What's in a name? 'Birdman' taking off in Miami
MIAMI — Fans can flap their arms and make bird calls all they want at AmericanAirlines Arena. But don’t try to make a buck off an illegal Birdman T-shirt.
With Birdman mania surrounding the Miami Heat center, Chris Andersen's camp is attempting to register his nickname in some form with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
“I need to trademark it,’’ said Andersen, who has ignited the Heat with his energy off the bench and fired up fans since he was signed last January as a free agent. “It’s what I need to do. … We’re trying to.’’
But before anybody thinks Andersen is trying to profit from his fame, think again. Mark Bryant, Andersen’s attorney and agent, said that hardly is the case.
“Everything he makes goes to charity,’’ Bryant said from his Denver office about money made off marketing Andersen. “He’s heavily involved with children. We’re going to launch the Freebird Foundation to help underprivileged children. … Anybody who is selling an illegal Birdman T-shirt on the Internet is stealing from charity.’’
Andersen said several businesses already have been stopped in attempting to sell such T-shirts without his permission.
“We caught a couple of people doing it on the Internet,’’ said Andersen, whose charity ventures when he played for the Denver Nuggets from 2008-12 included an orphanage, a homeless shelter and help to get scholarships for underprivileged kids. “We call them up. Darn right, they (stop).’’
There are several sites that can be found on the Internet selling Andersen T-shirts. When you click on some now, it says the product is unavailable.
“It’s misappropriation of his likeness,’’ Bryant said of easily getting those businesses to stop.
However, Bryant said it’s more difficult to come up with some form of patent of Andersen’s nickname. He said it’s not possible simply to trademark Birdman since skateboarder Tony Hawk, for one, had the nickname before Andersen got it in 2002.
And the term goes back to well before Andersen, 34, was born. "The Birdman of Alcatraz’’ was a 1962 film about Robert Stroud, who got that nickname due to keeping birds in prison and who died in 1963.
“What we are trying to do is come up with some sort of insignia to trademark,’’ said Bryant, noting how Michael Jordan, for instance, has the Jumpman logo.
If such an insignia were patented, it could be licensed for money-making ventures. Andersen then could have portions donated to charity.
Bryant said he and Andersen are working on another venture related to charity. They are planning to come out with a specially designed Bomberg Birdman watch later this year.
It’s doubtful there’s a more popular reserve player in the NBA than Andersen, who has captivated Heat fans over the past three months. In games Andersen has played, Miami has gone a staggering 41-3, including having taken a 2-0 lead over Milwaukee in an Eastern Conference first-round series.
What has made the 6-foot-11 Andersen so popular is his high-flying style of play, nonstop energy, a body covered with tattoos, a Mohawk haircut and, of course, his Birdman nickname.
The nickname was born in July 2002 at the Rocky Mountain Revue, a summer league in Salt Lake City. With Andersen having just completed his rookie season in his first of two Denver stints, Nuggets point guards Junior Harrington and Kenny Satterfield dubbed him Birdman.
“I was dunking on everybody, and they were throwing lobs to me,’’ Andersen said. “It was cool. They called me Birdman. There was no reason not to like it. … It’s good to have an alter ego. Diversity.’’
Satterfield’s NBA career would end in 2003 after just two seasons. Harrington ended up playing three NBA seasons, but hasn’t been in the league since 2007.
“He could jump so high, and he was so athletic,’’ Harrington said from Poland, where he now plays for Trefl Sopot. “He was jumping up and grabbing everything, and we just said he could fly like a bird. He was Birdman. And it just caught on.
“It’s kind of cool (how the nickname has taken off). It’s kind of awesome, I’m very proud of (Andersen). He has a great personality. I wish him nothing but success.’’
Harrington, who was Andersen’s teammate with the Nuggets in 2002-03 and with the New Orleans Hornets in 2004-05, said he doesn’t need any credit for being one of the originators of the nickname. He said it all should go to Andersen.
The Birdman nickname started to catch on when Andersen first played for the Nuggets through 2004 and when he initially was with the Hornets from 2004-06. There were billboards in New Orleans that read “Birdman.’’
All the momentum stalled when Andersen was banned from the NBA in January 2006 for what turned out to be just over two years due to having failed a drug test. It was during his ban that Bryant said Andersen got his first tattoo related to a bird, having wings inked on each arm.
Andersen barely had any tattoos when he joined the Nuggets as a rookie in November 2001. But they soon began to steadily pile up. Other bird references on his body now are birds on his shoulders, flocks of birds on his legs and a thunderbird on his neck next to the word “Freebird.’’ Andersen is a fan of Lynyrd Skynyrd, which released the song in 1974.
After Andersen returned to the NBA in March 2008, he played out that season with the Hornets. But it was when he re-signed with the Nuggets for the 2008-09 season that Birdman excitement really took off.
“He came out on a national stage during that run,’’ said John Crotty, who was Andersen’s Denver teammate in 2002-03 and is now a Heat radio and television analyst. “Everybody got to see him and see how impactful he was in the minutes that he played and people’s eyes were opened to him.’’
