Family of Athletes
Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.
The son remembers the desperation pass to the end zone, the reaction of his dad. The father remembers the yard line, the time on the clock, every detail as the play unfolded. What no one can quite remember is how many relatives poured onto the field to celebrate.
Four or five? Six or seven? Eight or more? When Kyle Anderson’s family went to a ballgame, it was sometimes hard to keep track of all the kids, cousins and grown-ups.
Eight years ago, Anderson leaned over center and barked out the call, a 6th grade quarterback, trying to rally the North Bergen Eagles. The clock showed six seconds left in the game. The Eagles trailed the East Orange Wildcats by two. The winner of this semifinal matchup would advance to the Hudson County Recreation League championship.
Seven yards from the East Orange end zone, Anderson dropped back to pass. He eluded one pass rusher. He dodged a second. He rolled to his left and saw his two primary receivers covered. Under mounting pressure, Anderson spotted a third, barely open, and threw.
“It was a Hail Mary,” says Anderson, the Spurs’ first-round draft pick. “Somebody caught it in the back of the end zone.”
His father leaped from the stands. His mother came down, too. Other relatives followed -- no one remembers exactly who or how many -- and the celebration was on. What the son remembers eight years later is his father’s hug. It was warm and proud, a heartfelt embrace he had never felt in all the years he’d played basketball for his dad.
“Back then, he was really hard on me,” Anderson says. “He would never really show how proud he was just to keep me humble. I always thought he was rooting against me but that was never the case. He just wanted to keep me level-headed. But I remember how proud I made him the day I threw that game-winning touchdown pass. I remember how much he showed it.”
The father -- also named Kyle Anderson -- can still see his son eluding the pass rush, going left, firing the ball to just the right spot for the game-winning score. “It was Joe Montana-ish,” the father says. “It really was.”
Before he grew into a 6-foot-9 basketball sensation, the son used to play a little football. That should not surprise. The youngest of five siblings, the son descends from a family of athletes.
A grandfather, Clifton Anderson, played end for the New York Giants and Chicago Cardinals. One brother, Jamar Wilkins, set the tackles-for-a-loss record at Connecticut. A second brother, Duane Guilliod, played basketball for Jersey City State College (now Jersey City University). Dad played hoops for Glassboro State College (now Rowan University). In high school, one sister, Taleia, ran the middle distances while the other sister, Brittany, played softball.
It’s an intriguing family tree. The son’s mother, Suzanne, did not play sports. But she has a 6-foot-5 father and a 6-8 brother from whom the son gets his height and 7-foot 3-inch wingspan.
The genetic mystery is speed. Dad was quick. Taleia had a burst, Duane a motor. Even Jamar could move. Then there was Brittany, a blur on the basepath. “She couldn’t hit the ball to save her life,” her father says. “But she would drag bunt and outrun people. That’s the only way she could get on base. And once she got on base, she was going to score.”
So how did the son end up with a shortage of fast-twitch muscle? “I don’t know where that came from,” says the Spur nicknamed "Slow-mo." “Man, everybody in my family is fast except for me.”
The most accomplished athlete in the Anderson clan is Clifton, a dual-sport star at Indiana. Clifton earned All-America honors in the shot put and discus in 1951. A year later, he became a second-round pick of the Chicago Cardinals. Clifton caught two touchdown passes as a rookie and was traded to the New York Giants. A knee injury ended his NFL career after two seasons.
He coached football and track at Maryland Eastern Shore for 18 seasons. Two of his players, Art Shell and Carl Hairston, starred in the NFL. They named a football field after him at Eastern Shore. Track and cross country meets at the school bear his name.
Clifton was a pioneer, one of the few African Americans in the early 1950s NFL. One teammate in New York -- an All-Pro halfback from San Antonio’s Thomas Jefferson High -- made such an impression, Clifton named a son after him: “Kyle Rote” Anderson.
Kyle, in turn, christened a son “Kyle” Forman Anderson. So the new Spur got his name from a San Antonio legend. Kyle Rote starred in football, basketball and track in high school, was a Heisman runner-up at SMU and hit .348 in the minor leagues. Mickey Mantle once called him “the greatest natural athlete I ever saw.”
Kyle Rote Anderson did not know how far his son’s athletic gifts would take him. But he caught a glimpse in that Hudson County Recreation League playoff game. His son did not like to scramble. He did not have the speed. A heavy rush though forced him to roll left. He stayed on his feet, dodging would-be tacklers, the clock ticking down to 0:00, until he an open receiver.
“Such poise,” the father says.
Poise and talent have carried the son from a youth football field to an NBA dream. Before the draft, Kyle Rote Anderson asked God to place his son on a team with a coach that would know how to use him.
“The Lord answered my prayer,” the father says. “I knew this day would come. I think he’s a perfect fit for the Spurs.”