Denver barmaids were surely rejoicing last week when the Nuggets signed a one-year deal with Chris Andersen, the troubled forward who earned his nickname, Bird Man, as a flailing rookie forward with the Nuggets in 2001. In his time here - about two and a half seasons - Andersen's impact on the floor was rivaled closely by his impact on the local bar business, where he and his less-than-upstanding circle of friends were committed regulars.
His $289,000 rookie salary "was like sand through his fingers," ESPN the Magazine's Chris Palmer wrote in a lengthy profile of Anderson, published in May. "He began to develop a rep as a hard partier. He inhaled Jack & Cokes like a wet vac and could make a case of Bud Light disappear by himself." When his mom, Linda, moved to Denver to help him, she found a pile of bank statements and receipts that read like the property of the '86 Mets. Among them: a $900 bar tab. Legendary, no doubt, among Andersen and his friends, but not reassuring to Mom.
"Stay in, order food, play video games," Linda urged him, according to Palmer's story. "You don't have to go out every night."
But he did - and the party was fueled, apparently, by more than beer and Jack. Not long after signing a four-year, $14 million deal with Hornets in 2005, he was suspended by the league for drugs. The exact drug was never disclosed, but weed and 'roids were ruled out. The Bird Man, everyone seems to agree, had a thing for dipping his beak in cocaine.
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He disappeared for a spell after that, covering his battered body with ink from Denver's Tribe Tattoo, according to another ESPN story. Then, last year, he resurfaced with the Hornets, apparently clean.
"I know this doesn't last forever. I'm not going to throw away what I have over something stupid," he told Palmer. "But I haven't changed a bit. I'm still the same person I always was. I just don't do the things I used to. I'm smarter now."
Now, especially in the absence of Marcus Camby, the Nuggets will hope Andersen can revive his old persona - wild, brash, unpredictable -- on the court, without waking up the Birdman off of it. -- Joe Tone