Kenny Anderson, a New York City basketball legend, rose to prominence at a young age, overcoming challenges in LeFrak City to excel both academically and in basketball at Molloy High School. After being drafted as the 2nd pick by the New Jersey Nets in 1991, he went on to become an NBA All-Star. Today, Kenny currently serves as the head basketball coach at Fisk University. In the second installment of a three-part interview series, Andrew Polaniecki and Kenny talk about him getting drafted 2nd overall by the New Jersey Nets 1991, playing with the late great Dražen Petrović, and the heated rivalry between the Knicks and the Nets. Read part one here.
Andrew Polaniecki: You were drafted #2 overall by the New Jersey Nets in 1991. Going into draft night, did you know you were going to New Jersey?
Kenny Anderson: No, I didn’t know. I thought I was going to go to the Sacramento Kings. I only visited with the Charlotte Hornets and the Sacramento Kings. I didn’t know New Jersey was a spot for me, but Willis Reed, rest in peace, that was my guy! He wanted me in New Jersey, and I wanted to prove him right. I wanted to prove that he picked the right draft choice and I worked extremely hard. That night was just awesome.
You must have been thrilled to play so close to home.
I was really thrilled because I was home. I mean, I was right over the bridge. I stayed in New Jersey and my mother lived on Long Island, New York. So, on my days off, I’d go back home to her house, but playing where I was playing, I was home anyway. It was just awesome to be home. It was a great four years. If only I hadn’t gotten injured. Before my injury, we were one of the best teams in the league.
How soon into your rookie year did you get that realization and wakeup call that “hey, I’m not in Kansas anymore, I’m in the NBA; this is a whole nother level.
Well, my first year I didn’t play much because I was late on my contract. But it was Mookie Blaylock who gave me my wake up call. We would play games in practice and my wakeup call was when I thought to myself, man, he is pretty good too. It was a finding where they (Nets management) saw that, and they said to me that they needed more and they need me here, and so they traded Mookie to the Atlanta Hawks.
Then in my second year they gave me the ball and told me to just keep on working. We had Dražen Petrović, but oh man if it weren’t for him passing away… when he passed away it was just so so sad. It made me realize how to be a professional.
Where were you when you first found out about Dražen’s fateful car accident?
I was eating at an Applebee’s in New Jersey by the arena when I got call from one of my mentors, Dick Gilbert. He was like “Yo, did you hear?” And I was like, “hear what?”, and that’s when he told me that Dražen Petrović just died. I was just shocked. Shocked!
What was your relationship with him like off the court?
It was more of a relationship on the court. When I saw him, he was always working extremely hard. He made me realize what it takes to be a professional in the NBA.
I didn’t hang out with him much outside, but when we were together working out and practicing… I remember I used to come in to practice and he was already drenched. He would be there an hour before me getting his shots up, working out. So, I realized that’s how you become better.
What do you think his legacy is today?
He is huge, especially over in Croatia. This is crazy and a lot of players don’t know this, but I was on the first team that lost to Tony Kukoc and Dražen Petrović in the World Games, for the Olympics. It was because we lost in the World Games to Croatia that the USA Basketball Olympic committee got a little annoyed and decided that they needed to play their pros in the Olympics with Jordan, Barkley, Karl Malone, and all those guys that were on the Dream Team.
You had a career year in 1993-94. You were an All-Star season. You and Derrick Coleman were one of the few dynamic duos of the league. What do you remember most about that season?
It was a great year. We were one of the best teams in the league. I think we were 4th or 5th. The East was very tough with Chicago. Cleveland. The Knicks, and Orlando with Shaq and Penny. It was awesome. Everybody was competitive in the East. The West wasn’t as strong as the East was, but we played against the best every night, and that was throughout the whole entire league.
The league was a lot different back then. Now it’s a lot of jumpers, the lane is left wide open. It’s really saying something if you can handle the ball, everybody, it’s not just guards shooting threes. That’s what makes the game more fun to watch, it’s more fan friendly now. It was more physical back then, a lot more holding, grabbing, and pushing.
And I don’t think that there was a smaller market team that was as good as the New Jersey Nets were that year.
Yeah, we were pretty good. With me, Derrick Coleman, Dražen Petrović, Chris Morris, Chris Dudley. We had a good team. We were set, but back then the New Jersey Nets were being ran by the magnificent seven. We had like seven owners. They could never be on time in making decisions. It was just crazy ownership at the time.
When looking back on it, is there something that sticks out in your mind that could have been done differently to have gotten you guys over the hump and possibly past New York in the playoffs?
I think there were things that could’ve pushed us way past. They could’ve done a lot for the players’ sake. If our ownership would’ve just locked in; it could’ve been a lot better. I don’t know how much better, but it would’ve been better.
For instance, when Rod Thorn took over in 2000, he brought in Jason Kidd, he got the new practice facility built up. It was just a different organization when Richard Jefferson, Kidd, and Kenyon Martin arrived. It was just, it was just a little more organized. As far as up top. Up top it was a lot more organized. When I was there though, it was just different. When I first got there, we used to practice at a trucking company. Nobody, knew that. Our practice facility was at a trucking company!
Did you guys always play feeling overshadowed by the Knicks?
Yeah, when I was there, they always got the attention. They had Pat Riley coaching, Ewing, Oakley, Mase, Derek Harper came in, and Greg Anthony was there. And Greg Antony got drafted when I got drafted. He went 12th, and I went 2nd in the draft. He went to the Knicks, I went to the Nets. You know, so, it was interesting. It was very interesting. But, it was good, though.
I have great memories with the New Jersey Nets. I made an All-Star team, and not only did I make it, I started, which means the votes came in.
Let’s go back to March of 1993. Take me back to the night and the foul when John Starks broke your wrist.
He pushed me out of the air. I came down and broke my wrist. It was one of those dirty plays by the Knicks, and how Pat Riley ran his program. The organization were all real tough-minded individuals. But you have to remember that year we had beaten them four straight in the regular season. Then we lost in the playoffs, but we went hard. We went into the playoffs taking it (the regular season sweep) for granted. I wasn’t playing and we lost in the playoffs against them.
It was just one of those plays though. As I get older and look back on it, it is what it is. And we talked about it, Starks and I, but it is what it is. Now, a lot of people say that that play might’ve stopped my growth in the league, and it might have. But it happened, it is what it is and I had to move on.
Did you take it personally?
I don’t take anything personal, because of my life, it is what it is and I have got to move on and make the best out of it. I think a lot of people in general say that’s why my career was up and down, because of that injury. May or may not be, but who knows. I had one of the best doctors in New York City, Dr. Malone. He did a hell of a job. It healed pretty strong and was able to still perform and play the game I love.
Continued in part three.