Ryan Anderson said he is fine, nearly every bit of him.
The New Orleans Pelicans forward by way of Cal and Oak Ridge High School has endured on-court injuries and profound personal heartache. Anderson had his 2013-14 season cut short by a freak injury when he collided with former King Gerald Wallace of the Boston Celtics. Anderson left for the hospital by stretcher, mustering just enough strength to offer a thumb’s up. Anderson suffered two herniated discs in his neck, requiring surgery.
This season, one of the NBA’s top three-point shooters missed 51/2 weeks of action – 18 games – with a right MCL strain. He returned Wednesday against the Lakers in Los Angeles with a bit of flair and touch. Anderson had 17 points, including a “the-knee-is-just-fine” dunk moment as the Pelicans won 113-92, their third consecutive victory, to remain in playoff contention in the power-packed Western Conference.
“Getting Ryan back was huge,” Pelicans star Anthony Davis said. “He can space the floor, shoot the ball, attack, post up. He brings another dimension. We really missed him.”
On Friday afternoon, before New Orleans took on the Kings, Anderson scanned Sleep Train Arena. He felt “at home” in a building he joyously recalled racing into as a young fan watching his beloved stars, Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic, delighted that parents Sue and Jack and scores of high school teammates and friends would be on hand hours later.
Anderson’s body is back in order, his shot in form, his team on track, and he’s been able to cope and talk about an unthinkable tragedy of which he’s become a spokesman of sorts. He reflected on a career that he never fully envisioned, one that got a launching-pad start when he powered Oak Ridge past national powerhouse Mater Dei of Santa Ana for the CIF Division II state championship on this floor 10 years ago.
“I’m feeling good,” Anderson said, eyeing the ice pack on his knee and running his hand across the back of his neck. “Injuries are part of the game. I’m blessed that none of this is chronic, that this is the first knee injury I’ve ever had. It’s a physical game, and you never know what will happen. I’m secure knowing I’ll be fine.
“And it’s great to be here. I remember coming here as a kid, loving this place. It’s all gone by so fast. One day, I’ll stop and look back and think, ‘What the heck did I do? How fun was this?’ I’m finishing my seventh NBA season, and I feel incredibly lucky, blessed. It’s been a blur.”
Anderson paused, then continued, “My mind won’t stop thinking about what I’ve been through, all the great things in this game, the crazy ride, some great moments and some really tough moments, too.”
The most trying moments had nothing to do with losing streaks, or his neck, or his tender knee. It had to do with the suicide of his girlfriend, Gia Allemand, a model and contestant on the TV reality show “The Bachelor.”
Anderson and Allemand met in February 2012, in the Bahamas. He told himself that if he didn’t approach her and talk to her, he’d never forgive himself. The relationship soon grew serious. They traveled the world and talked of marriage. Anderson did not know Allemand was dealing with depression.
Like any couple, they had disagreements, and they had one over dinner on the night of Aug. 12, 2013. Anderson dropped Allemand off at her New Orleans apartment, not far from his own. Hours later, at the urging of Allemand’s mother via a frantic phone call, Anderson rushed to Allemand’s residence and found that she had hanged herself. He collapsed next to her, sobbing.
Anderson considered quitting basketball. Overcome with grief and guilt, he lived with his parents in El Dorado Hills for a spell. He spent hours with his Bible, alone.
Anderson finally returned to the Pelicans and has used his NBA platform to discuss suicide, urging people to seek help, reminding them that suicide leaves a lasting toll on so many. Nearly 40,000 people commit suicide annually in the United States, making it the second-leading cause of death in this country for people aged 25-34. Anderson said he thinks of Allemand “every day.”
“Everyone hurts, everyone has something inside them that hurts, but sharing, talking about it, it really helps,” Anderson said. “It’s good to share because it can start the healing. It’s hard. We live in a generation where everything and everybody has got to be perfect, and that’s just not realistic.
“This is important to me to talk about because I can be in a position to pique awareness, to share what I’ve gone through, what others have gone through. If I can help even one person, then it’s worth it. I know after a while, I didn’t want to hold it in anymore. Wanted to get it out, had to get it out. And people can get help.”