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Hooked: How The NBAs “Birdman” Was Catfished And Almost Ruined

Hooked: How The NBAs “Birdman” Was Catfished And Almost Ruined

Culture

Chris Andersen catfish

Today, Instagram is an athlete’s best friend. It’s how they can connect with fans and find true love, or just some company for a night on the road. But you have to be savvy with it, or you could find yourself in hot water. Just ask Chris Andersen, a man whose career and life were almost ruined after he began messaging a woman whom he thought was an aspiring model.

Clipped Wing

What started out as a peaceful 45-minute drive towards the Pepsi Center in Denver turned into an almost inescapable nightmare that nearly ruined two lives and a promising basketball career. The sirens behind him were blaring.  Chris Andersen, the tattooed, larger-than-life personality on the Denver Nuggets had just been pulled over for what he thought was a speeding ticket.

Chris Andersen catfish

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When the cops pulled up next to him, they informed him that a speeding ticket would be the least of his concerns. That’s because the police informed him that a platoon of Douglas County officers, including members of the Internet Crimes Against Children Unit (ICAC) — a unit that investigates everything from child pornography to child rapists — was headed to his home with a search warrant.

Allegations Are Flying

Andersen called his lawyer in a panic, unsure of what he had done. He was advised to head to the arena and practice and prepare for that night’s Western Conference playoff game. But the Nuggets had other plans. When he arrived to the arena, the team sent him right back home.

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News was already beginning to leak out that Andersen was being investigated for some potentially disturbing crimes. With no understanding of the situation but no room to argue, Andersen sped home as fast as he could. But his house, his sanctuary away from a media spotlight he was never fond of, was already overrun with cameras and news trucks.

A Grounded Bird

Andersen slipped inside his remote estate and flipped on the television. Reporters labeled him a child molester, a creep, a predator. Twitter, Facebook, and social media exploded. Allegations were flying and rumors were swirling. Andersen was trapped in his house, unable to defend himself or his reputation from what was shaping up to be a career-ending, life-altering mistake, one he was unaware he had even committed.

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While the Nuggets battled the Lakers in the 2012 NBA playoffs, Andersen battled for his life. A man who had come so far was deliberately left behind by the Nuggets and essentially dismissed from the team. After all, what team would want a man being investigated as a child sex offender? What team would want a man accused of having child pornography on their roster?

Who Is The Birdman

Chris Andersen, the “Birdman,” as he known around the NBA, grew up in Iola, Texas, a small, dusty town with more tumbleweeds than people. As a good childhood friend of Andersen’s put it, you either go to jail or work in the oil fields if you called Iola home. Those are the two Iola options, and for a while it looked like Andersen would go down the road that sent him to jail.

Chris Andersen catfish

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But  basketball intervened and rerouted his life. It sent him to China and North Dakota, New Mexico and North Carolina in search of a professional career. Andersen wanted a permanent home, something he missed out on as a troubled youth bouncing around from one youth home to the next.

Soaring To The League

Then, Birdman got his big break. He was called up from the D-League, the first call-up in NBA history, and signed with the Nuggets. At the time, Birdman hardly resembled the man he is today. His skin was mostly bare of tattoos and his hair was cropped short.

Chris Andersen catfish

espn.com

But as Andersen grew into his role in the NBA, he began to develop an alter ego. He was a high flying, acrobatic player. A fan favorite with an inclination towards big dunks and blocked shots. He slowly morphed into Birdman, a nickname given to him by former teammates. As his popularity increased, so did the amount of tattoos on his body.

The Bird Takes Flight

Birdman’s arms began to fill up with colorful ink that depicted his life’s journey. So did his neck. Next came the hair. Gone was the buzz cut that morphed into the floppy head of hair that gave him a childish look. What replaced it was a carefully sculpted 6-inch mohawk that gave off an aggressive, predatory feel.

Chris Andersen catfish

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Birdman didn’t want to be any ordinary bird, he wanted to be a hawk or an eagle, something that is exciting, intimidating, aggressive, and fast. Birdman, with his new look, began to soar. He was invited to the dunk contest two years in a row and was an integral part of the Nuggets.

