes. Rebounds, defends, blocks shots.”
And as an added bonus, Haslem says Birdman revs up the team’s sixth man in the stands.
“The crowd loves him. They love him. When he comes in to the game or when he makes a huge play, he really makes our crowd excited and we feed off of that.”
That’s especially been true since Andersen’s shove of Indiana’s Tyler Hansbrough in the Eastern Conference Finals. It got him suspended for game 6 of the series, which the Heat lost. He returned to help the Heat win the decisive seventh game, checking in to standing ovation from the crowd in Miami.
Though only with the team for five months, Bird is the word for Heat many fans.
Some flap their arms and squawk, like Frank Colminares of Miami, who came to the arena sporting a Dracula wig made to look like a mohawk.
“He brings a lot of energy to the team. It’s amazing” chirps Colminares. “He brings excitement not only to the team, but to the crowd.”
Boca Raton’s Michael Mintz also arrived in a costume-store wig and a silk screened tattooed T-shirt to pay his tributes.
“What he has shown is that he has tremendous resiliency, he’s tough and doesn’t mind getting in to a scuffle.”
Andersen says he’s grateful for the chance to prove himself again in Miami on basketball’s biggest stage. And as for that movie?
“It’s amazing, but there’s still that task at hand and that’s winning the finals and winning the championship. And then, after that I’ll decide whether or not to do a movie script,” Andersen says.
But first, he’ll have to decide whether to stay in Miami's flock or fly the coop for more cash.
Andersen made just over a half-million dollars in salary this season with Miami, mere chicken scratch for most NBA players.
So it’s unclear if the Heat will be able to keep Birdman in their flock in the future.