Q+A: Nick Anderson
A conversation with the retired Magic swingman.
by Dan Shapiro
Is it weird that when I think back to those Magic teams from the early 90s, I instantly think of burnt popcorn? I’m recalling a Sunday afternoon in ’93, when I—as an oblivious 8 year old—left popcorn cooking in the microwave for some idiotically prolonged amount of time. Where was I? In the basement, glued to the TV. Shaquille O’Neal’s put-back dunk had just brought down the whole basket in Phoenix.
A house full of smoke, my pride, and my sense of self-sufficiency, scorched like the black popcorn that lay before me.
Maybe that’s why those things have a ‘popcorn’ button now.
Go back to that team and there, at the two-spot, was Nick Anderson. After a decade with the Magic, he’s still to this day their all-time leading scorer, even though you picked Penny over him in NBA Jam.
Since ’05, he’s been in the front office of the Magic and while, for obvious reasons, he couldn’t comment on the lockout, Anderson was kind enough to chop it up with us.
From the streets of Chicago to his infamous struggles from the free throw line, Anderson’s lived a hell of a basketball life and was more than willing to share the lessons he learns learned from the game he loves.
SLAM: Dwight Howard’s free agency is a huge issue for the Magic. Could you talk about what you’d like to see happen?
Nick Anderson: Here’s where I’m at: I want Dwight Howard to stay in Orlando. To create his legacy right here. Guys, not naming any names, when its their time, they want to come down and maybe play with Dwight Howard down in Orlando.
Great weather. Great fans. The ownership’s already proven that they’re going to do the right things for the players and guys got to take a look at that. I can’t speak for other ownership groups—I don’t know anything about Phoenix, I don’t know anything the Lakers—but the DeVos family is a great ownership group and they go above and beyond to take care of their players.
SLAM: What’s that mean more specifically, to have a ‘great ownership group’?
NA: I remember back when they bought the team, in ’91, we were practicing in a rec center in downtown Orlando. And Mr. DeVos comes in and asks, “What do you guys need?” A practice facility. So he goes and builds a $50 million facility. There’s not enough I can say about the ownership group. They’re A1. From my tenure in Orlando and seeing what they do, I give them nothing but praise. And in terms of the free agents out there, listen, money is good but you got to look at the outside things. What are you surrounded by? What kind of people? What kind of fans?
SLAM: You were part of the Flyin’ Illini of the late eighties. You guys were at the top of the Big Ten, what do you remember about those years?
NA: We were a team that had nobody taller than 6-8. We’d full-court press you for 40 minutes. We were a well-coached, athletic team and my teammates were phenomenal. Kendall Gill, Marcus Liberty, Steve Bardo, Kenny Battle—just a fun group to be around. All of us were Home State guys, which added to it. We’d played against each other in high school and to team up together was great. The reason we came together at Illinois, was because of the guy that recruited us. Every guy on the team will tell you this, assistant coach Jimmy Collins, was the main reason myself and those guys went to the University of Illinois. He was a father away from home from us. He was great; I still speak to him today.
SLAM: What distinguished him from the other recruiters?
NA: He didn’t sugar coat anything. He told me like it was. That if I worked hard then these were the benefits and rewards—the college education, the notoriety and the ability just to play ball but I’m telling you he never promised me anything.
SLAM: Who else was after you?
NA: Boeheim, Bobby Knight, a bunch of schools.
SLAM: What was it like being recruited by Bobby Knight?
NA: I remember his home visit, he was talking to my mom and drawing plays on his clip-board. I love Bobby Knight. Everybody would talk about how disciplined he was, but that didn’t affect me, because that was the discipline I got in my household and from my high school coach. So I wasn’t afraid of that.