During the 2012 NBA playoffs, Denver Nuggets center Chris Andersen was mysteriously scratched from the lineup ahead of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers. The reason: Cops had searched his home and taken his computer as part of what was believed to be a pedophilia investigation.
Though police never arrested nor charged Andersen, the Nuggets cut ties with him. His name tainted by the ongoing investigation, the eccentric center went without a job for much of the following season before signing with the Miami Heat (and helping them win an NBA championship).
Now, Andersen's lawyer says his client was innocent all along, the victim of an elaborate, unbelievable catfishing scheme.
Catfishing, as the Manti Te'o saga taught us, is a ruse in which a person impersonates someone else on the internet, often for nefarious reasons, and often involving sexually suggestive content. (For a more thorough primer on catfishing, check out our explainer here.)
Anderson's case was more complex than that, a sort of double-catfishing scheme that worked so well it took a full year before Birdman learned what had happened to him.
Last month, authorities called Andersen to Colorado for a meeting. There, using charts "right out of CSI" mapping a convoluted web of phony correspondences, they explained to Andersen how a Canadian woman, identified by The Denver Post as Shelly Lynn Chartier, had duped both him and a California woman with whom he had a sexual relationship.
Here's Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim, who first reported the details:
Concurrent with that, Andersen was the victim of cyber identity theft at the hands of a different woman in Canada. The identity thief was able to access Andersen's email, social media outlets, his phone, bank records, and even his video game console.
Posing as Andersen, the Canadian woman allegedly orchestrated the initial tryst between the player and the California woman. She then began communicating and corresponding with the woman from California. At one point, representing herself as Andersen, the imposter began making demands — some of them, sources say, sexually explicit — of the California woman. [Sports Illustrated]
That's when police got involved and, thinking the California woman was underage, called in the child crimes unit. But the investigation, which resulted in some 4,000 pages of documents and information, ultimately concluded Chartier had staged the whole thing. Investigators believe she pulled similar tricks on several other people as well.
"It turned out that it was a Manti Te'o situation," Andersen's lawyer told ESPN. "It was Manti Te'o on steroids."
Chartier was charged in Canada for extortion, impersonation, and possessing and transmitting child pornography. She is expected to be charged in Colorado as well.
Even before this strange saga, Birdman had already been booted from the league once, earning a two-year suspension for violating the league's drug policy. But he came back with a rehabilitated image and, with his tattoos and mohawk and cocky attitude, become a fan favorite in Denver.
Then the incredible case came along and almost sidelined him for good.
Despite being a serviceable big man, he received no contract offers before the 2012–13 season. It wasn't until January, when Andersen's attorney, Mark Bryant, told The Denver Post that the ongoing case "had nothing to do with children," that he finally got a chance to play.
Days after that story ran, the Heat gave Birdman a 10-day contract. They followed that with another 10-day signing before taking Andersen on for the rest of the year.
That singing proved to be quite valuable. Andersen played a crucial role as a bench player for the Heat in the playoffs, shooting 81 percent from the field, averaging one block per game, and providing a spark when his team seemed defeated.
But most importantly, Andersen's return to the game and his postseason performance spawned the greatest Shaq gif of all time, courtesy of SB Nation.