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 final installment of a three-part interview series, Andrew Polaniecki and Kenny talk about his time in Portland and Boston, and the origin of his mantra, “Basketball is Easy, Life is Hard.”
Andrew Polaniecki: You signed with Portland in 1997, and you had a great season that year.
Kenny Anderson: I signed a big contract with Portland and we had a good year. We played against the Lakers in the Playoffs. That season I had an All-Star year, but I didn’t make it because of Latrell Sprewell who was with Golden State at the time. Latrell is my guy, but he and the Warriors were losing. My team was winning, and I was performing well, but he made it before me and that wasn’t right with me.
Yeah, you guys had a pretty good young team that year.
Yeah, yeah, we had a great team but then they got rid of me and then they got in trouble with the Jail Blazers. There’s another thing a lot of people don’t know, but Damon Stoudamire is from Portland. So that’s why I got traded (to Toronto). They wanted him back home. People don’t know that, but that’s why that trade happened. And then I refused to go to Toronto. I waited, and waited, and then my guy Rick Pitino, who I love, got me to Boston. So that’s how I ended up there after the trade to Toronto.
Do you think you got a bad rap from the Toronto holdout?
Oh, you know, maybe… Who knows? Because of the tax purposes, I wasn’t going there. That was it. Toronto’s a great organization, but it was just about the money for me. But most people didn’t realize. Vince Carter was there and they were going to play well, but it was just the money thing for me.
When you arrived in Boston, did you immediately notice a significant difference in how things were run by an organization like the Celtics in comparison to the Nets?
Yes. It was just a lot more organized. Things ran stronger. All the way from the top.
Boston seemed like a great fit for you, and you got to team up with Antoine Walker and a rookie Paul Pierce.
Yep. Yep. It was awesome. I loved Boston. I played for Boston for like five years. I Played in New Jersey for four years. Played in Portland for two, and then I played for a year with Indiana. When I was with Indiana, we went to the Eastern Conference Final against Detroit. They beat us and they won it all that year.
So, if the Nets are playing the Celtics on TV, who are you going for?
I don’t watch it. I won’t watch that game. I’ll just check the score. I got love for those three teams I played for; New Jersey, the Boston Celtics, and the Portland Trail Blazers. They gave me my opportunity. I ran with it, I did well. All three of those teams, I have some great memories, great moments. It was just awesome playing for the three teams.
That’s amazing. And I know that you still bleed Celtics green on one side and Nets blue and red on the other. . . . Now for as long as I’ve known you, bro, and it’s been over it’s been for over a decade now believe it or now, your personal mantra has always been “Basketball is easy. Life is hard.”
It’s a pretty self-explanatory statement, but what does it mean to you, and why?
Well, I was blessed to play the game of basketball. Growing up, I always had my mentors Vincent Smith and Pierre Turner by my side. Basketball had been easy. But life was difficult for me. Just ups and downs throughout my life. I was living in LeFrak and one day I came home, and everything was out front. It was on a school day. It was crazy! It was my junior year; it was one of my best years in high school playing ball but life was just nuts. So, when we started my documentary (Mr. Chibbs), coming up with the tagline, it was easy. Basketball had been easy my whole life, but life had been difficult… Boom!, that was it “Basketball is Easy, Life is Hard.”
So, it had to be done that way. My whole life, I had gone through a lot of difficult times, but I overcame it, and now my life is going well right now. I just keep the faith. Another thing for me is just staying away from bad people. I try to get with good people, my friends, my family, the people that don’t care about whatever I have, or what I can do for them, but rather they care about how am I doing as a human being? That’s a plus for me.
That’s where it came from though. My documentary “Mr. Chibbs” directed by Jill Campbell won four awards. She did a hell of a job. It’s awesome! I was able to tell my story the way I wanted to!
What’s one part of the Kenny Anderson story that somebody, whether it be the average fan, or one of your students, doesn’t know that you want them to know?
Well, everything is in there (the documentary), but I want to be known as the right coach, not just as a basketball coach. I want my kids to one day look back and say I ran with him at Fisk University. Fisk is a small school, an NAIA school. I’ve been there for a few years now; I’m still trying to build up the basketball program. It’s a great academic school. My daughter went there and recently graduated. Grant Hill spoke at our graduation. I still have some research to do, because mainly I want to be a life coach. I want to help individuals.
And I know you’re already doing it, because I know how much your kids at Fisk look up to you and not just for basketball.
It puts a lot of pressure on me. I don’t like to say the word pressure, but it’s still what I must do. There’s no bullshitting. But I love coaching these young men, and whatever I can do to help this school, and benefit the sports world, and their academic world, I will do. They gave me my shot, and I love it.
How are you feeling about this season?
Oh, this season is going to be good. You know, we have three top players, but I’m just trying to get all my guys eligible to play. Not academically, but because of all the different NAIA rules and stuff like that that differ from school to school. I’m still waiting for like three, four guys to play. So that’s the main thing. I can’t sit around and worry about that much. The most important thing to me is giving back to this university and giving back to these young men, and practicing, and practicing, and practicing.
Last year, we went to the semifinals. This year we have some more players and now I got to work. I’m flying up to New York, trying to make changes here.
Before I let you go… Even if it were just for an exhibition game, what would it mean to you to return to McCamish Pavilion but this time as the Fisk head coach to take on your Alma Mater GT Tech?
Oh, it would mean a lot. It would be great to play my old alma mater. Hopefully I get the game. It’s hopefully happening next year. I’ll get to return to Atlanta. It’d be a great, great opportunity for me. I know my kids will work hard, but it would just be good to be back at the Arena. I’ll have all the memories from playing there; it would just be awesome. Going back to that school that I love, and I love it, and that won’t ever change.