Richard Anderson was perhaps best known to the masses as a Utah Jazz superfan, the guy who would try to get under the skin of opposing players — and, in the process, earn the near-constant ire of referees and the league office — with an assortment of unconventional props from his seat near the basket.
It’s a well-earned reputation, as he was something of a benign lunatic during games at the Salt Palace and Delta Center/EnergySolutions Arena/Vivint (Smart Home) Arena.
“The players thought he was absolutely a trip — in a good way!” said Gordie Chiesa, who spent 16 seasons as a Jazz assistant coach. “He was a zany character who loved the Jazz.”
Anderson was much more than just the guy who waved around a rubber chicken, though.
He was a world-renowned ophthalmologist and facial plastic surgeon who treated everyone from dignitaries and royalty to a scared 13-year-old in Preston, Idaho, with infected tear ducts.
He was a doting grandpa as devoted to attending the sporting events of his children’s children as any Jazz playoff matchup.
Even there, though, some habits proved hard to break.
“I did love it when he came to my games. When I used to play water polo, that was when he was my biggest supporter,” said Bauer Anderson, Richard’s grandson, now a 17-year-old student and volleyball player at Westlake High School in Saratoga Springs. “I mean, sometimes he’d heckle at my water polo games when I was 12! Just at the refs, not at the kids.”
He couldn’t help but make an impression on those around him, creating memories that will live on long after the man who succumbed to cancer at the age of 78 just a few short weeks ago.
It seems everyone who came across him came away with a story to tell.
“I worked as the usher in charge of the area behind the basket, including [around] Dr. Anderson’s seats from 2005-2016. There was a night that I had to miss a game due to being sick. I was watching the game, which happened to be on TNT, when they showed Rick getting thrown out in the first quarter. At halftime, Charles Barkley went on a rant about how much he hated the good doctor as a player,” said Bob Aagard, of Millcreek. “The next game, I asked Rick what he had done to get tossed so early. He said that the ref had been here the week before, and had made a bad call late in the game that Rick had gotten after him for. So, at the first TV timeout, Rick yelled at him that the call was ‘still bulls---.’ Rick laughed about Barkley’s comments, and said that Chuck was a rare player that nearly always interacted with him.”
More often than not, when Anderson wasn’t ticking off refs by questioning their aptitude, he was annoying them with his seemingly never-ending supply of props.
He’d swing around a rubber chicken. He’d open and close and twirl around an umbrella while someone from the visiting team was trying to shoot free throws. He’d bring a multitude of cones to act as mini-megaphones, passing them around to fellow fans nearby — but always with the admonition, “It’s not a gift, it’s a loan!”
There was also the time he brought his then-young son Mark’s saxophone to a game, attempting to replicate the sound of the shot clock buzzer in an attempt to induce panicked shot attempts from the opposing team. The band instrument, of course, was soon a banned instrument, confiscated by security.
“Hughie Evans, Dick Bavetta, and Ed Rush, who reffed a lot of Jazz games, I remember those guys always going over to Dr. Anderson when he was waving the chicken on the stick, and they would say, ‘You’ve got to take that down.’ And he would say, ‘Why?’” recalled Chiesa. “And then he’d take it down for maybe 5 minutes, and then 5 minutes later he’d do it again.”
Cognizant of being an irritant not just to opponents and refs but also potentially to the fans around him, Anderson for years purchased four season tickets — two for him and his wife/kids/grandkids, and the two right behind those seats, so that he wouldn’t be obstructing anyone’s view with his antics and asked to sit down.
Naturally, he became as close to a celebrity fan as the Jazz arguably have ever had. If he was not quite Jack Nicholson, there was nevertheless always a steady stream of awestruck attendees coming over to meet him.
“My sister and I got hooked up with courtside seats many years ago. During halftime, while we were down eating, we ran into him. He stopped and talked to us and took a picture with us,” recalled Tyson Hatch, of Lehi. “We were thrilled! That guy is a Jazz icon!”
The players certainly took notice.
