In a dramatic turn of events, the Nuggets decided at the last minute to amnesty Chris Andersen and sign young forward Anthony Randolph according to the Denver Post's Benjamin Hochman. This brings a sad ending to the Nuggets career of the man they call the Birdman.
This time he gets a proper swan song.
How many career eulogies can we write about the Birdman? It seems like Nate, Andy and I have been talking endlessly about what he meant to the Nuggets fans in 2008-09. Talking about all the Mohawk/faux-hawk wigs that probably line the Pepsi Center basement. Talking about how many tattoos people got in honor of a magical comeback season that coincided with a magical Nuggets run through the playoffs. Flying blocks. Amazing dunks. Flapping of his arms in the 2009 first round Game 2 against the New Orleans Hornets after one of the most spine tingling put-back dunks in Nuggets' history. It was ... well, fun to watch. This resulted in Andersen signing 5-year $26 million contract at the age of 31.
Trouble is, those memories become obscured with the passage of time. There is a realization, I believe, that Andersen had one semi-great comeback season and then ... what? A disappointing follow up season where people started pump faking Birdman into oblivion (who can forget the Altitude microphone picking up Kenyon Martin shouting "F**k Bird! Stay down!") culminating in a playoff Game 6 against the Utah Jazz where Bird took a jumper and got into a yelling match with Carmelo Anthony on the bench; while the Nuggets flopped under interim coach Adrian Dantley. The next season, Birdman was injured (for much of the season) and was relatively ineffective, but regained some of his former self after Melo was traded. And last season where Birdman was lost, and eventually forgotten at the end of the Nuggets' bench. A 34 year-old relic passed by in an over-crowded big-man rotation featuring the likes of Kosta Koufos, Timofey Mozgov, Nene Hilario ... and later JaVale McGee.
What happened? What led to such a precipitous decline after such an exciting season in 2008-09? Did Andersen become fat and happy after he signed the biggest contract of his career? I tend to think not, and in fact I think the explanation is fairly simple ...
He was let down by his own body and father time.
Birdman had the best season of his career at the age of 30. That is very late to have your peak season, and because Bird lost, essentially, three seasons due to a substance-abuse suspension (when he was with the New Orleans Hornets) we will never know what his career arc would have been. One wonders if it took coming to the Nuggets after his drug suspension led to the great season he had (Andersen kept his home in Colorado even after playing with the Hornets and was residing here when he came back). Birdman laid it all on the line that season. He parlayed that in to a great mid-level contract for himself. Yet, he was destined to never live up to that season again.
You see, Birdman's legs betrayed him. Starting midway through the 2009-10 season Bird didn't have the lift he did even the year before. Couldn't compensate for his deficiencies. The injuries started in earnest there. Knees started getting injured in the 2010-11 season and it was almost like Bird remembered he was old (in basketball terms). This last season Birdman looked older than I've ever seen. He also looked like he had no connection with his teammates (even though he was on the receiving end of one of Danilo Gallinari's best passes of the season against the Memphis Grizzlies) and at times, sitting by himself at the end of the bench, Bird looked like he wanted to be anywhere but there. Compounding issues, Andersen was embroiled in a legal issue involving a minor girl. While it's increasingly looking like Andersen is the victim and not the perpetrator in this case, it is still a nasty distraction for a player who never even saw time on the court. Just ... sad. Very sad.
I choose to remember that great season Birdman gave the Nuggets in 2008-09. I choose to remember him tattooing "Spalding" across Rudy Fernandez's face with a viscous block (sorry Rudy). I choose to remember all the great times that Birdman gave the city of Denver that season. It was truly entertaining and one of a kind. A comeback story that was both encouraging and uplifting. That's the Birdman that will live in the highlight reels across the state of Colorado these next couple days and for years to come.
As it should be folks. As it should be. Goodbye Birdman, you will be missed.
Chris Andersen breaks Rudy Fernandez body(watch in HD) (via ddeennmmllaa)