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Former NBA Player Kenny Anderson Is Working Hard to Be a Good Husband and Father

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 25, 2009; D01

PEMBROKE PINES, Fla.

He ran the production like a former point guard, which Kenny Anderson is, and as if his life depended on it, which, in a way, it did. He lined up the consents of five women -- the mothers of his seven kids, some of them more amenable to the idea than others -- and coordinated the kids' flights, same days, same arrival times, so as to minimize the waiting-around time at the airport. There was no time to waste. He was finally getting his kids together.

They came in two waves -- the boys first, 11-year-old Kenneth and 8-year-old Devin, in from New Jersey for a three-week stay with their dad. Then, after they left, the four girls: Danielle, 19, flew in from Georgia. Christy, 17, had the longest flight, all the way from L.A. Lyric, 14, and Jazz, 12, who, unlike the others, had never traveled alone to visit their father, came in from New Jersey.

Meeting them all at the door of Anderson's house were 8-year-old Kenny Jr., of whom Anderson has full custody, and 8-year-old Tiana, Anderson's stepdaughter. Hugs, kisses, smiles. Whatever awkwardness there might have been among the various Anderson kids, some of whom had never spent time around the others, it soon melted away.

From the comfort of his home, Anderson, who didn't know his own father until his early 30s, contemplated the blessings of fatherhood and beamed. In the faces of his kids, he could see the evidence of his own past mistakes -- the womanizing, the failed marriages, the hollow attempts at fatherhood he made during a 14-year NBA career that ended in 2005.

But over the course of those few amazing, late-summer weeks, he could also see the seeds of his new beginning, a new chapter for Kenny Anderson -- now a 38-year-old, full-time, stay-at-home father to Kenny Jr. and Tiana, and an aspiring college basketball coach who wants nothing more than to distance himself from those past failures as a father, as a husband, as a man.

The magnitude of the moment absolutely blew him away.

"It was awesome," Anderson says. "Now they could all see how their daddy really is. They can see for themselves. . . . I'm involved in their lives, all of them, but this was the first time I got all of them together.

"My mother, she'd be rolling over in her grave, she'd be so happy."

* * *

The transformation began with trauma -- the threefold explosions of career exile, maternal death and financial ruin.

In March 2005, Anderson, the former No. 2 overall pick of the New Jersey Nets in 1991, was waived by the Los Angeles Clippers, his ninth team, effectively ending his NBA career after 14 seasons, 10,789 points and 5,196 assists and one all-star team (1993-94).

In October of that same year, Anderson lost his beloved mother, Joan, who had raised him alone in poverty in the sprawling Lefrak City housing complex of Queens, N.Y., and whose comfort and happiness in her later years provided Anderson his primary motivation to succeed.

That same month, mounting financial woes, much of it the result of child-support issues, forced Anderson, who earned more than $63 million in the NBA, to file for bankruptcy. To many of those around him, it was inevitable -- and it was necessary.

"I believe he had to be at the very bottom to be able to say, 'Wow, things are different,' " says Natasha Anderson, Kenny's third wife, a clinical social worker at a psychiatric hospital in Miami. "He had to do this."

Thank God for Tasha, say those who are closest to Kenny Anderson.

They met during the 2004 NBA playoffs in Miami: Kenny in street clothes, injured, on the Indiana Pacers' bench. Natasha, beautiful and bubbly, a graduate student in social work, sitting courtside in the seats of her best friend's father.

"He asked for my number," Natasha says, laughing, "and it's history from there."

Within a few months, they were a serious enough item that Anderson was ready to introduce Natasha to his mother. It was a step he always dreaded, because Joan was hard to please.

But this time, when Kenny showed up with Natasha at his mother's ranch house in Glen Cove, Long Island -- which Anderson had bought for her within a week of signing his first NBA contract -- she leaned close to Kenny's ear, he recalls, and said: "You've got something here, son. You gotta keep that woman right there.'"

"Me and my wife -- that's unconditional love there," Anderson says. "My other wives: infatuation. It wasn't love. It was just something to do."

Natasha, to be sure, was unlike any other woman Anderson had had in his life. She was salt-of-the-earth. She was strong. She "held Kenny accountable for Kenny," as she puts it.

"She just loves Kenny," says Dick Gilbert, Anderson's longtime mentor and friend. "Some of the other ones didn't love Kenny. They loved what Kenny could bring."

"Meeting Tasha," says Irwin Levy, Anderson's longtime attorney and friend, "was huge."

For as long as he has been on this planet, Anderson has had one strong woman in his life, and for a short while he had two. But then Joan passed away of a heart attack within a year of her meeting Natasha -- leaving Anderson, according to Gilbert, "inconsolable" -- and he was back down to one.

Yes, thank God for Tasha.

"I loved Kenny unconditionally," she says. "The only other woman who's ever done that was his mother. And I think he first saw that after he realized he wasn't making millions anymore, and he didn't have all the cars and the houses -- and I didn't turn my back on him. We were going to do it together. If you fell, I fell.

"I think that's really what it was -- having that one person who loves him just like his mother did."

