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News » LARGER THAN LIFE 2009-10-27


LARGER THAN LIFE 2009-10-27


LARGER THAN LIFE  2009-10-27Coming soon is Bird 24/7.

Chris "Birdman" Andersen is already larger than life on a mural on the side of a downtown building. He'll soon have a radio segment, tentatively called "Bird's Eye View" on KEPN 1600 AM. A superheroesque Birdman will appear on drinking glasses at Arby's, a special set of three to be released soon.

This is Year 2 of the Birdman reclamation story.

In the past year, he has gone from endangered species to the winged warrior. He has shown he can get back on his feet. Now, the question is: Can he handle the fame and fortune that comes with his new life?

He has a new contract, new "flock socks" tattoos - a string of birds on each leg near his calf area - a fianc?e and a renewed sense of self. He embraces the community and the challenge of a larger role on a Nuggets team that expects to contend for the Western Conference championship. He is having the time of his life, on a rocket-ship ride from being banned by the NBA for two years for violating its substance abuse policy to his stunning comeback a season ago, to playing an even larger role on one of the best teams in Basketball.

"He's having a bounce-back part of his life," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "He's very excited about playing, and excited about giving back. He's just really comfortable to be around."

It seems everyone is noticing.

"I've been with Birdman when he was at the bottom - all the way under the ground," teammate Carmelo Anthony said. "I've seen him come a long way. I'm happy for him."

And this is just the beginning. Ander-

sen's new beginning. If last season was Andersen's coming-out party, then this season is his burden of proof. Andersen was second in the NBA in blocked shots (2.46) a season ago, playing only 20 minutes per game, an incredible rate of production.

But then, Andersen has made a habit of proving skeptics wrong, ever since working his way into the NBA from a hardscrabble background as an undrafted free agent.

Yet there is payback. NBA players have memories like an elephant. Those who fell victim to his blocked shots and arms-flapping celebrations will want their pride back. And they will be more than willing to snatch it back.

"It's not going to be a cakewalk," Andersen said. "That's for sure. But I'll be fine."

And Andersen, 31, will get more playing time. Karl plans to increase his minutes to about 25 a game. Birdman has expanded his offensive game to include a midrange jumper. He vows to take on more responsibility at the offensive end.

Karl is open to the idea of a more aggressive Andersen on offense, as long as the Nuggets get Birdman "touches where we get good shots and good decisions."

It's not like the 6-foot-10, 228-pound Andersen will be expected to greatly improve upon his 6.4 points per game average. His strength will always be at the defensive end, rebounding and blocking shots.

Birdman said he remains more focused on what the Nuggets will do as a team, rather than what he does.

"Now that we've been to the Western Conference finals, we know what it takes. We know how hard we have to play to get there," Andersen said. "And we can do it. Everybody knows how great we are now."

Community involvement

The kids' eyes lit up when Andersen appeared. Athletes don't often come around to Excel Institute, a small school serving "at-risk" youth in Denver.

"We don't have that student population that might garner that attention," Excel administrator Vivian Wilson said.

But Birdman did, when he visited the school Oct. 15 to inspire students.

"You can't teach children high self-esteem if people don't esteem them at a higher level," Wilson said. "So it was monumental for us, and he was key, he was on-point, he was reminding them what we tell them and that's to stay in school, and if you make a mistake then you get back up and you continue.

"It was more than just a person coming out and dropping off some time. He'll probably never realize the effect that he had on a lot of these kids."

Andersen also made a big impression on kids and their parents at his inaugural Basketball camp this summer.

"The way he has involved with the fans and the community is something I think all organizations would be happy to have every player do what he does," Karl said. "He has the energy. I was at his camp, and he had a connection not just with the players in the camp but the parents who brought them to the camp."

Those Arby's drinking glasses? Part of the proceeds will go to Alliance for Choice in Education. It was through the ACE program that Andersen got connected with the Excel Institute.

Anderson is humble about his community work, saying simply he likes "interacting with kids." But his manager, Mark Bryant, explains it's more than meets the eye.

"He shakes hands, he signs autographs, he plays with the kids," Bryant said. "Some people look at this and go, 'Better be careful what you wish for.' But he's really embraced it and knows now that yeah, he has fame, but when it becomes fame it becomes responsibility, and then the responsibility must come in front of the fame. So he's making that transition."

Relapse not in sight

Andersen doesn't know slugger Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers. But he could learn from him. Hamilton vowed he had overcome his drug addictions and his partying ways, then slipped up last offseason. Photos became public during the season of Hamilton partying last January.

Andersen insists he has no worries about backsliding, not after having been tossed out of the NBA for two years.

"I lost everything," he said. "I'm mentally better than I've ever been. I'm a stronger person going through what I've been through. I'm more mature about decisions."

No one around Andersen flinches when asked about a relapse.

"I have no worries," Bryant said. "Only he and I and the NBA know the full details of what exactly transpired there. And it never enters my mind.

"Most guys might say, 'Once you got a problem, you always got a problem.' You've got to wake up every day and announce, 'I have a problem.' No, no, no. It was because, two things. One, who this guy is. Two is, we didn't namby-pamby this. There was a very large price (to pay) and a very large loss in many categories (of his life). And so I think he's very conscious of that. He's aware of that."

And ready to succeed.

"He's ecstatic," Bryant said. "He's going: 'Whew, I made it through. I made it back, I clicked my heels, I'm back in Kansas with Toto and everybody and life is good."'

Chris Dempsey: 303-954-1279 or cdempsey@denverpost.com

----------------------------------------

Back in business

How did Nuggets forward Chris Andersen celebrate a successful

return to the NBA last season?

Signed a five-year contract worth up to $26 million as the Nuggets' top free-agent priority.

Hosted his first Basketball camp for kids.

Vacationed with fianc?e Brandy and friends in Yellowstone National Park.

Colored his body with more bird tattoos. One is on his upper chest, a teal bird with a crown on its head. And he added "flock socks," a string of birds stretching along the sides of his lower legs.

Chris Dempsey, The Denver Post


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Author: Fox Sports
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Added: October 27, 2009

 

 
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