Q&A: Derek Anderson

Posted by Unknown on Tuesday, August 19, 2014 with No comments
Courtesy of Sean Deveney 

SN: You’ve written this book, “Stamina,” and it is obviously a very personal account and really a story a lot of people could not have known about you during your NBA career. You grew up without your parents, you were essentially abandoned. What made you want to write?
DA: I went and found them, I found both of my parents. That is what inspired me to write. I found my dad in 2006 and 10 months later he died of cancer. Then I found my mother and, two years ago, after 28 years, I finally had Christmas dinner with her for the first time in that long. So I realized I had a lot of stuff pent up and I thought, I want to write this down and release it. She was talking to me about how things were, and I thought maybe it would help other people.
SN: How do you mean help other people? How do you think your story could do that?
DA: I wondered if maybe other people are going through the same thing with their parents or loved ones, because I didn’t think I had that much resentment or anger or bitterness in my life for them. It was not until I met them that I realized, it was harder than I was willing to admit. There were things I would just not even think about. Once I wrote the book, I saw my anger and hurt. And it was causing problems for me I did not even realize, so I thought, maybe other people are having these same emotions.
SN: It’s strange for me and for a lot of people who watched you, I am sure, because you were always so personable and easy to approach when you were playing, going back to your Kentucky days and into your NBA career. You never came across as angry.
DA: I was always smiling. Everyone who knew me saw me smiling and joking and laughing. But they did not know I was hiding all the pain with that. The reason I was smiling was, I did not want anyone to mess up the balance I had. If someone wanted to fight or act stupid, being in a club and doing something stupid, my thought was, ‘No, I have come too far for that, to mess my life up.’ I was always smiling because I wanted to just keep things calm and not show my anger.
SN: You did not want to stir things up, including your own emotions.
DA: Exactly, and I was like that in life, too. On the court, I could have shot the ball 20 times and tried to be an All-Star, I had enough talent for that. But I just wanted to be happy and keep everyone around me happy, I was not looking for conflict.
SN: You got to college at Kentucky, and things changed drastically. You stayed all four years, you had the knee injury, but you were happy there, it seems.
DA: I was happy just to have a home — heat, electricity, food, a roof. I was thrilled to have that, I didn’t want to leave. People are like, ‘You’re going to college, have fun.’ I am like, just happy to have a bed and to have breakfast in the morning. I did not take those things for granted. People would say to me, ‘Why are you so happy all the time?’ And I would not say anything but I would be thinking, ‘Look, two years ago, I was living on the street.’ I had never drank, never smoked, never gotten in trouble — I looked at being at Kentucky as my reward for not messing up during my life. My sophomore year, I would have been drafted to play in the NBA, but I was like, ‘No, I am good here.’
SN: You found your dad first, after you won a championship with the Heat in 2006. How did you manage to track him down?
DA: Driving around, me and my childhood friends in Louisville, we went driving around looking for him. We asked in all kinds of places. We were told he was working at the car wash, we went to the car wash. But he had moved. We went to a liquor store some people said he goes to and they told us he had moved up the street. We went house to house and finally, some lady pointed out the place, and sure enough, there he was on the porch, just sitting there.
SN: Did you recognize him right away?
DA: My dad is 6-9, so he was taller than me, but we are identical. I met him and we got to talk and he came to my birthday party, I had his birthday with him. We got to hang out. He died of cancer a couple weeks after we won the championship. I came home, I got a phone call, I was told he died. I knew he was sick, but he never wanted to talk about it with me. I would ask him to come to my games but he wouldn’t and he would never tell me why. Later, I came home and he admitted to me he had been fighting cancer for four years. He was 240, but he got down to 190—think about that, 6-9, 190.
SN: Once you found your dad, a few years later, you were able to find your mom. Was that easier or more difficult?
DA: It’s hard. She drinks a lot. I don’t know what the other drugs were that she used to do, but she got cleaned up and kind of went back and forth. I live about 30 minutes from the city and the first time I found her, she was in an alley. Someone called my office and said, ‘This lady says she is your mother, she is struggling.’ I went into the area and I saw her, she was sitting on one of those green trash cans, upside-down, in an alley. She did not have anything with her except a little small pocket purse.
SN: She is still alive, you probably saved her life. How did you handle that?
DA: I took her to rehab and stayed with her there for a few days. I wouldn’t leave. I was kind of paranoid that if I left, she would die like my dad did. I stayed there for a few days. She started getting better and I took her home. She ran away and went back to somewhere in Louisville, I did not even know where. But I got her back, cleaned her up again. That was 2008. So things have gradually gotten better. We spent Mother’s Day together for the first time last year, so that was cool. She is getting better, we are getting better, that is the thing—just trying to get better.
SN: So you had pretty much been on your own since before you were a teenager. You go back and find your parents, and did it help? Are you able to forgive?
DA: Once I talked to my parents and I understood what happened, I understood why they were not there for me, it was not so much forgiving them, it was more just understanding what they had gone through and why they did what they did. There was nothing to forgive. My mom was an alcoholic, my dad came home from the Vietnam war and could not find a job, had to live in the streets and couldn’t take care of me. There were just things that life hits you with. And they folded. Once they told me what happened, I was like, ‘Wow, OK. I understand.’ It really hit me. You see it all the time, even people with jobs, no matter your race, religion or how much money you have, life can hit you like that sometimes and you’re not happy with yourself and you fold. So I thought if I could find them, that would be my way to be able to make things right.
SN: Was this something you always felt like you needed to write, something you knew you would do?
DA: I didn’t necessarily want to start writing, it was not something I had always set out to do. It is the kind of thing, it just came to me and I knew I needed to put this down, you know, on paper.