* * *

The money came in fast, and went out faster. Salaries that peaked at $9.2 million in 2002-03. But also: Houses. Cars. Monthly expenses of $41,000, as claimed in Anderson's 2005 bankruptcy filing.

"The thing people don't understand is, it sounds like a lot of money -- 60 million -- but there's Uncle Sam," Anderson says. "There's agent's fees, financial advisers, houses, allowances for family members who don't even work."

Anderson signed his first pro contract with the New Jersey Nets on Nov. 7, 1991: five years, $14.5 million. He had just turned 21.

"He was too young," says Gilbert. "He was single. And when you have that kind of money coming in every month, I don't know too many kids who could fight that off for very long."

He soon became known around the league as a big spender, someone who liked bling, pretty women and, especially, fancy cars. At one time, he had 10 or 11 of them, he says now. He shakes his head when he says it.

"It was my fetish," he says. "It was ignorant. My accountant and my people told me -- and I should've listened -- like, 'Yo, you only need two cars.' But I was a kid."

Meantime, around the neighborhood back in Queens, and around his extended family, Anderson became known as someone you could turn to, someone who would "loan" you -- which is to say, give you -- three or four grand to dig you out of some hole of your own foolish making.

"I was generous," Anderson says. "I didn't say no. I used to have it bad, people calling me, crying. I used to be like, 'Aw, damn, man.' They were struggling. It's hard. My accountants, they were like: 'No!' I'd be like, 'But they're getting ready to get thrown out of their house!' So I helped."

Levy, the attorney, used to warn Anderson that if he continued to spend indiscriminately, he was going to wind up bankrupt. But Anderson wouldn't listen.

"It [was] frustrating from my vantage point because we wanted to make arrangements so that his children and grandchildren would never have to worry about financial matters -- if he would just follow the guidelines we set for him," Levy says. "But he was so ridiculously generous. He learned, but he learned after the horse had left the barn."

Gilbert adds: "He was just too young. I couldn't reach him. I tried."

Anderson wants to be careful how he says this: He's doing just fine financially. Better than fine. But there's only so much he can say. "I don't want to get in any trouble," he says with a laugh. But this much is observable: He drives a Cadillac Escalade. He and his family live in a modest, three-bedroom house purchased in 2005, according to real estate records, for $415,000.

"I ain't no millionaire like I used to be, but I'm well off," he says. "I did some foolish things, but I'm blessed to be in the situation I'm in. My house is paid for. I'm in a nice neighborhood. I'm good. I'm the same old Kenny. I haven't changed, money or no money."

Natasha says: "He'll be the first to tell you, he's the happiest he's ever been. No, he doesn't live in a mansion. But his home is a home. He had mansions, and he was never in them. He never spent time with his family there. We have our vehicles, but we don't have five or six of them. He's comfortable."

Here's one other thing about the money: Anderson doesn't seem to miss the days when it was plentiful.

"Money didn't make me," he says. "Did I spend a lot of money? Yes, I did. Foolishly? Yes, at times. I helped a lot of people, donated a lot of things. I ran a Kenny Anderson basketball tournament in Lefrak City for 10 years straight. No sponsors, no nothing. That's out of my pocket -- like, 30-, 40 grand a summer. Did anybody say anything? No, it don't matter.

"You know what? All that stuff? Everything that's gone, and everything I've got now? It'll all come back to me. I just know it. You can always get money. You can work. But my character, my integrity -- they're not going anywhere."

* * *

It's a beautiful life Kenny Anderson leads these days, beautiful in its simplicity and its structure.

He gets a call every morning, between 6 and 7 a.m., from Al Taylor, his pastor back home, whom Anderson has known since junior high, and who married him and Natasha back in July 2007.

"Sometimes we talk about Scripture, but sometimes there's something else in his heart, and I just wind up listening to Kenny," Taylor says. "Sometimes, Kenny is going deep."

Next, Anderson drives Kenny Jr. and Tiana -- Natasha's daughter -- to their public elementary school and finds something to do until it's time to pick them up again at 2:15. He's a prolific Twitterer, particularly between, say, 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.

"My life," Anderson says, "is so simple now."

Anderson says nothing woke him up to the realities of his new, post-basketball life quite like seeking custody of Kenny four years ago, just as his own career wound down.

"That was the turning point in my life," he says. "He was a big savior. He changed me. I'd never had custody of any of my kids. I was like: 'All right, I got my son. This is real here. I gotta teach him how to be a man, how to be better than me.' Every time I look at him, I look at stability."

Like the majority of successful athletes, Anderson struggled with the transition into retirement -- perhaps more so because his transition involved a wife finishing up her degree and preparing for her own career, and two kids who were suddenly his full-time responsibility.

"I was still being selfish," he says. "I said, 'I have to be home with them all day?' It sounds crazy, but I'm just being honest. I love my kids, but I was like: 'I gotta be with them all day? I don't know how to do this.' But I learned."

Natasha says, "Coming down off that pedestal is hard. When you're an athlete who has been glorified for your entire life, and then it's gone overnight, it's like, 'Now what?' You're grasping and struggling. It took almost a whole year for Kenny to be like: 'Oh, wait. I've gotta wake up. I've gotta get motivated.' "

He found his motivation, ultimately, in the quest for a college coaching job.

