The stat book shows Chris Andersen than averaged a little more than five points, four rebounds and a block during his 62 games with the Heat this season.
But what the “Birdman” provided Miami during its run to a third NBA championship can’t really be measured in numbers. Volts are more appropriate.
Like an electrical generator, the 6-10, 228-pound 10-year veteran with the outrageous Mohawk and a body covered in tattoos injected the Heat with a much-needed boost around the basket, a physicality and mean interior presence.
Every rebound, swatted shot, dunk and drawn charge in his stints off the bench — he averaged 15 minutes a game — seemed to come at the most crucial of times, few bigger than when the Heat was fighting for its life against the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals.
Few will forget how he lowered his right shoulder to body check forward Tyler Hansbrough, then shoved him to the floor with about nine minutes left in the first half of a Game 5 the Heat were trailing at home. The play drew a flagrant foul and got Andersen suspended for Game 6, but it also ignited the crowd and spurred the Heat to rally to an important victory.
“We’re probably not sitting here without the addition of Birdman,” team captain Udonis Haslem said Monday, about an hour after AmericanAirlines Arena had cleared out following a championship parade and rally.
“We don’t win the championship without picking up Bird midway through the season,” Dwyane Wade echoed a little later. “Bird was a key to our success.”
Signed to a 10-day contract by Miami on Jan. 20 (two weeks before the start of a franchise-record 27-game winning streak) and then for the season after the Heat realized it had an interior presence it needed, Andersen is now one of two huge free agents from this team with an option to leave. Ray Allen, who hit the shot to save Miami in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, is the other.
His teammates have said they want him back.
Haslem said Monday: “I’m going to be in his ear.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra said the organization wants Andersen back and that it “tried to get him for the last four, five years” when he was with the Denver Nuggets.
But, ultimately, the decision will fall on Andersen, who will probably be asked to take less money here than he could otherwise get elsewhere. Andersen, who turns 35 on July 7, made a little less than $700,000 playing for the Heat this season.
“He loves it here. He’s been embraced by the fans, by the team, by the organization. We wanted Chris for several years and he knows that,” Spoelstra said. “The most important part is both sides want each other. The other aspect will be on [assistant GM] Andy Elisburg’s desk of being creative and making it happen.”
Andersen, who was out of the league when the season began as he was healing from knee surgery, hasn’t been shy to express his love for South Florida. During Monday’s championship parade he flapped his arms to recognize the fans who did it in his honor throughout the season and again on Monday.
“I never really imagined being in this spot in January when I was sitting at home debating if I was going to play or not,” Andersen told the crowd inside the arena Monday for the post-parade celebration.
“Then they gave me the phone call, told me to come down. It feels like as soon as I got into the city I had nothing but big support for me. Everywhere I was going they were rooting me on. To be able to come in here midseason and collaborate with these guys and play for such an extraordinary, talented team and play with some of the best all-time basketball players, it’s amazing.”
The Heat went 39-3 in regular-season games in which Andersen played, the highest personal winning percentage (.929) in league history. He elevated his game in the playoffs, making his first 16 attempts against the Pacers and finishing the postseason shooting 80.7 percent from the field.
On a team that has sacrificed so much to win back-to-back championships — money and in most cases, starring roles — Heat players hope their example will lead Andersen back to their flock this offseason. He certainly seems eager, ending his three-minute interview in front of live TV cameras by telling the crowd: “Let’s try to three-peat next year.”
“I think Birdman got some great examples in front of him,” Wade said of those on the Heat who have sacrificed. “Everyone here took a pay cut to be here. Once you’re here you understand why. This is a special group to be around, individuals first. I hear a lot of guys come in and say I haven’t been around a team like this, collective individuals. Once you win a championship you want to keep doing it, you want to keep putting yourself in that position, especially when you’re at a certain point in your career.
“So, I’m sure they’re going to do everything in their power to try to bring Bird back. Hopefully, we can do that.”