Drug Addiction Spells The End

Then he signed a lucrative deal with the New Orleans Hornets. However, just as fast as one can rise to prominence, one can fall equally as quick, and for Andersen, his fall from grace was as rapid as his rise to fame.

Chris Andersen catfish

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In January 2006, Andersen was kicked out of the NBA for drug use. This wasn’t for steroids or marijuana. A violation of that sort would have landed him a small suspension and fine. To be kicked out of the league and banned for at least two years meant Andersen was using hard drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, or PCP. With a mandatory two-year ban from the league, Andersen had plenty of time to clean up his act. Rehab was first. He had to get and stay clean. Staying fit was second. Honing his game, by practicing in the off-season with NBA stars, was third.

Everyone Deserves A Second Chance

Two years following his shocking exile, the first of its kind in the NBA since 1999, Andersen was reinstated in the league. On March 5, 2008, the Hornets re-signed Andersen for the remainder of the year, giving him a much-needed second chance. Following his abbreviated season back in the NBA, Andersen became a free agent, one that was quickly scooped up off the market.

Chris Andersen catfish

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Andersen’s future was looking bright. He was back in the league and back with the Nuggets, the team that originally took a chance on the unrefined, unpolished, potentially problematic big man. In Denver, Andersen carved out a nice role for himself, added even more tattoos, increased his fan base, and, most importantly, began to distance himself from the drug-induced suspension that almost cost him his career. Then came along Paris Dunn, an aspiring model who Andersen, in the most non-traditional of ways, became romantically involved with.

Who is Paris Dunn?

Back in 2012, Paris Dunn was a 17-year-old aspiring model from Southern California. Today, Dunn, known by her stage name Paris Roxanne, has 25,000 Twitter followers, 87,000 Facebook fans, and 370,000 Instagram followers. She also goes by Paris Dylan, but however you call her, one thing is certain: she wants to get to the top by whatever means necessary.

Chris Andersen catfish

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She’s currently in a relationship with Don McLean — the man who gave us the 1970s classic song, “American Pie” — and has modeled for Playboy and Maxim, among other major publications. She travels the world doing photo shoots and isn’t afraid to publicly profess her love for her decades-older 73-year-old celebrity boyfriend. But in 2012, Dunn was still trying to grow her following and make a name for herself.

Star Gazing

Dunn targeted athletes and celebrities on social media in hopes that she and a star could connect. All it would take would be one famous person to elevate her career in a moment’s notice. So Dunn, 17 at the time, reached out to Andersen, who was 33. She wrote him a simple Facebook message. Something along the lines of “hey, how’s it going?” Innocuous and innocent.

Chris Andersen catfish

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It was a shot in the dark, one Dunn expected to go unanswered. She hardly ever expected a reply. Hell, she wasn’t even sure people noticed the messages she left. Paris Dunn had reached out to plenty of other athletes before Andersen to no avail. But then one day her fortunes changed.

Selfies Get The Ball Rolling

Andersen replied back to her through Facebook. “I see you are a fan,” he said. The ball was rolling and the conversation flowed from there. The two exchanged messages on Facebook, email, and text. The conversation began to heat up. Illicit pictures were exchanged, selfies traded back and forth between an NBA star and a 17-year-old.

Chris Andersen catfish

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Andersen, unaware of her actual age, was enthralled to have a fan so passionate about him. Dunn, similarly, was starstruck that she was actually exchanging pictures and texts with one of the NBA’s most well-known players. Eventually the two agreed to meet up. Andersen, who believed Dunn was 21, was going to fly her out to his Denver-area home for a romantic weekend.

The Denver Date

When Dunn got off the plane in Denver, Andersen was there to pick her up, and their weekend got off to a great start. The two internet lovebirds embarked towards his house, full of excitement and nervous energy. After all, neither of them had ever spoken on the phone and had only “met” through social media a few weeks before. Arriving to the house was a surreal moment for Dunn.

Chris Andersen catfish

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She was there playing with Andersen’s dog Hannibal and hanging out on the couch with an NBA player she hardly knew. The two had consensual sex, played video games, cuddled and watched movies. Dunn was bewildered with her good fortune. She was starstruck. And that helped her brush off some odd comments Andersen made to her. Throughout the weekend, there were numerous inconsistencies in the conversation, but none great enough to raise any red flags, at least from the outset.