“He was super-supportive of the Jazz, and a likely irritant for opposing teams,” said former Jazz wing Blue Edwards. “Jazz fans are great — loyal and enthusiastic as hell. Richard Anderson was undoubtedly chief among them.”
Aagard, the usher in Anderson’s section, noted that he was one of one as a fan. He remembered a time the doctor accidentally left behind his famous “Not in our House” sign, and Aagard retrieved it, locked it up for safekeeping, and returned it to him at the next game.
“He smiled and gave me a big hug,” Aagard recalled. “He said it meant a lot that I cared enough to make sure he got it back. I told him how important that sign was to Jazz fans.”
The first few times Bauer Anderson attended games with his “‘Pa,” he kept wondering why so many strangers seemed to know who he was.
Then again, he concedes now, as weird as that seemed to him then, the reason for it was, in actuality, something bizarre that seemed quite straightforward to him at the time.
“It was always people wanting to meet him, all the security guards loved him. Everyone knew who he was whenever we went, and I was always wondering why he was so famous,” Bauer said. “I guess it took me a while to realize that no one else brings rubber chickens to basketball games. … I was just born into him doing that, so it seemed normal. It was just like, ‘Oh, Pa’s waving his rubber chicken again.’”
In later years, Anderson had whichever grandchild got to attend a particular game with him haul around the duffel bag full of his stuff. Bauer Anderson has many of those items now — the chicken, the umbrella, a mask. And they’re meaningful to him.
Just not quite as meaningful as the acts of love and support his grandpa showed him.
Bauer’s favorite memories are of family vacations to a cabin at Table Rock Lake near Branson, Mo., where Richard Anderson loved to go boating and water skiing, and to whip the young kids around on an inner tube. Or how anytime the AC/DC song “You Shook Me All Night Long” came on, the doctor would get up on a stage or on a table or just stand up at whatever restaurant or wedding he was at and just start belting out lead singer Brian Johnson’s gravel-voiced raunchy lyrics at the top of his lungs.
Or when, as a season ticket-holder, he would take Bauer and cousins Alex and Olivia to Jazz player autograph signings. Bauer now grimaces at the memory of how excited he was then to get to meet — gulp — Gordon Hayward. Still, it’s the aftermath of those events which lingers on more in his heart.
“There was one time when he only took me to a Jazz signing, and then we just talked all the way home, about how I was doing, about how he was doing,” said Bauer Anderson. “It was a nice time.”
It wasn’t just family members and fellow fans that Anderson impacted, though.
Kevin Kindred, the aforementioned teen from Preston, Idaho, now an adult resident of Spanish Fork, knew Dr. Anderson as, well, a doctor first, before he became aware of his famous and infamous fandom.
The latter certainly helped ease his mind with the former, though.
“Dr. Anderson was my surgeon when I was a kid and had an infected tear duct. I was only 13 at the time, and pretty scared, but when I went to his office and saw all the Jazz gear that he had, there was an instant connection,” Kindred said. “He was a wonderful surgeon and man. From that point on, my parents and I saw him on TV behind the basket for nearly every Jazz game, and we always loved how he tried to influence the game and affect the opposing team’s free-throw percentage. I’m sorry to hear he passed away.”
Chiesa, meanwhile, came to know Anderson away from the court, too, as the doctor took on the ex-coach’s mother-in-law as a patient when she started having eye trouble.
“You might see him at games and just think he’s this zany guy,” Chiesa said, “but he was so accomplished and absolutely thorough to the extreme.”
He was that way in his Jazz fandom, too.
Bauer Anderson said that at the last game they ever attended together, Anderson came empty-handed. When his grandson asked him where all his stuff was, his grandpa claimed that the NBA had threatened to ban him if he brought anything that night.
Then again, Bauer added, “Pa” was always claiming the NBA was on the verge of banning him for his shenanigans — and that didn’t always stop him.
“Someone threatened his tickets if he brought a rubber chicken again. So instead of bringing a rubber chicken, he bought 50 of them and gave them out to everybody else [around him],” Bauer said, laughing. “But he didn’t have one.”