There’s a compelling documentary in Kenny Anderson’s tale of a schoolboy legend turned journeyman professional. One that tells of the truly breathtaking talented high school and college player who became a solid, but only occasionally electrifying professional; of the man who is still trying to overcome demons both past and present, in order to reach his potential, if not on the court as a player, in some other facet of life. Alas, that film is not Jill Campbell’s Mr. Chibbs. One of the most frustrating documentaries I’ve seen in ages, Mr. Chibbs contains several powerful moments but gives us only a partial idea of who Kenny Anderson really is, never really peeling back the surface.
The film is set up, in part, as a tour of Anderson’s life. Kenny back in the old neighborhood, Kenny visiting relatives, Kenny visiting his old college rival Bobby Hurley and coach Bobby Cremins, Kenny teaching at a basketball camp. Each one of these stops offers a glimpse into the man, but stops short of providing any real insight. They play like promos for larger pieces and incomplete story arcs.
By way of background, Anderson is one of the greatest high school athletes in New York history and arguably the second greatest high school hoops player to come out of New York behind another schoolboy legend, Lew Alcindor, who you might know as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I grew up in New York and vividly remember the stories about the amazing point guard from Queens powerhouse high school Archbishop Molloy who was running roughshod over every school in the city. He was all-city four times and a four-time Parade All-American—the first to achieve that feat since Alcindor.
He went on to excel in college for Georgia Tech, reaching the Final Four in 1990. In 1991 he gave up his final two years of college eligibility to enter the NBA and was drafted second overall by the then New Jersey Nets.
All of this is covered in some detail and the footage of his high school years is actually something to behold. Every time the film reverts to showing his talent on the court, the viewer is reminded that he didn’t become the superstar that was predicted, and those are meaningful moments. As a retired former player, he’s shown repeatedly telling strangers that he was in the NBA, telling them to Google him and it’s in these moments where the film is strongest, showing us the former star who peaked at 20-years-old.
There are also some touching moments with Natasha, his wife of ten years, with whom he’s raising his son and her daughter, as well as interviews with former partners, including Dee Roper (DJ Spinderella from the hip hop group Salt-n-Pepa) with whom he has a daughter. But the film gives no mention of other significant portions of his life, including six of his eight children, and glosses over major events, like his ill-advised 2014 trip to North Korea as part of a “basketball diplomacy” team arranged by Dennis Rodman.
As far as his NBA career goes, there’s scant mention of it, except in passing and virtually no interviews with anyone from his professional playing days. While his drinking problems are mentioned (a DUI cost him a high school coaching position and his partying certainly affected his NBA career) he’s also shown, repeatedly… drinking. Clearly he hasn’t learned his lessons or conquered his demons, but the film lets that go, offering little commentary on his drinking or occasional outbursts of temper.
Two of the most telling moments in the film are what you might call teaching moments. At a basketball camp, Kenny Smith, a former NBA player and fellow Archbishop Molloy star tells Anderson to stop dipping his toe in the pool of life and dive in. A successful television analyst, Smith knows of what he speaks and as an old friend, gently calls Anderson on his bullshit, telling him that he has things to offer—an opinion that is repeated by several former mentors throughout the film. In another instance, a significantly older cousin tells Anderson, “It’s never too late. At 44 years old, your life has just begun. I’m 72 and I don’t even think about ‘well I’m old,’ because ideas don’t get old.”
Mr. Chibbs attempts to present a portrait of a man at a crossroads in his life, essentially going through a midlife crisis, but in almost every instance the film moves on at the exact moment where it seems it’s about to get interesting, never pushing beyond that point. Meanwhile Anderson is like the man in the “God will save me” parable who wonders why God didn’t save him from a flood. “Son, I sent you a warning. I sent you a car. I sent you a canoe. I sent you a motorboat. I sent you a helicopter. What more were you looking for?”
Director: Jill Campbell
Starring: Kenny Anderson, Natasha Anderson, Kenny Anderson Jr., Devon Anderson, Dee Roper
Release Date: May 3rd (Limited)