Chris Andersen marked off the first NBA championship of his 11-year career last Thursday, and in doing so, he marked off another first: The first American to win an NBA title and have played in the Chinese Basketball Association .
In 1998, Andersen – like a lot of post-college players – was out of a job. After spending one year at Blinn College, the athletic, 6-foot-10 center had dreams of getting drafted into the NBA. But that dream was deferred, mainly because he forgot to submit the necessary paperwork to apply for the NBA.
So with the help of his college coach, Andersen joined up with a hodgepodge American tour team and traveled to China to play in a series of exhibition games. Once there, he caught the attention of a local coach who was enamored with his combination of athleticism, hustle, energy and shot-blocking ability.
The next season, Andersen signed a deal to play with the Jiangsu Nangang Dragons. Still extremely raw, Andersen’s wasn’t scoring as much as other foreign players. But he quickly made his mark on the defensive end, using his trademark explosiveness and length to wreak havoc on opposing players. He blocked a season-high seven blocks in a mid-season game and even threw down a huge dunk over Jason Dixon, a Guangdong Southern Tiger legend who is considered one of the greatest China import players of all-time.
The one-year stint in China helped Andersen mature and ultimately receive a gig in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets in 2001.
“Playing in a foreign country was tough,” Andersen said in a 2009 interview. “Coming from a small town in Texas and going to [China], it was tough to adapt to. But I made the adjustment and I had a great experience over there.”
Among the highlights: Playing against future No. 1 overall NBA pick, Yao Ming.
“When I came back, I was playing in the NBA within a year,” Andersen said. “That experience helped me because I was actually playing against Yao Ming when he was with the Shanghai Sharks over there. So going against a big 7-6 cat like that was very self-improving to my skills. When I came back to the States and into the NBA, it was more comfortable coming into that situation.”
In a separate interview, Anderson said the experience of playing against Yao -- and blocking his shot -- further motivated him to reach the NBA.
“He has endless physical strength and he’s always a step faster than everyone else,” Yao once said of Andersen. “Even though his game is unorthodox, it was a pleasure to watch him perform on the court.”
Andersen’s China experience will always be with him. Literally. The first tattoos of what would eventually be many were two Chinese symbols, “Good” and “Evil,” one on the inside of each forearm.
May we suggest the next tattoo? Guangjun, the Chinese word for champion