Confused Conversation

There were, at times, odd remarks and seemingly random statements Andersen made to Dunn. She ignored them but was, occasionally, taken aback. For instance, Andersen turned on his Xbox and said, “Look, your sister must be online.” Dunn, a bit confused, told him, “I don’t have an Xbox and my sister doesn’t play this game.” Other things weren’t adding up either.

Chris Andersen catfish

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Andersen was under the impression that Dunn was bringing with her a lot of Victoria’s Secret lingerie to wear for him, and when he asked her where it was, she told him she didn’t bring any with her. Andersen followed that up by asking her, “When is your trip to Africa?” Dunn, confused almost beyond belief, responded, “I’m not going on any trip. What are you talking about?” (ABC News).

Texts From Tom Taylor

From there, things took a turn for the worst and began to unravel. Dunn casually brought up Andersen’s best friend Tom Taylor, a man she had also been communicating with over text. Andersen was confused and claimed to have no knowledge of a friend named Tom. Dunn pressed on, thinking Andersen was just toying with her. An incredulous Andersen continued to deny any knowledge of a friend named Tom.

Chris Andersen catfish

abcnews.com

Despite the discrepancies and oddities, the two continued to enjoy their time together. When Andersen went off to practice, Dunn stayed at the home, playing with the dog and taking even more photos. But Tom Taylor kept texting her. He was requesting strange things, making Dunn uncomfortable.  “He was telling me, ‘Go take a picture of this, go put his hat on.’ I remember being like, ‘I’m not going to go through the guy’s stuff,’” Dunn recalled to ABC News.

Danger For Dunn

The weekend came to an uneventful end and Dunn headed back to California. She and Andersen continued to exchange messages but the relationship fizzled somewhat. Then the relationship turned frightening. Dunn received tickets from a friend to go meet Los Angeles Clippers star forward Blake Griffin, and she immediately let Andersen and Taylor know of her exciting new plans.

Chris Andersen catfish

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Andersen and Taylor did not receive the message well. On the contrary, the two were furious and barraged her with angry, threatening, and violent text messages. Out of the blue she went from having cordial conversations to being threatened and potentially blackmailed.

Tom Taylor’s Threatening Texts

Dunn recalled to ABC News how Taylor, in a chilling series of texts, told her how “he was going to send somebody down there…he was going to have me [assaulted], and murdered, and thrown on the side of the street.” Then came the blackmail.

Chris Andersen catfish

denverpost.com

All of the nude photos Dunn had sent to Andersen were going to be posted online along with her phone number, name, and address. Taylor proceeded to send her a link containing all of the x-rated photos that were exchanged. They were going online and Dunn, absolutely shocked and completely powerless, had no way to stop it.

Somebody Call The Cops

At this point, Dunn knew she was in over her head. She was 17 and just spent a weekend hanging out with a 33-year-old celebrity. She had lied about her age, lied to her mother about where she was going, and sent nude photos.

Chris Andersen catfish

abcnews.com

Now the photos were being used against her. She was communicating with an aggressive man she never met who also claimed to be Andersen’s best friend, despite Andersen repeatedly denying any knowledge of a man named Tom Taylor. She was being threatened. Naturally, Dunn informs her mother of the situation and the two head to the police.

Birdman Gets Blackmailed

While this is happening, Andersen begins receiving emails from a woman claiming to be Dunn’s mother. The emails are straightforward. Dunn’s mother knows that her under-age daughter spent the weekend with Andersen and lied about her age. She knows nude pictures were exchanged, and because of Dunn’s age at the time, those photos would be considered child pornography.

Chris Andersen catfish

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Should this information be leaked, Andersen’s career would be over. He’d move from the hardwood to a jail cell. So Dunn’s mother blackmailed Andersen and leveraged him for money. Andersen’s lawyer, wanting to make this situation disappear as fast as possible, sent her $5,000 over PayPal.

