It appears that Chris Andersen's time as a Denver Nuggets player is drawing to an end. Andersen hasn't appeared in a game since March 25th and hasn't played meaningful minutes since March 15th against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Definitely a fan-favorite, Andersen was as well-known for his Mohawk and tattoos as he was for his dunks and blocks. The last member remaining of the Western Conference Finals team will forever be known as the Birdman and his persona will be missed.
Andersen has been a part of three very successful Nuggets teams that won 54, 53, and 50 games the past three seasons. He was also around in 2001-02 when the team was just 27 games, '02-03 when Jeff Bzdelik coached the team to 17 wins, and for the turn-around '03-04 season when the squad won 43 games with plenty of new faces.
Birdman left the team after 2004 to pursue some security and a chance for a bigger role with the New Orleans Hornets. Unfortunately, he would only play in one full season for the Bugs as his NBA life went off track.
The team that gave him his first chance in the NBA, would also allow him to make his comeback too. When the Nuggets brought Andersen back, his return was an afterthought. The Nuggets had just lost Marcus Camby is a head-scratching, money saving trade with the Los Angeles Clippers. Who could have known that an NBA wash-out would fill in seamlessly for the former Defensive Player of the Year in Camby? Birdman would average 6.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and a career high 2.5 blocks per game for the Nuggets that season as the big man off the bench.
The 2008-09 Nuggets needed someone to step up in Camby's absence and the Bird did just that. While he wasn't a starter (he started one game in the 71 he played), he was the high-flying defensive presence the team needed. His energy off the bench was crowd pleasing, inspiring, and contagious. Andersen was back in Denver and making the most of his return to the League.
I can still recall receiving an email from a Bulls fan during the 2009 playoffs that talked about a pre-draft basketball camp before the 2001 draft. In it the author talked about how he and his brother had gone to a workout and this lanky white kid was dominating two prime time prospects in Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler. The author told me that the kid was from some place in Texas he had never heard of and turned out to be Andersen.
In his early days, the athletic kid out of Blinn College sure could soar. His buzz cut and tattoo on his right arm of a guy power dunking told quite a different story from what we have grown accustom to today.
Upon his return to Denver, Andersen had embraced the Tapout brand, known in the Mixed Martial Arts world for getting fighters to wear their clothing. Mask (the late), Skyscrape, and Punkass built their brand after being big time fans of MMA and wanting to follow their passion. They dressed in costumes and had a hard-rock image, perfect for the Birdman. Along with Tapout, Birdman has been spotted being called on stage, as recently as this past summer, with hard-rock bands like Avenged Sevenfold.
The hard-rock life fit Birdman's reckless style on the court. The Mohawk he rocked the season the Nuggets went to the Western Conference Finals spawned wigs that are still sold in the Pepsi Center today. Kids, parents, and even a couple grandparents could be spotted walking through the turn-styles at The Can during that epic playoff run with 'hawks of their own. Shirts with fake tattoos were dawned by some folks as well. The comic book-like power forward made a home for himself in Denver.
This season, Andersen has let his hair grow long, and his beard too. Some could say it matches the long in the tooth nature of a 33 year-old guy trying to come to terms with a younger man's game.
The Birdman had a few throwback performances this season. Against the Lakers on January 1st he went for 12 points and 9 blocks in a big win. Against the Suns on February 14th he went for 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 blocks in another crucial win.
The days of the high-flying Andersen were fewer and farther between this year, but his legacy with the team shouldn't be forgotten. We shouldn't remember him just for his crazy hair and tattoos. Yes, those were part of what he meant for the Nuggets over the years, but what he gave to the city and the team were much more than just a persona.
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