Film Review: Mr. Chibbs

A sobering, if less than comprehensive, portrait of a would-be NBA legend’s rocky post-basketball life.
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Even in the best-case scenario, an athlete’s career is brief, and the path forward once it’s over can be more than a bit rocky, as evidenced by the story of Kenny Anderson. A New York City playground and high-school phenom who became the #2 pick in the 1991 NBA draft and went on to enjoy a 16-year tenure in the league, Anderson was a once-in-a-lifetime talent. After quickly rising to superstardom, however, he never quite lived up to the stratospheric potential suggested by his early heyday—a familiar scenario whose aftermath is detailed with warts-and-all empathy by Mr. Chibbs.

Jill Campbell’s documentary picks up with the now-44-year-old Anderson as he struggles to figure out his next step. Coaching at a Florida high school, teaching kids at a New Jersey basketball camp, and meeting with former players, coaches and agents (in this case, David Falk) in an effort to get his foot in the college coaching door, Anderson is a man adrift—as well as, in his words, “a walking mistake.” That’s because, though he made millions as a pro, he’s anything but rich, thanks to his innate generosity, his hard-partying ways, and his financial responsibility to his eight children by various women, many of whom he barely sees, and with whom he has little more than a strained drop-by relationship.

Its title taken from his childhood nickname, Mr. Chibbs features considerable archival highlights of Anderson’s on-court exploits in high school and college (Georgia Tech), which illustrate just how immensely gifted he was as a point guard—a notion that’s further bolstered by recollections from many (including Kenny Smith, Bobby Hurley, Bobby Cremins and more) about the jaw-dropping skills that made him an instant legend. Flip-flopping between the present and the past with aplomb, along the way revealing his close bond with his mother and the way in which child abuse and poverty put a strain on his maturation process, Campbell conveys a potent sense of Anderson’s titanic ability, which made heads spin and commentators gush, and which was all the more mesmerizing for seeming so effortless.

Where Mr. Chibbs falls short is in more comprehensively documenting Anderson’s NBA career, and the way in which his carelessness (over conditioning and practice) coupled with his contentment (from now being a millionaire) decimated his shot at truly achieving the greatness for which he seemed destined. Though he claims to have done things the way he wanted, the regret (and tears) he regularly exhibits in Campbell’s film indicate that, in hindsight, he understands that, for all the impressive clips from his playing days, he sabotaged his chance to be an all-timer like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, three high-school stars whose Hall of Fame careers were earned through tireless dedication. There’s more to be mined here about how Anderson never maximized his on-court genius. Although in its contemporary material, it does craft a somber portrait of a man still trying to grow up in the shadow of his own legacy.

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