He had been poking around the edges of the coaching profession for a couple of years, coaching one year in the now-defunct CBA, plus one season coaching a team, the Hombres, in "Slamball" -- a made-for-TV spectacle in which telegenic maniacs propel themselves off trampolines to perform one outrageous dunk after another.

Anderson's efforts to work his NBA and college contacts for jobs led to one conclusion: Without a degree, he was unlikely to go anywhere. So Anderson, who left Georgia Tech after two years in 1991 to turn pro, signed up for online courses at Miami's St. Thomas University, from which he is scheduled to earn his degree in May.

"I'm like: 'I'm young. I got my second chapter to go now. So I'm going to hit that like I wanted to make the league,' " he says. "That's how I approached that -- driven. Like: 'Yo, this NBA thing is over. I've got my whole life ahead. You gotta provide. And you gotta live.' "

But for now, Kenny Anderson is a coach without a team, a venue or a schedule.

He lends his time, giving an occasional clinic to a high school team whose coach he has befriended, and he hires himself out for personalized, one-on-one workouts with local high school players. But his home court is a local park near his house, which leaves him subject to the volatile South Florida weather. If it rains, the session is canceled.

"I just need the opportunity," Anderson says. "I'll work my butt off. I love to be in the gym. And I think I can reach these kids. The biggest thing for me would be to get a call five years down the road from a kid who just says, 'Kenny, thank you.' "

* * *

A story in the New York Post, dated Aug. 6, 2006, begins: "Former NBA All-Star Kenny Anderson is a deadbeat dad -- stiffing at least five of his seven children since exiting from the league last year, three women with whom he has kids confirm."

Sitting at a Starbucks near his home last month, Anderson seemed to be expecting the question.

"People are going to say, 'Deadbeat dad, deadbeat dad,' " he says. "But how am I a deadbeat dad when these women got millions of dollars? I've got houses for them to live in with my kids. Now, three or four years out, their money drops. That's a deadbeat? Then I'll be a deadbeat. Enough is enough. These women, they just want attention. People are tired of hearing about that. Deadbeat? Come on, man."

Levy is more specific in his defense. "He's never been a deadbeat dad as far as I'm concerned," he says. "When Kenny's financial affairs fell down, sometimes he was a little slow in getting downward modifications [on child support payments] based on the decline of income. When he had money, he paid. It's unfair to characterize him [in a deadbeat] way."

Anderson's specific failures are not uncommon among athletes, particularly those who came from humble backgrounds and who struck it rich at an early age. Out-of-wedlock children, divorces, bankruptcies -- they are so common in the NBA as to be almost a clich?. And anytime another story is written, Anderson's name appears in it.

"Kenny, like probably most basketball players -- they're surrounded by so many yes people and sycophants and admirers, they retain too many childlike qualities," Levy says. " He's a completely different person now. He grew up, is what it boiled down to. The bankruptcy was a very bad thing for him to have to go through, but in a way it was almost something he needed to have."

To Anderson's backers, his failures were the product of youth. Youth and money. Youth and money and fame. Youth and money and fame and a soul that wanted to do right but didn't necessarily possess the experience necessary to do so.

"I know all the stories," Natasha says. "Anyone can Google him and see the history. But that doesn't affect me because I know what he brings to the table now as a father. It's just incredible. It was always in him. He just needed the opportunity. He has a great heart, [but] only in the last five years has Kenny sat back and worked on him, without all the nonsense.

Anderson says: "I was selfish then. I'm not selfish anymore. This is a new life, new direction -- bottom line. I want people to know: This is what I'm doing now. If you want to go into my past, you can. But that's not me now. My kids know what kind of father I am. My wife knows. The few people I let into my life, they know.

"Those other people reading Kenny Anderson articles, in Washington and all these cities that don't know me -- sometimes perceptions are hard to get rid of. If you're going to crucify me for making mistakes when I was 20 years old, 22 years old, well, I don't know what to tell you."

* * *

Together at last after all these years, the Andersons hit the beach, the aspiring coach and his crew. Other days, they strolled around the mall, went to the movies, talked their dad into springing for ice cream. But mostly, they just hung out and talked, lingering at the dinner table, filling every couch and love seat in the living room.

They knew how important this was to their father.

"For our first time together, it was just like, 'Let's spend some time together,' " Anderson says. "We talked about things. It was just an eye opener for Jazz and Lyric, because they'd never been around us all. They were like, 'Whoa, this is my dad? It's not like everything we heard.' Before they left, they said, 'Oh, we're definitely going to do this again.' "

Finally, at the end of girls' visit, before their old man loaded up his team for the drive back to the airport, he pulled aside his oldest -- Danielle, born while Anderson was still at Georgia Tech, is herself a college freshman now -- and asked her to be honest with him:

"How am I doing as a father now?"

He held his breath as he awaited Danielle's answer.

"You're getting better," she told him. "Yeah, Dad, you're really getting to be a good father."

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