NYC Legend Kenny Anderson Finds Peace in Coaching College Players and Himself
NEW YORK CITY -- Throughout the halls of Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens, back where it all started, everyone seems to want a quick word—or picture—with Kenny Anderson.
The former point guard phenom from the nearby LeFrak City housing projects recently has returned to his old stomping grounds before taking part in a New York City fundraising mission for Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he now coaches.
The 48-year-old was the toast of the town on the varsity team at Molloy from 1985-89, packing gyms and turning heads with his speed, dribbling and finishing ability. Despite not playing in the first quarters of all his games as a freshman, he still managed to set an all-time state record with 2,621 points during his high school career, which stood until 2004.
From there, it was on to Georgia Tech, a productive 14-year NBA career and a rollercoaster life filled with trials and tribulations. But nothing was quite like his high school experience.
“Me, I was the coverage here,” Kenny tells CloseUp360 while chatting in Molloy’s basketball gym. “I was bigger than the Knicks, the Nets, the Islanders, the Rangers, the Mets, the Jets. All the sports teams here, I was bigger than. And now they barely cover high schools anymore.”
“So I just came at a time when it was unique and I was special, and I got all the attention. So I didn't need to go anywhere. It would've been insulting to leave this and go to a prep school elsewhere. That's just how it was.”
Kenny Anderson poses for a photo with a fan at Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens, New York. (Johan Chiriboga)
Amid all that excitement, Kenny battled personal demons.
He was sexually abused twice as a child. Thrice married, he fathered eight children with five different women.
In 2005, despite earning $63 million as a pro, Kenny filed for bankruptcy. That same year, he lost his mother, Joan, who raised him all by herself, to a heart attack. Eight years later, he lost his job as coach at David Posnack Jewish Day School in Florida following a DUI arrest.
In 2017, Kenny was the subject of a documentary about his life, entitled Mr. Chibbs. A year later, he got the job at Fisk, an NAIA school with an undergraduate enrollment of less than 700 students.
Now, four months into his tenure, Kenny’s Bulldogs have struggled in the standings, but he hopes to build something special there.
This is Kenny Anderson’s story, in his own words, edited for clarity and length.
Kenny Anderson holds his Gatorade National Player of the Year award at Archbishop Molloy. (Johan Chiriboga)
How did I get to Fisk?
I found out about the opportunity from a friend of mine, former NBA player George Lynch, who got the Clark Atlanta University job. He’s, like, “You’ve got to throw your name in the hat.” So I just threw my name in the hat. And the president, Kevin D. Rome, was at Morehouse College in Atlanta when I was at Georgia Tech. So he was, like, “Wow! Kenny Anderson.”
He called me right back in five minutes, and was, like, “Are you interested?” I said, “Yeah.” I flew there for two days, to Nashville, and saw what I was going to be signing up for. I said, “You know what? This is great for me. It’s a challenge.”
I met with him and that was it. He asked me if I was interested and it was a done deal. He said, “We don’t want anybody else. We don’t want to do any more interviews. If you want it, it’s your job.” So I was happy.
Kenny Anderson, in his Fisk University beanie, stands in front of Archbishop Molloy. (Johan Chiriboga)
We’re struggling right now. But, hey, the only thing I know is, Rome wasn’t built in a day. So I just keep saying that and working, keep grinding and staying upbeat. I can’t worry about wins and losses right now with this. I have to worry about building a culture, instilling hard work with these guys, making sure they do well in school. And if I can make them better people—right now, we’re in the process of making them better players, too—then I did my job. But I just have to keep staying focused on the big picture. We all want to win. It’s frustrating. But it’s about practicing and teaching them certain things about basketball.
As a coach, I try to be attentive to everything, and you’ve got to be focused, whether it’s responding to e-mails, watching a lot of video. It’s about finding what type of players and people I’m going to have around me.
Right now, I love my group of guys. They’re good and respectful to me. They work hard. And they’re trying to do the right thing. But there’s a few that might fall through the cracks and try to make mistakes and get into trouble, this and that, and I have to deal with that.
My biggest coaching inspirations are coach Jack Curran, my late high school coach who means the world to me, and coach Bobby Cremins from Georgia Tech. I talk to him once a week. He’s, like, “Don’t worry about results. You’ve got to worry about the big picture. You just got there, and you’ve got to build and practice.”
Kenny poses with a photo of the late Jack Curran, his former high school coach. (Johan Chiriboga)
I played for some really great coaches like P.J. Carlesimo, Chuck Daly, Rick Pitino, Nate McMillan. Jim O’Brien is really good with me, really special to me. I just really had some good coaches.
At an NAIA program, my resources are more limited than a big D-I school, so I have to do a lot more stuff. I even clean the uniforms. I kept a couple guys on the staff. I didn’t want to come in and wipe everything out. This is auditioning time for those guys, and then we’ll re-evaluate at the end of the year and see how things worked out, you know?
