The most improbable player in the NBA Finals is Miami’s forward/center/sixth man Chris Andersen. Improbable is an understatement. The man overcame 315,968,000 to 1 odds.
Andersen, 35 next month, was born in Long Beach and moved to Iola, Texas, when he was a toddler. According to Wikipedia, Chris “...was the second of the three children of Danish corrections officer Claus Andersen and Linda Holubec, a Tennessee native who worked as a waitress.... In 1982, when Andersen was four, his family moved to Texas, using a loan from the Texas Veterans Land Board to purchase a ten-acre plot in unincorporated Iola.... Claus left the family without even finishing the house they were building. The Andersens then lived off the land, with Linda working on low-end jobs and relying on the help of neighbors and Linda’s brother.... During Andersen’s middle-school years, he and his siblings were even sent to a group home in Dallas for three years.”
So, Dad was not only a corrections officer, but a Danish corrections officer. One wonders, among correction officers, is there a special Danish subdivision? Or, did Dad, just off the boat from Denmark, make a quick recon into California, and, disgusted by what he saw, decide to become a peasant farmer in Iola, Texas?
But, this is only the beginning of strange. Andersen enrolled into Blinn College, a junior college with campuses in Brenham, Bryan, Schulenburg, and Sealy, Texas. Beloved by those who know Blinn College, but not necessarily a national brand.
Now we come upon Andersen’s gifts: he’s tall, 6 feet, 10 inches, plays basketball with great energy, is a great shot-blocker, and a great rebounder. Andersen dropped out of Blinn to await the 1999 NBA draft. And wait, wait, wait, he did. He wasn’t aware you had to fill out NBA paperwork in order to be drafted.
So, he did exhibition games with a Texas semi-pro team, thence the Chinese Basketball League, then back to the States and the International Basketball League. He played for New Mexico Slam and Fargo-Moorhead Beez. Following year signed with the NBA Development League’s Fayetteville Patriots. Played two games for them and then upgraded to the Denver Nuggets. It’s November 2001.
There are 400 players, give or take, in the NBA. There are, roughly, 85 foreign players, leaving, roughly, 315 native-born players in the league. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of the United States, as of June 6, 2013, was 315,968,000. So, you have a one in a million chance of playing in the NBA just by being born here. But, coming into the NBA by way of Iola, Texas, Blinn College, Chinese Basketball League, IBL, NBA D-League, I’ll set those odds at one in a billion.
But, Andersen made it. Salary for 2001–’02, his rookie NBA year, was $288,000. Couple years later, $600,000+, couple years after that, $3,500,000. Big money, big fame, big love. Life is sweet.
In January 2006, Andersen tested positive for a banned substance. He was booted from the NBA for two years, which indicates the substance was not a performance-enhancing drug or marijuana, but something on the NBA’s “Drugs of Abuse” list, which includes cocaine, heroin, morphine, LSD, and PCP, for openers.
Two years’ banishment can be regarded as career-ending. But, Andersen came back. He was reinstated in March 2008 and signed with the New Orleans Hornets, only to be released after the season. Denver to the rescue. He played the 2008–’09 season for them, finished second in the league in shots he blocked per game, while averaging only 20 minutes of play. The Nuggets signed him to a five-year contract.
It’s May of 2012. SB Nation headlines: “Chris ‘Birdman’ Andersen’s Home Searched as Part of Child Pornography Investigation.”
That’s a show-stopper. And it certainly stopped the Denver Nuggets, which immediately excused Andersen, indefinitely, from all team-related activities. Indefinitely turned into forever.
Even now, a year after the search, Andersen has never been arrested, never been charged with any crime. And, even now, a year after the search, police have not closed the case. Two weeks ago a sheriff’s office spokesman emailed journalist Michael Roberts: “The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) unit began investigating Andersen in February 2012 and executed a warrant on 05/10/12. The investigation has been ongoing and continues to be ongoing.”
Denver dropped him, no other team was interested, Andersen is out of basketball. It’s over.
Until last January. Miami, desperately needing help inside, signed Andersen to a ten-day contract. And another one. Then a contract for the rest of the season. Now, Andersen is on a team playing for the world championship and he’s playing brilliantly.
Life is sweet. Again.