Andersen played key minutes off the bench for a Denver team that made it to the Western Conference finals before losing 4-2 to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers. Being a cult figure certainly helped Andersen get a five-year, $21 million contract from the Nuggets as a free agent in the summer of 2009.
By late 2009, Andersen’s marketing included a deal with Arby’s in Denver. Customers could get three different Birdman glasses, one with a Superman-type image, one with Andersen dunking and another with him blocking a shot. Each image had large wings protruding out of Andersen’s back, and some of the proceeds went to helping underprivileged kids get scholarships.
Birdman excitement, though, would eventually start to slip. The Nuggets failed to get out of the first round of the playoffs in his final three years with the team.
Andersen barely played last season as the Nuggets went with younger players. Some thought Andersen might be washed up. And then last May he had his Larksburg, Colo., home searched in what was dubbed a child-exploitation investigation by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
A lawyer for Andersen, Colin Bresee, said last year the family of a young woman from California who had said she was of legal age tried to extort Andersen for money after he spurned her advances following a visit to Colorado. Andersen has not been charged with any crime related to the search of his home.
The Nuggets waived Andersen last July as part of the NBA’s amnesty rule. But he is still collecting the $4.5 million due on his contract for this season and will get the $4.8 million for next year.
The Heat had interest in Andersen immediately after the Nuggets let him go, but they took their time to research the legal situation surrounding him. When Andersen finally signed a prorated minimum deal on Jan. 20, he said, “I am not the target of the investigation.’’ Bryant said what Andersen said then is the best way to characterize the case, which is not expected to result in Andersen being charged with anything.
After his signing, it didn’t take long for Andersen to captivate fans. While his averages of 4.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.05 blocks in 14.9 minutes in 42 regular-season games might not look overwhelming, he provided enormous bursts of energy off the bench as the Heat won 39 of those games. Andersen has been even better in the playoffs, averaging 10.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 0.5 block while shooting 8 of 10 in the two games against the Bucks.
“I’m not surprised, but I’m an optimist,’’said Bryant, who has been close to Andersen since his first Denver stint and who gets much credit from Andersen for helping get him back in the NBA following his drug suspension. “What’s going on is a resurrection of what we saw before in Denver (primarily in 2009).’’
Kids show up at games wearing Mohawks and fake tattoos. Whenever Andersen makes a big play, thousands of fans flap their arms in appreciation.
“Of course, it’s real special when the city and the crowds and the fans embrace you like that and they start doing the Bird flight,’’ said Andersen, who will be paid this season a bargain total of $700,000 by the Heat. “The kids are in tune to it, the parents are in tune to it, the grandparents are in tune to it. It’s great to be part of that and have the crowd chime in and do it as well… It’s definitely a motivational thing. I fire them up, and they fire me up and also my teammates.’’
Birdman mania might have reached its peak when even Heat star LeBron James flapped his arms in Game 1 against the Bucks. James said he’s “excited for the excitement that Bird brings to our team.’’
Fellow Heat star Dwyane Wade hasn’t flapped his arms on the court yet. But he said he did it on the bench during one of the seven games late in the regular season Wade missed due to a sore knee.
It’s hard to find anybody on the Heat who ever addresses Andersen by his first name. Anybody who does is often told that the nickname is preferred.
“He’s Bird or Birdman. First name Bird and last name Man,’’’ said guard James Jones.
“My wife (Shannon) said the other day, ‘Chris,’ and I said ‘Who?’’’ said guard Ray Allen. “Then I said, ‘Oh, yeah, Birdman.’’’
Despite his rising popularity, Bryant said Andersen knows very well the big stars on the Heat are James, Wade and Chris Bosh. For that reason, Andersen sometimes has been reluctant to do interviews and, when he does do them, doesn't seek to call much attention to himself. Of course, he does enough of that when he’s on the court.
“He’s just carrying the bags in the band,’’ Bryant said of Andersen’s role on the Heat. “He’s grateful for the opportunity he’s gotten. He just loves the guys he plays with.’’
With that in mind, Bryant said Andersen wants to re-sign with the Heat this summer when he becomes a free agent. The Birdman does not have Bird rights, the NBA provision that allows teams to exceed the salary cap by re-signing their own free agents. Players must be with a team for two seasons to have early-Bird rights and three seasons to have full rights.
But the Heat will have the taxpayer mid-level exception that starts at $3.183 million. They could use all or part of that on Andersen.
“We’re certainly hopeful,’’ Bryant said of Andersen's re-signing with Miami. “But he’s going to finish this task first (of trying to win a championship). But, absolutely, he has embraced (being with the Heat).’’
With the primary focus being on the playoffs, Bryant doesn’t expect the designer Birdman watch to come out until shortly after they end at the earliest. As for patenting a Birdman logo, it remains to be seen when that might happen.
Winning the title would mean a trip to Washington for Andersen and the Heat to meet President Obama. That could be convenient considering the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is just across the Potomac River in Alexandria, Va.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson