In June, when the Miami Heat defended their NBA title, the team's inimitable center, Chris "Birdman" Andersen, soared to the height of his unlikely professional career.
While it was an entirely different kind of joy, the happiest moment of his summer came a couple months later. In August, Andersen was back in Denver with his friend, lawyer and agent, Mark Bryant, when they were summoned to an undisclosed location to meet with a local district attorney, a Douglas County investigator and a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. A complex diagram, a detailed anatomy of a multi-tentacled crime, hung on the wall of a meeting room. After a few profanities and long looks of disbelief, Andersen smiled. He was going to get his name back.
Andersen's basketball narrative has always been as colorful as his epidermis. Born to "hippy parents" (his phrase), who flitted in and out of his life, Andersen spent time in an orphanage as a kid. He never played basketball at a Division I college, instead opting for a Texas junior college, then a pro league in China and the IBL (where he once missed a game after breaking a molar while biting down on his tongue stud) before making it to the NBA. Then another setback. In 2006, he was suspended two years for violating the league's drug policy; he bounced back and became a beloved role player for the Nuggets. All of this was just prelude for what might be the most bizarre Birdman story of all.
Andersen was playing sparingly for the Denver Nuggets during the 2011-12 season, when he missed a playoff game against the Lakers. The explanation was shocking. Local sheriff's deputies searched Andersen's home in an investigation related to their Internet Crimes Against Children unit. There was no arrest and no charges were filed. Citing an ongoing investigation, the sheriff's department wouldn't release many more details.
A statement by Andersen's attorneys released within days of the investigation asserted: "A female fan in 2010 mailed Mr. Andersen multiple letters and included several photos in which she was scantily clad. Chris and this woman communicated with each other and in 2011, this woman, who represented herself as 21 years of age, flew to Colorado, showing her required identification. After leaving Colorado, she became upset at his lack of interest. In 2012, she threatened to retaliate if he did not provide financial remuneration. ... Mr. Andersen has been fully cooperative with the authorities."
Still, it didn't look good. In July 2012, Andersen was cut by the Nuggets. And who could blame them?
Signing a player under a murky investigation wasn't, understandably, going to pass the risk analysis assessment in most NBA front offices. Andersen was out of work last fall. When he wasn't trying to stay in shape, he was cooperating with authorities. He couldn't say much, though, about his strange predicament. A statement he gave the Denver Post prompted as many questions as it raised: "I appreciate everybody that's supported me, and I don't want to say anything bad about anybody. It's everybody's worst nightmare, but I just want to thank everyone that supported me and knew this was a lie from the beginning."
By January, Bryant went on the offensive, stressing that the investigation that involved Andersen "had nothing to do with children." That same week, the Miami Heat took a chance and signed the Birdman. Even as Andersen played an essential role in the Heat's title -- when he was on the floor of Game 7, Miami outscored the Spurs by 11 points -- as Bryant put it, "the clouds remained."
Today the clouds appear to have parted. And we were given some elucidation on what is, at once, a cautionary tale and a shaggy dog story. So what happened?
At some point during his tenure with the Nuggets, Andersen had a consensual sexual relationship with a woman from California. Though she had allegedly misrepresented her age to Andersen, he appears to have broken no laws in Colorado, where the statutory age of consent is 17.
Concurrent with that, Andersen was the victim of cyber identity theft at the hands of a different woman in Canada. The identity thief was able to access Andersen's email, social media outlets, his phone, bank records, and even his video game console.
Posing as Andersen, the Canadian woman allegedly orchestrated the initial tryst between the player and the California woman. She then began communicating and corresponding with the woman from California. At one point, representing herself as Andersen, the imposter began making demands -- some of them, sources say, sexually explicit -- of the California woman.
The woman believed that it was Andersen making the demands and felt increasingly threatened. Eventually she went to the authorities. The sexually suggestive threats triggered the investigation of the Internet Crimes Against Children unit. When Douglas County Sheriff's office executed its search warrant on Andersen's home in Larkspur, Colorado, 40 miles south of Denver, police took his computer and other electronic equipment.
Investigators in the U.S. and Canada worked to connect dots, they amassed more than 4,000 pages of documents and found tentacles in multiple states. According to sources, there were allegedly multiple victims in multiple states -- and may be other athletes whose identities were involved -- but investigators believe one woman is at the center of it all.
According to Sergeant Line Karpish, spokeswoman with the RCMP, on January 15, 2013, Canadian police arrested a 29-year-old Manitoba woman in Canada for crimes in that country. She was charged with:
• Possession of child pornography
• Transmission of Child Pornography
• Utter Threats
(She was released on conditions and is scheduled to appear in court in October. Sources tell SI that similar charges are expected to brought against the woman in Colorado.)
"It is my understanding that the investigation is fully culminated at this juncture," Bryant said today. "What I can disclose to you is that the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have completed an extensive investigation and put together extraordinary effort to follow what I can only describe as a Daisy chain of events across several states and two countries." (A Colorado law enforcement source familiar with the case confirms Bryant's characterization.)
Adds a spokesperson from the 18th Judicial district in Colorado: "It would be premature for us here at the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office to discuss this case before filing charges. We are looking at 4,000 pages of information in relation to an investigation that is extremely complex. The Douglas County Sheriff's Office has conducted a highly sophisticated investigation where they have crossed state lines and international borders to obtain evidence and pursue the truth in this case. We will announce our findings in the near future after a careful review of the evidence. Based on the information that we have been able to obtain and available and analyze we are not pursuing charges against Chris Andersen."
Andersen is happy the ordeal is over and looks forward to putting it behind him. "I can't tell you how much Chris agonized over the label placed on him," said Bryant. "This has had an extraordinary effect on Chris ... He appreciates those who reserved judgment. He will continue to do what he's always done in life and that's turn something bad hopefully into something good."