Kenny Anderson has found his smile, the one he had when he took
Archbishop Molloy to the New York City Catholic high school
championship as a freshman, when he led Georgia Tech to the
Final Four as a freshman, when he started the 1994 NBA All-Star
Game as a New Jersey Net. Anderson found that smile 3,000 miles
away, in Portland, and now it is brighter than ever, as he
guides the Trail Blazers to the playoffs.
Proof of Anderson's newfound contentment was evident last
Thursday as Portland visited the Bucks. The veteran point guard
made one of eight shots from the field and scored a season-low
four points, but Portland won its 11th straight, 97-78. There
were no grimaces from Anderson after missed jumpers, no shaking
of his head in frustration. "When I used to have games like
that, it'd kill me," he said the following day. "If I wasn't
succeeding, I got depressed. But I vowed this year that I wasn't
going to let the game kill me. If I went 1 for 8 or 0 for 20 and
we won, that's all that mattered. The way I'm playing, with my
attitude, I'm a terror."
Anderson leads the Blazers in scoring (18.1 points) and assists
(7.1) and had 24 points and seven assists in Sunday's 94-88 win
at New York. He's shooting the three-pointer with great faith (a
career-high 37.5%), playing energetic defense and enjoying the
quiet life out West, away from the pressures of playing near
home. "I got three times as much attention in high school as I'm
getting in Portland," he says, laughing. "I was a legend in New
York even before I got to the NBA. People don't understand that."
Understand. During a two-hour lunch last Friday, Anderson used
that word 10 times. He understands the business of the NBA, the
importance of staying out of trouble and most significant--after
studying Utah's John Stockton for years--the role of the point
guard. Sure, Anderson can score; he can beat anyone off the
dribble. But on a young, fragile Portland team full of offensive
weapons, he realizes that his ability to control the game with
his wizardly ball handling and prescient passing is the biggest
reason the Trail Blazers, 41-29 at week's end, have an outside
chance to win the Western Conference title.
Against the Bucks, Anderson dictated the tempo from the opening
tip. He didn't force the action, and he didn't try to gun his
way out of his shooting woes. He just ran the offense (11
assists, two turnovers) with Stocktonesque precision. After the
game, Milwaukee coach Chris Ford praised Anderson. "He's a great
point guard," Ford said, "who has found a home."
Home was New Jersey for Anderson's first 4 1/2 seasons in the
league. He often had to carry the team, an impossible task for a
6'1", 165-pound guy with a 32-inch waist and hands so small he
can't palm a basketball. "One player can't do that at this
level," he says. "Even Michael Jordan couldn't do it until he
got Scottie Pippen and [Dennis] Rodman. This isn't tennis."
But the expectations surrounding Anderson have always been high
around New York, and as the second player taken in the 1991
draft, he was expected to revive the Nets. When he couldn't, he
felt he'd failed, and critics agreed. "It took the happiness and
joy right out of the game for me," he says. "I was playing only
for the money, to support my family. If I had been an older guy
last year, I would have retired."
He was traded to Charlotte on Jan. 19, 1996, played well, then
became a free agent. "The forgotten free agent," he says. Six or
seven teams expressed interest, including the Nets, who offered
him a six-year, $40 million deal. He turned it down, knowing
that for his career to flourish he had to leave the distractions
of home--even if that meant not seeing as much of his mother,
Joan. He signed a seven-year, $46 million contract with Portland
partly because of coach P.J. Carlesimo, who, as a former Seton
Hall coach (1982-94), knew Anderson when he was in junior high.
Carlesimo says he "couldn't be happier" with Anderson and that
better days are ahead. "People forget how young he is," he says.
Anderson is 26. The only NBA player who's younger and has scored
more career points is Shaquille O'Neal. "I'm not old," says
Anderson, "but I'm old for what I've been through."
