By Brian Taylor
Why You Might Remember Him: Ah yes, Nielson “Nick” Anderson, the 6’6” shooting guard out of Illinois who would have one of the most up and down careers in the history of professional sports. I guess the crazy thing about Nick was the extreme to which he flew, then crashed and burned. Coming out of Illinois in 1989, Anderson was picked 11th (behind obvious hall of famers Danny Ferry and last week’s victim, I mean subject, Pervis Ellison), by the fledgling Orlando Magic, who’s jerseys were the only reason to come to a game. When he finally landed in O-Town, he made a splash in his rookie year, averaging 11 points a game on a team that featured NBA dinosaurs like Terry Catledge and Reggie Theus (right before his T-NBC days). It wasn’t until a certain large, young center from LSU landed on the squad that Nick’s career took off, averaging 20 points a game. Shaq’s arrival took Orlando from NBA curiosity, to Eastern Conference Playoff possibility in two years, and out of all the guys that benefited, Penny Hardaway and Nick Anderson came up the most (with Nick putting a half-dollar on the New Jersey Nets). Anderson was usually the third scoring option behind the Diesel and “pre-Kobe” Penny, but had a deadly mid-range game and killer “drive-and-see-what-happens” instinct. Anderson was often a terror in the low-post, using size and strength to get his points. Defensively, he was a rock too, embarrassing His Airness, (the Ed Nealy #45 version) by picking his pockets clean in the playoffs, making Mike look played out. You would probably compare his game to New Jersey’s Richard Jefferson today.
Why You Might Have Forgotten Him: When it rained, it poured for this dude. He became a sports psychologist’s dream. That stunt LeBron pulled in the playoffs with Gil at the line? A lot of the thought behind that stemmed from Nick Anderson’s colossal meltdown on his home floor in the NBA Finals. It was possibly one of the most painful mental breakdowns ever to watch, like when Ol’ Dirty Bastard went off during the Grammys. With the Magic up by three in the late moments of Game 1, Orlando had a chance to take a 1-0 series lead and maybe control of the Finals was at stake. Anderson stood at the line, on his home court, with a chance to ice the game….his missed the first, and he shook it off with the NBA “whatever” face. The second shot was up, and back out again. Anderson got hacked again, to stop the clock. Again, Nick bricked two straight at the line. You could see him willing himself to make those free-throws. Kenny “the Jet” Smith comes down the other end and swishes a three to send the game to overtime, and ultimately sending Nick Anderson off the deep end. Things were never the same for Nick. His free-throw percentage took a huge tumble, and he was like the child caught up in the Shaq/Penny divorce. His life went into a downward spiral of “E! True Hollywood Story” proportions, dealing with rape charges that had him crying at the press conference. In 1998, he started off horribly, but came back later in the season to have Orlando just miss the playoffs. From there, he was shipped to Sacramento for guard Tariq Abdul-Wahad, with the Kings he had a decent first season, averaging 10 points a game, but had a terrible season after that resulting in his exhile to the Grizzlies, where he eventually fizzled out. People often speculate how his career would’ve changed had he made those free-throws. It’s sad because in his prime, he was vicious, but it goes to show you how strong these NBA guys have to be, physically and mentally.