Posted: Wednesday October 18, 2006 2:21PM; Updated: Wednesday October 18, 2006 4:20PM
Never one of the NBA's more graceful players, Chris Andersen was one its most effective on the boards in four-plus seasons.
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
By L. Jon Wertheim
For a guy whose cell phone rings to Metallica's "Enter Sandman," Chris Andersen doesn't do much sleeping. On most days he's up at 4:45 a.m., taking his monstrous cane corso, Yogi, for a walk in the Rocky Mountain foothills that frame his new home in Larksburg, Colo. By 6, Andersen has usually pretzeled his 6-10 frame into his truck, headed for a gym on Denver's south side where he sweats though a headband that, pointedly, is festooned with the NBA's logo.
After that, he has oceans of time at his disposal. As the NBA season begins next week, Andersen, once a hyperkinetic forward and defensive stopper for the New Orleans Hornets, will be nine months into his two-year banishment from the NBA, after he ran afoul of the league's one-strike-and-you're-out anti-drug policy. For all the NBA brawlers and on-ice assaulters and helmet stompers and baseball juicers and the countless other purveyors of mayhem, Andersen -- whose most serious previous offense was being late for team practice -- is the only athlete in a major sport to face banishment this decade. He is not even eligible to play overseas, as FIBA recognizes NBA suspensions. So this season, it will have to fall on another player to wear the mantle of "Best Hillbilly in the NBA," a distinction Andersen's teammates once jokingly bestowed on him.
Andersen is, however, eligible for reinstatement on Jan. 27, 2008, a date he anticipates the way a prisoner does his day of release. He's staying in shape, making sure he's maintaining his playing weight of 245 pounds. He's working on his shooting, never one of his core strengths. He'll be following the results this season -- buying tickets to games if he has to -- taking mental notes on players he's confident he'll eventually oppose. "I have a one track mind right now," Andersen, 28, said last week in a soft voice flavored with a Texas drawl. "Getting back to the NBA. For me it's like getting back home."
This business of pressing your nose against the glass, watching other players take your minutes, your rebounds, your glory (your money!) isn't much fun. But most of Andersen's bitterness has dissolved by now. A first-team Free Spirit -- a player whose popularity has always outpaced his talents -- Andersen is a longtime devotee of the life's-a-journey-and-not-a-destination school. As he sees it, this latest plot twist is just another detour in one of basketball's more arresting odysseys.