Queens hoops legend and former NBA star Kenny Anderson goes back to basics, coaching basketball at a small Jewish private school in Florida
Kenny Anderson spent the first decades of his life as a certified urban legend, an up-tempo genius for the late Jack Curran at Archbishop Molloy, a kid with a surpassing gift for finding angles and openings, threading passes on the fly, making assists you had to see to believe, the first player ever to be named all-city for four years.
Kenny Anderson, a legend in New York high school basketball and former NBA star, can now be found teaching basketball at obscure David Posnack Hebrew Day School, in Davie, Florida.
DAVIE, Fla. - There are 149 students enrolled in grades 9-12 at the David Posnack Jewish Day School, where tuition runs $18,300 per year and the price includes a rigorous academic program and a complete absence of any basketball pedigree. Walk in the gym and you see not a single banner hanging from the barren white walls. Look at the results from the recent season and you learn that the David Posnack Rams played their first game against Coral Springs Charter School, and lost 78-7.
Two games later, they did better, losing 65-10.
The Posnack boys’ season ended with a record of 1-13, but Josh Fayne doesn’t want the numbers to mislead you. Fayne is a 5-7, 165-pound sophomore, a bulldog of a lefty point guard, and he says the team improved significantly over the 14 games, progress Fayne attributes almost wholly to the patience and nurturing of their coach, a left-handed point guard himself.
“He cares a lot about us. We’re his players,” Josh Fayne says. He pauses and talks about how committed the coach was every day at practice, without even an assistant, and how much he revels in watching highlights of his coach’s playing career.
“It’s the experience of a lifetime,” Fayne says. “I’m learning from one of the all-time greats. I would never guess this would happen, that somebody like that would come to a small private Jewish school in South Florida.”
The coach never would’ve guessed it, either, a New York City icon out of LeFrak City teaching the nuances of driving and dishing to Josh Fayne, a hardwood prodigy dialing down his genius, and teaching the basics. But then, if Kenny Anderson has learned anything — and he will tell you he has learned plenty — it’s that the game, and life, can unspool on you faster than you can spell phenom.
Kenny Anderson spent the first decades of his life as a certified urban legend, an up-tempo genius for the late Jack Curran at Archbishop Molloy, a kid with a surpassing gift for finding angles and openings, threading passes on the fly, making assists you had to see to believe, the first player ever to be named all-city for four years, no matter that Curran wouldn’t let him play until the second quarter as a freshman. Anderson was never better than his freshman year at Georgia Tech, which he led to the Final Four in 1990, a body of work that will earn him a trip back to Atlanta, and another Final Four, next weekend, when Anderson will be honored as one of the top 75 players (No. 49) in the 75 years of the tournament.
“He is, unequivocally, the greatest high school point guard I’ve ever seen,” says Tom Konchalski, the widely respected publisher of HSBI and a high school scout for almost 50 years.
More recently, Anderson has achieved a much less palatable sort of legend, becoming to many a sorry symbol of recklessness and excess, a poster child for athletic entitlement, which is what happens when you blow through almost all of the $63 million made over 14 seasons in the NBA, and when you have seven children with five women; when you’ve gone through bankruptcy and collected cars as if they were trinkets with wheels, and when you’re on your third marriage.
“I’ve never run from any of my problems, and never blamed anyone for them,” Anderson says. “Did I do it? Yes. Am I proud of it? No. I take full responsibility for everything. I’ve failed. I’ve failed in marriage. I’ve failed as a father. But you know, failure is good in some ways. It lets you see what you have to build, what you have to do.
“I’m going in the right direction. I’m a better father now. I’m trying to help the youth and just live a good life.”
Now, at age 42, Kenny Anderson is operating at a much more measured pace, eschewing risk for what he hopes is a deeper reward. He lives with his wife Natasha, a social worker and VP at a Miami hospital, in a three-bedroom house in Pembroke Pines, with his son, Kenny Jr., and his stepdaughter, Tiana. He teaches the Posnack kids basketball.
“That’s the cool thing about life — you never know what’s going to fit and what’s not going to fit,” says Danny Herz, the Posnack athletic director. “He wouldn’t be here if he thought he was too good (for this level). He’s valuable to our school and I think there’s a value for him in that.”
Says Anderson, “You want to be wanted somewhere, you know? I want to get up and go to work and be happy. You can have all the money in the world and be miserable. I was miserable for a lot of the time I was in the NBA.
“I still have a love for the game. I’m playing through my team now. It’s a challenge, but we’re trying to build it. It’s just going to take some time.”
* * *
It’s a few weeks after his second season as the David Posnack boys basketball coach, and Anderson is sitting on a folding chair on his unadorned home court. A little kid comes up to say hi. Anderson rubs him on the head, and does the same with another kid, and then begins to talk about his forthcoming book, written with the assistance of J.J. Staples.
It’s called Instructions Not Included, and for Anderson, it captures the essence of his personal narrative, particularly after he left Georgia Tech following his sophomore year and the Nets made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 1991 draft, signing him to five-year, $14 million contract. Anderson bought a house on Long Island for his mother, Joan, and lots of other things, discovering he had a troubling character flaw: he couldn’t say no.
Not to his own impulses, and not to anybody and everybody who had a run of bad luck, or needed a few bucks, or had a credit card to pay off.
“I was 22, 23, 24, and suddenly I had all this money,” Anderson says. “I didn’t do nothing wild. It’s just that coming up in New York, being a star in New York, everything was there for you. Everything was easy.”
