OKLAHOMA CITY – Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra stared icy daggers, displeased by the question: Is there concern about “perceived” weaknesses of lack of size, interior defense and rebounding?
Silence. He barely blinked.
“Keep on perceiving that,” Spoelstra finally said. “The people out there, if that’s the perception, go ahead, count us out on that.”
OK, but if everything was hunky-dory (Miami ranks 16th in blocked shots and 19th in rebounding differential), the Heat wouldn’t have signed 6-foot-10 (taller with mohawk), 228-pound Chris “Birdman” Andersen off his couch. After completing a second 10-day contract less than two weeks ago, Birdman, amnestied last July by the Denver Nuggets, was signed by the Heat for the remainder of the season.
Tattooed from earlobes to fingernails in stunning, HD-quality ink, Birdman has played in 10 games, averaging 3.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg and about a half a block in 10.8 mpg.
“He’s not the answer to all of the rebounding concerns with us, but he fits,” Spoelstra said. “He fits our personality, he’s high-energy, he’s tough, a shot-blocker and he has a basketball feel, an IQ.”
He’s also, according to the Birdman himself: “Man, I’m crazy. I’m out of my mind.”
So there’s that.
I caught up with Birdman in the visitor’s locker room last Thursday before the Heat pummeled the Oklahoma City Thunder. Here’s his take on joining the champs, his conditioning, his upside, oh, and those tats…
Q: How does it feel not only to be back in the league, but to join the defending champs and the favorite to win it all again?
A: It’s better than sitting at home not playing. But to be in a unique position like this with a great group of guys and a great organization like the Miami Heat, man, it’s just been overwhelming and I feel great about the situation, getting out there and being able to contribute and get back into my old ways of running and jumping and flying and blocking shots and rebounding. There for a little bit it was kind of skeptical if I was going to play this year, so I just kind of shut it down, but I maintained what I was eating, my weight, weightlifting and basketball stuff. But I definitely wasn’t in basketball shape.
Q: So, are you rounding into basketball shape?
A: It definitely wasn’t easy. I mean getting into basketball shape, professional NBA basketball shape is never easy, but I love a tough challenge. And, you know, like I said, I’m around a great group of guys that came in there and kept on pushing me, and the motivation of these guys and what they’ve been through the past year, winning the championship, defending the championship; being around all those photos of the championship trophy and stuff like that around that arena, you can’t get no more motivated than that.
Q: Last May you dealt with a police investigation including the search of your home as part of an “internet crimes against children probe” that produced no charges. The Nuggets released you from your duties at that time and amnestied you in July. You said you didn’t know if you would play this season, but, at 34, did you ever consider your career could be over?
A: Oh no, bro, don’t ask those kind of questions, bro. Never get back in the league? You put your mind to anything, you can make it happen. It’s up to you. You think negative, then negative things are going to happen. You think positive, positive things are going to happen. I never not once thought I was never going to play in the league again.
Q: What can you provide the Heat that they are missing?
A: I’ve got that defensive presence in the paint and I know I’m never scared to go up and try to block shots. Even if someone’s trying to dunk on me, I’m still going to try to go up there and block it. If someone dunks on me you can’t really be fed into all the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ from the crowd because being a shot-blocker, you’re going to get dunked on every now and then. But, I like to think that I’ve blocked more dunk attempts than most. I’m a rebounder and even though I’m not rebounding right now, it’s because other teams know that I’m a rebounder, and I’m pretty sure on the scouting report it says, ‘Keep him off the glass because he will go every time to the boards.’ I’m providing a different angle for them, and it ain’t a lot, but just that presence in the paint, it definitely helps a little.
Q: What kind of reception did you get from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade?
A: Oh, they were great, man. I mean the welcoming they gave me was Grade-A, Class-A stuff, man, and they made the transition for me very easy and comfortable. I just want to get to the level they’re at and I push myself a little bit too far and; they’ve been very positive in telling me, ‘You still got a little bit of time, just keep working at it.’ Eventually I’ll be up there where I’ll be running wings and stuff like that and maybe getting some 3-balls.
Q: You’ll be running the wing and launching 3-balls?
A: Yeah, a couple shots. Maybe.
Q: So, any new tattoos?
A: My focus was way past getting tattoos. I took a little break.
Q: You’ve got some blank canvas on your legs.
A: A little bit. But tattoos will come in the summer or something.
Q: Still think your “FREE BIRD” neck tattoo was a good idea?
A: Yeah. I ain’t got one tattoo I regretted getting. Every tattoo I got, I got for a purpose and a reason, so I ain’t gonna say I got one tattoo I regret getting.