He entered the league at 20, wide-eyed and unprepared. "If I
could do it again, I would have stayed in school," says
Anderson, who left Georgia Tech after his sophomore year. "I
loved it there. I didn't want to leave, but I had to take care
of my mother [financially]." He had two children (now 6 and 4)
out of wedlock. The NBA lifestyle "was bad. I got caught up in
it," he says. "I wasn't a man, like I thought."
That began to change three years ago when he married
singer-actress Tammi Akbar, who in 1992 appeared on MTV's Real
World. They have two daughters, Lyric Chanel, 2, and Kenni, nine
months. "I've learned," he said. "I don't make the same
mistakes. When you get burned by something hot, the next time
you use a pot holder to pick it up. I'm not a saint. I haven't
turned my life completely around. I've just rearranged some
When he signed with Portland in July, he committed himself more
than ever to lifting weights and getting stronger, especially in
his legs. Strength coach Mick Smith says that in his four years
in Portland he hasn't seen a player work harder. Pre-Smith,
Anderson could squat 205 pounds once; now he can do 225 pounds
five times. He can bench-press 230, up from 215. He lost 1.5% of
his body fat (to 5.1%) and gained six pounds (to 171). The
increased muscle has helped his defense, which was a weakness
but is now slightly above average.
Besides losing body fat, he shed some of his ego. "Four years
ago, when we were both in New Jersey, he'd say, 'I'm one of the
best point guards in the league,'" says Milwaukee forward Chucky
Brown. "I told him, 'You can be, but you're not.' This year I
told him, 'Now you're one of the best.'"
Anderson had DirecTV put in at his house in Portland recently.
"I never thought I'd ever watch a game," Anderson says. "With my
ego, I'd think, I work in the league too. Why should I watch a
guy? I'm going to play against him next week. But now, I'm like
a scout." His old ego would have turned his two games this year
against Philadelphia rookie point guard Allen Iverson into a
personal duel to see who was quicker, who could score more.
Instead, Anderson marveled at Iverson's crossover dribble and
his leaping ability. "He'll be way better than me," says
Anderson, who played Iverson to a standoff. "I wish him the
best. I see a mirror image of me in him. I'll talk to him
someday, tell him that [to be successful], he has to go through
the fire first."
Anderson went through the fire, but he says, "I'm not an angry
man. I'm thick-skinned and softhearted." He has become part of
the community in Portland and donates $20 for each assist to the
Kids Making Miracles, a $1 million drive to fund a
state-of-the-art health care facility at Doernbecher Children's
Hospital. Anderson says he wants to stay in Portland for the
life of his contract.
If he keeps playing this way, the Blazers won't let him go. "Two
years from now, with my attitude, my desire to win," Anderson
says, "I'm going to be a real terror." Then he smiles the smile
of a man who has things all figured out.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID LIAM KYLE A leaner, stronger and more focused Anderson leads Portland in scoring and assists. [Kenny Anderson in game]
FOR THE WEEK OF MARCH 17-23
The NBA fined Lakers guard Nick Van Exel $10,000 for the harsh
remarks he made about the officiating after a 98-97 loss to
Miami last Friday. Furious over a foul call on teammate Elden
Campbell with 17 seconds to play, Van Exel accused the refs of
"fixing" the game. He later apologized.
With a 100-91 loss to the Nets on Sunday, the Celtics fell to
0-19 against Atlantic Division opponents. No team in NBA history
has ever finished a season without a win in its division. Boston
has five games remaining against Atlantic foes.
Can the Knicks get over their recent malaise and win the
Atlantic Division title? Since toppling the Bulls 97-93 on March
9, they have gone 2-4, with losses to Dallas, New Jersey,
Milwaukee and Portland. At week's end New York trailed Miami by
2 1/2 games in the race for home court advantage through the
first two rounds of the playoffs.
"It was a fight between one guy who didn't know how to fight and
another guy who didn't want to fight."
--Sixers swingman Jerry Stackhouse, on his brief skirmish with
teammate Allen Iverson during practice on March 19.