For years, Anderson acquired stuff, without restraint. He once had 10 cars, from a Mercedes to a Porsche to a customized Range Rover, at one point paying as much as $75,000 annually just on auto insurance and maintenance. In his 2005 bankruptcy filing, he listed monthly expenses of $41,000 and had a total of 69 creditors. He purchased a 16,000-square foot house in Atlanta for $2.1 million with his second wife, Tamiyka, and rarely even stayed there.
ALEXIA FODERE/FOR THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Kenny Anderson, who shot to fame as a scintillating point guard for Arch Bishop Molloy and then George Tech, hit some rocky times after being drafted by the Nets in 1991, but now, coaching basketball in for a small Jewish school in Florida, says he’s in a good place, accepts his failures.
“It never felt like home,” he said.
He also spent money on more noble pursuits, sinking up to $40,000 each summer sponsoring a youth tournament in LeFrak City, but even after his salary peaked at $9.2 million in 2002-3, his finances were completely tangled and overstretched, not just because of a lavish lifestyle, but because of child support obligations in the tens of thousands, his eldest daughter, Danielle, 22, having been born when he was still at Georgia Tech, and his youngest son, Devin, born some 11 years later.
According to a bankruptcy filing in 2005, Anderson owed two former wives and another woman — the mother of two of his sons — a total of $77,000 in either alimony or child support. Anderson says every case has been settled, and that the legal wrangling with ex-wives was never about wanting to shortchange his kids.
“Nobody ever had to chase me for anything. I was never a deadbeat dad,” he says.
* * *
For all his female companionship and all his apparent friendships, Kenny Anderson’s signature move wasn’t a lefthanded spin dribble so much as a determination to be elusive. He kept feelings inside, kept people at a distance, kept going through NBA teams – nine in all – and women. Maybe it was his chaotic home life, with drugs encroaching from everywhere and an older brother who was in and out of jail. Maybe it not knowing his father until he was 30, or losing his beloved Uncle James, a Queens playground legend, when he was only six. Outside of his mother, Anderson never knew who he could count on, never knew whether people really liked him or just wanted to be pals with a big basketball star. Wariness got hard-wired into him. Even as a pro, if a coach benched him, or criticized him, Anderson would often withdraw, or rebel.
“I’ve always been a loner. I stayed away from everybody,” Anderson says. “I did it to myself. Nobody knew me.”
He pauses and wipes away a tear, and talks about the therapy he’s undergone to help him forge meaningful relationships with people, including his kids. He’s planning a reunion with all seven of them later this year, taking them all to DisneyWorld.
“We’re going to have a ball,” says Anderson, who visited New York this weekend with Natasha, Kenny Jr. and Tiana, taking them ice skating at Rockefeller Center and to Friday night’s Knick game, before returning home and beginning a conditioning program for his players.
Coaching, after all, is what he wants to do. He had a short stop with the Atlanta Krunk before the CBA folded, and then with a franchise in SlamBall, which is basically a trampoline-powered dunking contest. He met with Jim Larranaga when the former George Mason coach took over at Miami, but the staff was full. Two years ago, Anderson connected on Twitter with a Georgia Tech alum who happens to be on the Posnack board, and told Anderson about the opening.
Soon Anderson was interviewing with Dr. Richard Cuenca, the head of school.
“We did our homework and went in with our eyes wide open,” Cuenca says. “We had conversations with him about (his past) and he was very specific about wanting to make a difference in the lives of kids, and didn’t shy away at all from his prior mistakes. He was very open about it. Kenny’s had his ups and down, but he really is a very nice guy.”
* * *
Kenny Anderson has probably undergone more change, and done more soul-searching, in the last few years than he did in the rest of his life put together. He fulfilled a promise to his late mother, and enhanced his coaching credentials, by returning to school and getting a degree in organizational leadership three years ago from St. Thomas University in Miami. For the first time he is a hands-on, full-time father, having gotten custody of his son, Kenny Jr. He has explored his loner ways, gotten out from under from the weight of bankruptcy, reconnected with all his children and even his father, who lives in Harlem.
“I am so blessed to have what I have now,” he says. “I had some bad times, but I count my blessings. I don’t count my mishaps.”
You ask Kenny Anderson, who averaged 12.6 points and 6.1 assists and made one All-star team in his pro career, what advice he’d give to a top draft pick who’s about to leave college for the NBA. He says he’d tell him this:
Work hard. Stay locked in. Take care of your body. “I didn’t work as hard as I could’ve as a pro. I wasn’t always locked in. If I had, the sky’s the limit,” he says.
“I’d tell them to invest your money wisely. You think the money and the contract is going to last forever, and it doesn’t last forever. I’d say, ‘Know how to say no.’”
And then Kenny Anderson said he’d tell the kid the same thing he tells his players at the David Posnack Jewish Day School: Be a stand-up person. When you do something, accept the consequences. Don’t run. Don’t point fingers. No, you did it, so you deal with it. My mother used to say to me, ‘You laid down with the woman, now you have to take care of those kids.’”
Anderson isn’t sure how long he’ll be at David Posnack. Part of him thinks he’d like to try college coaching, but he isn’t sure. “I just want to be rewarded in my heart, no matter what level I’m at,” he says. Josh Fayne, for one, wants Kenny Anderson, New York icon and his fellow left-handed point guard, to stay right where he is, in the banner-less gym with 149 students.
“Having him as a coach is definitely indescribable,” Josh Fayne says.
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