Police Begin To Uncover The Truth

Once Dunn and her mother got involved with the police, the situation escalated to new heights. Shawn Cronce, the head of ICAC, was in possession of Andersen’s hard drive following the raid on his house. A 15-year veteran of the force, she began to trace the origins of each message sent between Dunn and Andersen.

Chris Andersen catfish

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What she found didn’t add up: each message was traced back to a small town in northern Canada, a location far beyond Cronce’s jurisdiction. Now this was an international crime, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada’s version of the FBI, became entangled in the investigation.

International Investigation

Headed by Constable Gord Olson of the Internet Child Exploitation Unit and Shawn Cronce, the two worked day and night to uncover the details of each message, email, and text. After months of investigation, the two realized that each message sent between Dunn and Andersen was intercepted by one house in the small town of Easterville, Manitoba.

Chris Andersen catfish

winnipegfreepress.com

The town of Easterville consists of one small market and about 100 people, most of whom belong to the Chemawawin Cree Native Americans. And the house where the messages were being relayed out of belonged to Shelly Chartier, the mastermind behind the most elaborate catfishing scheme in history.

Who is Shelly Chartier

Shelly Chartier is a recluse who lives in a hovel in Easterville. She grew up in a similar fashion to Andersen, impoverished and deprived of opportunity. By the sixth grade, she was forced to drop out of school and take care of her bedridden mother.

Chris Andersen catfish

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She had no friends and even less of a future ahead of her. Poverty runs rampant in Easterville, and a sixth grade education wouldn’t be enough for her to make a decent living. Life for Shelly was miserable. She hadn’t left her house in 11 years. Her teeth were rotting and her only escape from the misery was the internet, that is when it finally arrived to the remote areas of northern Canada.

Catfishing Chartier

With the internet, Shelly began to explore the world and escape the trap that was her life. Social media began to consume her life and she plotted devious ways to abuse the system without ever having to leave the comfort of her beaten-down shack. So she started to create fake celebrity profiles, using them to manufacture the human interactions she never had before.

Chris Andersen catfish

newsweek.com

She made a bogus Facebook profile for the 2012 Playboy Playmate of the Year, Jaclyn Swedberg, and used that profile to set up a fake relationship between Swedberg and an unassuming man from L.A. She made a profile for Brody Jenner and one for a high-profile New York City comedian, and the list goes on. But it was the profiles she set up for Andersen, Dunn, and Taylor that would send the lives of many spiraling towards disaster.

Who is Tom Taylor

Tom Taylor was the alias Shelly Chartier used to intimidate Paris Dunn and facilitate communication between Andersen and Dunn. Tom Taylor, according to Dunn, was Andersen’s best friend, an avid gamer who lived in Denver. He was the liaison between Dunn and Andersen. He was the one who said to Dunn, “I know you really like Chris. I can let you guys meet, he wants to meet you” (ABC News).

Chris Andersen catfish

dailymail.co.uk

Despite Andersen telling Dunn he had never heard of a Tom Taylor, Paris Dunn continued to believe he was a real person, a real friend. Despite Tom Taylor creeping Dunn out with weird requests, Dunn never became overly suspicious. It was only when Tom Taylor began to threaten her that she decided to take any action.

Setting Up The Scheme

So while Shelly Chartier meticulously crafted the fictional Tom Taylor, she was also plotting how to capitalize on Dunn’s overzealous ambition to meet up with celebrities and athletes. Remember how Dunn reached out to Andersen on Facebook with a simple “hey”? And how she got a suspiciously fast reply?

Chris Andersen catfish

abcnews.com

Well that reply didn’t come from Andersen. It came from a fake profile that Chartier set up. With that profile, Dunn was successfully duped into believing she was communicating with the star NBA player. Now Shelly had to set up the other half of the equation and get the real-life Andersen involved with Dunn, and she used the exact same formula.

Monstrous Middle-man

Chartier created a fake Dunn profile and messaged Andersen’s real Facebook page. Eventually, Chartier got both Andersen and Dunn’s actual phone numbers and began to manipulate the conversation through cell phones with a Canadian area code. Somehow, neither victim was suspicious enough of the strange area code to inquire more. Somehow, the fake Facebook profiles looked legitimate enough to not warrant a second look.

