Kenny Anderson a.k.a. Mr. Chibbs was once touted as the best high school player out of New York City since Lew Alcindor, now known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In fact, by the time he graduated from Queens, NY powerhouse Archbishop Molloy High School in 1989, Anderson was a four-time Parade All-American, the first player to receive the honor since Alcindor. The skinny 6-1 lefty from LeFrak City also won the title of Mr. Basketball USA that same year, too.
He spent his next two years at Georgia Tech before moving on to the pros, and he was selected as the No. 2 overall pick by the New Jersey Nets in the 1991 Draft. After 14 seasons in the NBA and a short stint overseas, he officially retired from professional play in 2006. But life took a series of unfortunate turns for Anderson shortly before his exit.
In 2005, a 34-year-old Anderson filed for bankruptcy, despite earning an estimated $63.4 million over his career. He also lost his mother to a heart attack in the same year. And it wouldn’t be until his early 30s that Anderson would meet his birth father for the first time.
But nine years ago, he opened up for the first time about being sexually abused as a child. Then in 2017, came the documentary Mr. Chibbs, which chronicled him dealing with life post-retirement, his struggles with alcoholism, and fighting to be employed again. And two years later, he also released his first children’s book, The Adventures of Lil’ Kenny: Vol. 1 – Kenny Finds Basketball.
Now 51, Anderson has come a long way from the streets of LeFrak City. He currently is head coach at Fisk University, an HBCU in Nashville, Tennessee. He also is one of the legendary New York City point guards featured in the new Showtime documentary Point Gods, executive produced by NBA superstar Kevin Durant and his business partner Rich Kleiman.
Read Kenny Anderson’s interview below with CASSIUS to learn what separates New York City basketball from everywhere else, who he thinks is the truest point guard in today’s NBA, and how he hopes to give back through coaching in the same way that the game gave to him.
CASSIUS: What makes New York City basketball, especially compared to everywhere else in the country? When people talk about it, you always hear about the swagger and the handle. But as somebody who was involved in the culture up close during the 80s and 90s, what were some of those differences that stood out to you?
Kenny Anderson: Well, I really believe it’s the love of the game. First of all, we really didn’t have much. We went out to the playgrounds, and we played. And there were no fouls, or the fouls turned into fights. Everybody was so competitive. So you had to find a way to be on the court. There’d be like ten guys who had next, and you didn’t want to come off that court. So you played your hardest, you played your heart out.
And there were no fouls, or the fouls turned into fights.
I went down to the park to stay out of trouble. You go to recreation centers and play the game that you love to play on the basketball courts. You didn’t want to do the drugs. You didn’t want to get into any fights or stealing or stuff like that. I just went in there to play basketball. It was my goal to do something positive with myself, for my mother. That’s basically what I was playing for.
CASSIUSLife: A lot of playing nowadays is considered “positionless.” There used to be the point guard, the shooting guard, small and power forwards, and the center. Now, you have a combo guard and “the bigs,” as they’re called.
But since things tend to go in cycles, do you think we’ll ever go back to that style of play where there is a dedicated point guard?
Kenny Anderson: I think it’s a thing of the past because we were like a coach on the floor [with] being a point guard — we ran the show. You knew your team, you knew where the guys liked to get the ball and that’s where the showmanship came from, [that] New York style of playing.
Your ballhandling skills were out of this world, but you knew you could get to the basket, lay it up. But you had to find that other fine line in your game. You had to hit the jump shot, you had to run the team. And that’s what I learned.
And going to Archbishop Molloy [High School], Coach Jack Curran said, “Hey, run the team.” So after a while, I was running the practices! It was like real, it was real, man. It was more like a learning curve that I had to get. And being at Molloy High School, playing four years at the varsity level, Coach Curran put a lot of pressure on me [to bring] the team together and to come to work, to practice every day.
And that’s the hard part. New Yorkers, we tend to just go and play in the playgrounds and things of that nature.
But Coach Curran taught me how to play the game the right way, and that was to help everybody else provide for the team. And that’s what I did. Being on the playground is more like you sharpening your game skills. And that’s where my mentors came in. We would work out a lot at the Lost Battalion Hall. And then, after we worked out for 2 hours, he would say, “Go play in the playgrounds,” and that’s what I did.
But to learn to be a point guard, you have to learn how to get everybody involved, and then get yours also. And that’s the tough part. And your ball handling skills have got to be tough because you don’t want your point guard to have more turnovers. That’s a problem, right?
CASSIUSLife: Like you said, most of your scoring back in the day usually didn’t come from the point guards. Their job was to distribute the ball, and to be a coach on the floor. Who do you think is the closest to that in today’s game?
