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Chris Andersen, by any name, made his mark in Miami

You'll likely remember the fun and the frivolity -- the preening, the flapping, the soaring, the slamming, the razzing (of reporters like his one), and the rather scary staring. 

And, sure, you'll remember his unique appearance too -- the mohawk he was always changing, the beard he was always pruning, the tattoos he was always adding.

But, on the day that Chris Andersen was sent to Memphis in a three-team trade that saved luxury tax and netted point guard Brian Roberts, you might want to remember the winning most.

That's what Chris "Birdman" -- or "Birdzilla" or "Zilla" for short -- Andersen did, from the moment he arrived in Miami.

He won.

And he played a major part in it. 

I'll always remember the practice in Portland on January 9, 2012. The Heat had looked lifeless of late, losing two of three, getting bullied by East rivals Chicago and Indiana. A sweaty, shirtless LeBron James, yelling at his teammates to run sprints with him after practice at the Rose Garden. And later, when asked about getting help, especially up front, James didn't want to hear it. 

"This is who we have," James said. "Ain’t nobody outside. … As a collective group, we’ve got to figure it out."

As it turned out, there was someone outside who could help -- a player the Heat had been investigating for months, because of some alleged off-the-court issues. Comfortable that charges against Chris Andersen were completely unfounded, Miami brought him in on a 10-day contract, and then another. And then the Heat couldn't afford to let him go, because he'd become so essential, to the team's spirit and success.

And Andersen, as it turned out, was the player Miami needed, someone who could catch and finish at the rim, especially on lob passes from James and Dwyane Wade. That gave Miami the vertical spacing they required. He changed the defensive look too, patrolling the paint and protecting the rim. Mostly, though, he  changed the atmosphere. Not long after he signed, the Heat, which has been dragging, was suddenly Harlem Shaking. He brought life to the locker room, which was full of straight-laced guys, all of whom seemed to geniunely love him. He brought a buzz to the arena, and the fans loved him even more. 

The true testament to Andersen's impact, though, can be measured this way:

Miami was 39-3 in the 42 games in which he played during the 2012-13 season. That included a 27-game winning streak, in which he was one of the core four off the bench, with Shane Battier, Norris Cole and Ray Allen. And, in 2013-14, I had him third on my Sixth Man Award ballot. 

He became an inspiration to many, something even he recognized.

This is what he told me after contributing to a Game 2 win in the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals against Indiana, from a story that originally posted on Bleacher Report:

"Oh yeah," Andersen said. "One hundred percent. People always tell me. Everybody ends up going through some tough times in their life. And, you know, to use mine as a pedigree to get back to a positive lifestyle..."

He paused.

"It's an honor that people, what do you say, they look up to me, and my story, and my past, and my path, and they use it in their lives to get ahead and be positive," Andersen said.

And they're seeing him continue to do it, on the highest level, as he did again Tuesday.

"One hundred percent," Andersen said. "I don't really think about it too much. But, like I said, it's just humbling to know that people out there who have had the same kind of issues, the same problems, have used my story to help them get through their life." 

And while he wasn't as impactful either of the past couple of seasons, he remained a positive teammate until the end. He knew the Heat was looking to move him -- which is why he was rushing to finish painting his condo -- but he was supportive of those who had supplanted him on the floor. Even though, before he became just a "contract," he was a major contributor. 

The Grizzlies don't play again in Miami this season. 

But if Andersen plays anywhere next season, he'll have earned the cheers he receives whenever he returns to American Airlines Arena.




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