The mainstream popularity of tattoos has created massive global appeal, spilling into the world of media and sports. These days, it’s hard to turn on your television and not see an tattooed actor or athlete grace your screen. David Beckham and Lebron James are some of the most popular athletes in the world; aside from their universal appeal, they make no attempt at hiding their ink from public scrutiny. Amongst some of the lesser known players, is Chris “Birdman” Andersen, the most colorfully decorated NBA player of all time.
Chris Andersen started his professional basketball career in 1999. After going undrafted in the NBA, Andersen took his talents to China. A year overseas led Andersen to come back stateside and play in the NBA Developmental league before signing with the Denver Nuggets in 2001. Early on, Andersen was a reserved role player, virtually ink free aside from a few Chinese phrases on each arm, but his career was derailed in 2006 when he was banned for two years after testing positive for banned substances and violating the league’s anti-drug policy.
With a lot more time on his hands, Andersen became a regular at the local tattoo shops when he wasn’t busy staying in shape. His shop of choice was Tribe Tattoo in Denver, CO where John Slaughter was in charge of inking Andersen’s 6’10’’ frame. Over the next two years, Andersen would go on to get the vast majority of his tattoos, as he did not have to take into account any healing time for full court contact. Upon his reinstatement two years, Birdman emerged as a completely new person and player, both on the inside, and especially on the outside.
Upon his return to the pros, Birdman worked his way back to an integral part of the Nuggets’ many playoff runs, providing a much needed burst of energy off the bench. Though never a volume scorer, Andersen was a high flying crowd favorite with his immense hustle, rebounding, blocking and dunking. In a sport where virtually all of the players are covered in ink, Andersen still stood out with his array of vibrant tattoos, reminiscent of Dennis Rodman.
Birdman’s ink arsenal includes large wings on his inner bicep, eagles on his shoulders, and “Free Bird” adorned across his neck, fully playing into his moniker. His collection is just as unique as his playing style. A self proclaimed perfectionist, Andersen works closely with Slaughter, planning every new piece with a major attention to detail. His body is his canvas, narrating his life story, wide array of experiences and hardships he has overcome.
In January of 2013, Birdman signed with the reigning NBA champions Miami Heat, adding an extra dimension to the already celebrated franchise. At 34, Andersen still delivers high flying antics while maintaining his eccentric persona. Back at the top, Andersen has worked hard to clean up and revive his public image through community service and giving back to the disenfranchised. Recently, Birdman also took part in PETA's "Ink Not Mink" campaign against animal abuse for the sake of fur. His dedication and reinvention has put him in a position to win the NBA championship as his Miami Heat fight their way through the eastern conference.
His latest accomplishment? Andersen made history in game one of the eastern conference finals, going 7/7 from the field, the first time in franchise history a player has taken 7 or more shots and made all of them. His 16 points off the bench were essential to the Miami Heat overcoming the Indiana Pacers in a back and forth overtime match.
Andersen’s in your face appearance and style of play might be intimidating, but his hard work ethic, soft spoken humility and dedication has turned him into a working class hero. His admiration ranges so far that kids all over the country are wearing his signature mohawked & sleeved look as their halloween costume. Birdman’s future remains to be seen, but one thing is certain; his tough, hard-nosed play and obsession with tattoos will leave a unique legacy on the next generation of NBA players and tattoo enthusiasts everywhere.