Kenny Anderson: I would say, in today’s NBA game, Steph Curry is a fine example, but he’s a shooter. He can handle the ball extremely well, he can get to the paint, and he can fire that shot. So everything is zeroed in on him. The defense has to come on him, and then he’s giving the ball up to open shots and things of that nature. He makes everything go. So I would say Stephen Curry is just an awesome point guard. He could be a point guard and a two guard. That’s what he is.
CASSIUSLife: So he’s a combo guard that we’re talking about, that the ball runs through him both for the offense and he’s your primary scorer?
Kenny Anderson: Yes, because he could shoot the rock. When I was growing up in New York, a lot of us had ballhandling skills. We make cats fall, and then go to the basket and lay it up. But the knock on New York guards was we couldn’t shoot the rock.
I was a very good shooter in the mid-range. Kenny Smith was a great shooter. Mark Jackson was a passer. Rod Strickland was a passer [and could] lay it up. He was great at getting to the basket and making shots with the left or with the right hand. And that’s what guys did, man. The guards I looked up to — Mark Jackson, Kenny Smith, Pearl Washington, Rod Strickland — they all had that flair.
The guards I looked up to — Mark Jackson, Kenny Smith, Pearl Washington, Rod Strickland — they all had that flair.
CASSIUSLife: Now, whenever you talk about New York, every borough or region has “that thing.” Whether it’s the Bronx, Brooklyn, Harlem, or wherever, every spot has a particular style of play and those players that define it.
But when it comes to Queens, there are guys like you, Kenny Smith, Mark Jackson, Rafer “Skip to My Lou” Alston, and so forth. So what’s the Queens thing?
Kenny Anderson: Queens, we just got it done! I’m not sure of what [others] say, but we just got it done. We ran the team. Like, you look at Mark Jackson, who was a great point guard. He got the team and he got the ball to great scorers. Kenny Smith was the jump shooting point guard who can jump. So I just think we got it done. And then here comes Kenny Anderson.
Us three — Kenny Smith, Kenny Anderson and Mark Jackson — it was just a sign of just bringing it together, just win, just create whatever it took to win the game. I don’t really know if we had a signature [thing]. We just played the game that we loved. And that was to play basketball.
CASSIUSLife: Not every ball player usually has that particular game and that particular match-up that nobody else saw. In your recollection, what’s a game that perhaps not a lot of people saw, but everyone there said “You had to see it to believe it?”
Kenny Anderson: I think [it would have to be] my freshman year against Tolentine High School. It was at Fordham University. I was on the bench for the first quarter, and I came in the second quarter, and I scored 23 points. I won the MVP, but I don’t remember the game.
But I put on a little show for three quarters, and we won the city championship, and I won the MVP as a freshman. I think that’s when I took off. That’s the game where I realized, “Oh, man, I got something special here if I keep working on my game.”
That’s the game where I realized, “Oh, man, I got something special here if I keep working on my game.”
It was packed, sold out, you couldn’t even get in the gym. I made some great plays in overtime, and we won, and boom, there I was. I was 15 years old, and it was an awesome feat for me. And that right there just skyrocketed me into what I was trying to get into, and that was to play basketball on the highest level, and I made it.
CASSIUSLife: I know life for you got a little bit rocky during and after you joined the NBA. But you’ve also always talked about how basketball helped bring you back. Could you elaborate on a few of the things that helped Kenny Anderson transition as the kid from LeFrak City to traveling the world’s highs and lows, and then back to finding your way back to center today?
Kenny Anderson: Yeah, I think with everything I’ve been through, and losing my mother and my brother, I had to sit back and see what I needed to be the best, what I wanted to do to finalize my life — and that’s to give back. Give back and teach kids about the game of life, and not just basketball.
I got the job at Fisk University. That kind of lit me up, that kind of got me excited again. And I said, I want to coach. I want to be like a Jack Curran, to help other kids in their lives. Not [just] basketball wise, but in life in general. And I’m able to do that at Fisk University in Nashville.
It’s an NAIA school, a great academic school, but we’re trying to get the basketball program together there. And for me being there, it kind of woke me up again. It gave me life. And I’m excited and I’m working around the basketball game. I’ve also got my showcase in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s going on its fifth year and doing extremely well, and I’m giving back into the life of basketball, and that’s what gives me the joy that I’m able to do that.
Then two years ago, I had a stroke. So that was really defining for me because I didn’t know if I was going to live. And I said, if I live, come back. I’m going to get back to these young men that’s trying to play basketball and try to live a positive life.
And it’s been going well for me now, but you just got to keep the faith and just keep working at some of the things that you might not know. You ask questions, and you work on your ability to survive. So I would say I want to get more into coaching and give back to these young men.
[Fisk University] is an HBCU school, and we’re just trying to give back to the sponsorship program. If people want to reach out to me and help, they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll reach back out. That’s what I’m looking for, more people to help. And That’s basically what it is.