Chris Andersen is imposing. From his Mohawk-ed cranium and tattoo-adorned body, to his menacing blocks, to his hustle and tenacity, Andersen makes his presence known. In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Andersen took his role as enforcer too far, sending Tyler Hansbrough to the floor on a vicious blind-side shoulder check. Hansbrough got up and exchanged words with Andersen, who then shoved him again.
Officials, in a stupefying judgment, originally determined both players were equal offenders, giving technicals to both teams. Upon consulting the replay, they upgraded Andersen to a flagrant-1, giving Hansbrough two shots at the line. He missed one of them. That was it. No ejection. He sent a Hansbrough shot into the second row on the subsequent possession, igniting the Heat fans.
In the Heat-Bulls series, LeBron and Nazr Mohammed got tangled up and took each other to the ground. The replays appeared to show that LeBron was more physical in the tussle. They got up, and Mohammed shoved LeBron, who slid across the floor on his hindquarters as gracefully as Tom Cruise in “Risky Business.” Mohammed was ejected.
In the Mohammed altercation, both parties had an equal stake in sparking conflict, then Mohammed was the aggressor on the ensuing push. Andersen was the alpha and the omega of the melee, wholly responsible, and yet his actions were somehow deemed less heinous than Mohammed’s?
The unfortunate truth may be that Hansbrough is not a star. He’s a scrappy effort player, a guy who hustles but doesn’t menace, like Heat enforcers Andersen, Shane Battier, and Udonis Haslem, or even Pacer David West. Hansbrough simply outworks opponents and frustrates them. On the other hand, LeBron is the league’s biggest entity right now, a player who the NBA looks to protect because they have a vested interest in his legacy. If Anderson’s two-pronged combo was unleashed on LeBron, He would have been ejected, no question about it. Maybe it would have garnered a series suspension.
In theory, the Birdman should make a great thug to punish, especially considering the contrast between clean-cut good guy Hansbrough and tatted contrarian Andersen. A walking and blocking cautionary tale for families watching the playoffs together, parents point to the Birdman and say “Don’t be that guy.”
He’s notable for forcing the slam dunk contest to institute a time limit, after botching his self-oop many times but stubbornly refusing to cede or adjust the dunk attempt.
Also, he got booted out of the league for two years for violating the substance-abuse policy. It wasn’t for performance-enhancers, either; most speculation is on cocaine abuse, with heroin and amphetamines also floated as other potential culprits. As much as we’d like to think it outdated, society judges those bursting with visible ink, it creates connotations of thuggery, of the lower class, of hoodlums. This unfortunate reality makes Andersen a prime target for the scrutiny of officials, yet they let this instance slide.
Remarkably, Andersen hasn’t missed a single shot in the Pacers series, and provides interior toughness that the Heat sorely lack when they play Chris Bosh at center. With Dwyane Wade ailing and ineffective, the Heat could ill afford to lose a valuable contributor in a pivotal game of the series.
Even if David Stern intervenes and suspends Andersen after the game, it’s not likely to matter. The underdog Pacers will find winning two straight against the best team in the league helmed by the best player a Sisyphean ordeal, too deep of a deficit to overcome.
NBA officials dictated the outcome of this series with blind eyes and double standards. In the case of the Birdman, fans should be kicking up dirt.