I don’t know what my ultimate coaching goal is. I might be here for like five, 10 years. I don’t know. I’m living in the moment. I just want to pay it forward. All the knowledge and wisdom that I have, I want to pass it on to those younger kids. Like, I was thinking, when I pass, whenever that day comes, there has to be more than basketball. It can’t just be I taught you a crossover or a jump shot.
What’s your legacy? And that’s what it’s all about when you’re a coach. When your guys can leave and come back and say, “You know what? Coach Anderson was my coach and he was a helluva mentor, helluva teacher,” then I’d be good. It’d be priceless.
Kenny holds his high school jersey inside the school's gym. (Johan Chiriboga)
Personally, I don’t have any NBA coaching aspirations. I’m not into that. I’m a fan of the NBA, but they don’t need me. I’m about me being vindicated and doing something special. I’m about player development on the college level. I’m not saying the NBA is off-limits, but I’m not chasing that. I think the college level is more rewarding, more priceless.
I always thought I would get another shot to coach after the DUI. This world is about second chances. I made some bad choices and I had to deal with the consequences. It’s really bad to drink and drive. I could’ve killed myself. I could’ve killed others. I understand that. You learn from it and you move on.
It’s getting easier coming back to Malloy. In recent years, I’d get a little emotional because my mom passed and then coach passed five years ago. But being in this building brings back so many memories. I used to live in this building from 7:30 in the morning to 9 at night. Probably the best four years of my life.
Doing the documentary was like therapy for me. It really opened some things up. But I had to do that. You see, you can either evolve in life or repeat. And when you get older and more mature, there are certainly things you can’t live with, and you’ve got to move on and be mature. And when you’ve got kids, you’ve got to live the right way.
Making my sexual abuse known was about me sacrificing myself to help others. I just wanted to pay it forward. Seeing so much of this stuff on TV and the news, I was sitting down and was just, like, “I’ve got to do something.” I held it in for 30-plus years, so it was time to release it.
I had been ashamed and embarrassed, and just threw it in the closet. I was famous and had money, so I was ashamed and I acted out. I was going down a bad path. It wasn’t so much alcohol or anything—just partying and women, and a life of destruction. I had to get a therapist to make me understand. I still see a therapist once a week. I moved and now I’ve got a job, so I’ve got to find another therapist, but it’s been fine.
I learned that it wasn’t my fault. I was the victim. I was 9 and 11 years old. It was bad, but like I said, I put up a wall and threw it in the closet. I felt like I needed to be macho as a result—like, a man molested me, so my ego was women. I had a lot of kids, a lot of relationships at once. It’s difficult for me to be affectionate with my daughters. You have to get help and get better, so you can lead a productive life.
I felt like my NBA career was pretty damn good because I did it my way. I think a few years, I could've worked a lot harder and played like 3-4 more years, but I didn't want to. Everywhere I played, I played very well. But as I like to say, I played 11 strong years because I played 11 35-plus-minute seasons. And then the last three years, I was a backup and I didn't play minutes. You can't play and be productive being a backup as much. And that's it. But no regrets.
The only thing I would say to these young guys is don't ever take your talent for granted. Keep working. I just kind of relaxed a little bit late in my career.
My favorite part about my career was the great players I played with. I played with Paul Pierce when I was with the Celtics. He'll go down as one of the top Celtics ever. That was my rookie. I call him my rookie every time I see him, so it was a special feeling playing with guys like that, Antoine Walker, Derrick Coleman, Drazen Petrovic. I was in Indiana with Reggie Miller for a year and Charlotte with Larry Johnson for a half a year when I got traded, and I played with Robert Parish. That was like, I was in awe of him, just being in the locker room with him and practicing with him.
Kenny inside the gym. (Johan Chiriboga)
Is it tough because my salary now isn't what it used to be?
Shit, yeah. But it's very humbling, but very necessary. It's been great. I'm big on it's not about money with me at this point. I've found my passion, and jumped into it and dived right into it. When you find your passion, it's not like work.
What I want people to learn from me is that you have to embrace the struggles. Ain’t nothing in life perfect. Nah. So all my ups and downs and my life experiences, I always tell my son, experience is the best teacher. So you just have to embrace it and you can always respect somebody that's trying to better themselves.
You have people out there that don't care and want to see you go down the same road, but you have to wonder about them. But when somebody's trying to better themselves for the right circumstances—and that's what I did for the documentary; I tried to put it out there to help others—you can't knock somebody like that. It's a special feeling.
Now, coaching is my passion. I love being at Fisk. I just have to figure out how I’m going to coach and how I’m going to build from here. I’ve just got to get better with it.
Mike Mazzeo is a veteran NBA writer based in New York City. Follow him on Twitter.