Chris Andersen catfish

abcnews.com

And Somehow, neither Andersen or Dunn ever tried to call one another. So Chartier would pose as Dunn and ask Andersen to send selfies. She would receive those selfies and switch accounts. Now posing as Andersen, Chartier would send the selfies to Dunn, and the cycle would repeat itself. Thus, Andersen and Dunn never directly communicated with one another. Each message they sent would be intercepted by Shelly, the account would be switched, and the information or pictures would be relayed to the other account.

Terrible Tom Taylor

Then Shelly decided to set up the Tom Taylor account to use it as leverage. Andersen, being a star basketball player, would gain nothing from posting Dunn’s nude photos online. He, in fact, would have everything to lose from doing that. Enter Taylor.

Chris Andersen catfish

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A believable middle man who could  blackmail and manipulate Dunn into doing, saying, or posting illicit things. At the same time, Chartier created a profile of Dunn’s mom used to threaten Andersen. The web of lies was complex and elaborate. As for the inconsistencies? Those can be explained by Dunn and Andersen never actually communicating with one another until they actually met up in person, a meeting also arranged entirely by Chartier.

The Heat Go Cold, The Birdman Migrates South

While this event unfolded in front of the shocked law enforcement, Andersen remained isolated. No NBA team was willing to sign him until his name was cleared, assuming that would happen. At the time of the investigation, neither Andersen nor Dunn knew of what was transpiring.

Chris Andersen catfish

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Neither had knowledge of what law enforcement officers were uncovering. All he knew was his name and reputation were in tatters and his career was all but over. Then the Miami Heat called. They were the defending champions and in a major slump. Although Chartier had, by this point, been arrested in Canada, neither Andersen or his lawyer were informed of it. They remained in the dark, but the Heat were willing bring a bit of light into Andersen’s life.

Cherish The Championship

They offered him a 10-day contract after conducting their own internal investigation. After the 10-day trial period, Andersen earned a permanent spot on the Heat. As the playoffs approached, Andersen received the most important call of his life. Cronce called him and informed him of the investigation’s progress. Andersen was vindicated, but he kept it out of the public’s eye.

Chris Andersen catfish

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Internally he was free, but he didn’t want to distract his team, the hottest in the league. So he continued to receive and endure the endless taunts, and the Heat kept winning. They went back to the Finals. There, and in the Eastern Conference Finals, Andersen was remarkable. He shot extremely well, played sound defense, and protected the rim. In a thrilling seven-game series, the Heat would defeat the Spurs. Andersen was a champion. More importantly, he was innocent. Shelly Chartier was not so lucky.

Shelly Chartier Leaves Her Home For Prison

She was escorted out of her house in handcuffs, the first time she left her house in years. She was handed a one-year prison sentence and another two years of probation. She’s barred from the internet unless she has permission from the courts and supervision. While in prison, Chartier learned to make eye-contact with others for the first time in her life.

Chris Andersen catfish

winnipegfreepress.com

After serving her time, she returned home and even met her husband while playing Xbox. How she was able to play Xbox remains unclear. Yet she still remains trapped and isolated, despite her newfound propensity for eye contact. She cannot enter the United States because Colorado still has warrants out for her arrest. Should she be extradited and convicted, she could face 24 years in prison. Her husband, from New York, can only visit her in Canada periodically.

Andersen The Phoenix

As for Andersen, he managed to revive his NBA career and played for another five seasons. Today, Birdman is happily married and has fully moved on from the potentially devastating catfishing scandal that ensnared him for months.  Although his career was highly volatile, it was equally as remarkable. He grew up in a place where the words “success” or “future” or “opportunity” aren’t in the local lexicon, unless one is talking about what Iola, Texas, is lacking.

Chris Andersen catfish

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Yet he managed to make it to the NBA. He also managed  to get himself banished from the league, but waited patiently for his comeback. Amidst his comeback, a horrible scheme and web of lies once again brought him to his knees, but Andersen, again, patiently waited for the truth to emerge. And when it did, he rose to the top. He was crowned a champion and had his reputation fully restored.

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