Where Are They Now:Anderson Varejao
The Beloved Brazilian Big Man Looks Back on His Evolution with the Wine and Gold
by Joe Gabriele (@CavsJoeG)
6/12/20 | Cavs.com
This past season, the Cavaliers celebrated their 50th season as a franchise. And over the course of that half-century of hoops, there has never been a player like Anderson Varejao.
The heart. The hustle. The hair!
In 12 1/2 seasons with the Wine & Gold, the man colloquially known as “Andy” -- or by his on-court alias “Wild Thing” – carved a unique niche and became one of the most beloved figures in franchise history.
A tenacious rebounder and dogged defender, Varejao suited up for 591 regular season games and 71 postseason contests for the Cavs. Among the organization’s all-time leaders, he ranks 7th in games played – beneath Austin Carr and above Mark Price. He’s 4th in offensive rebounds, 5th in defensive rebounds, 6th in overall rebounds, 7th in blocked shots and 8th in steals.
Andy is also 6th on the team’s all-time list in personal fouls, with 1,579. Players that faced him over that stretch probably thought he committed twice that many. He was a master at getting under an opponent’s skin.
The 30th overall pick of the 2004 Draft by the Orlando Magic out of F.C. Barcelona, Varejao was originally thought to be a throw-in on a deal that also landed Drew Gooden in exchange for Tony Battie and two second rounders.
The Brazilian big with the crazy locks became an immediate fan favorite. And he backed it up with his play – doing a lion’s share of the dirty work that allowed LeBron James to flourish and take the team to its first Finals appearance in franchise history in 2007.
He was averaging a double-double before a wrist injury cut his season short in 2011-12. And before being sidelined for the season due to a lower lung pulmonary embolism in 2012-13, he was having his best season as a pro – leading the league in rebounding at 14.4rpg to go with scoring at a 14.1ppg clip.
Two seasons later, he was rejoined by his old friend and teammate, James, who guided the Wine and Gold back to the NBA Finals in his first year back in town.
The following season, the Cavs brass made a gut-wrenching decision at the trade deadline – sending Varejao to Portland in a three-team deal that netted Cleveland sharp-shooting big man, Channing Frye.
After being waived by the Blazers, Andy signed with Golden State for the remainder of the 2015-16 season. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Cavalier fans don’t have to feel conflicted anymore.
After an exhilarating, title-winning season playing with Flamengo in Brazil, Varejao is back in Cleveland – with his wife and two-month-old baby daughter. And for a man who has always been affable and lively, he’s never sounded happier.
In today’s installment of Where Are They Now?, we catch up with the proud papa …
During his 12 seasons with Cleveland, Varejao established himself as one of the best rebounders in franchise history.
David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
So, first things first, what are you up to right now?
Anderson Varejao: Well, I’m back in Cleveland.
The last year-and-a-half, I was in Brazil. I played for Flamengo, and I had a great experience. It was awesome to be back there, actually.
I signed with Flamengo halfway through the 2018 season. I was excited because I wanted my next move to be meaningful, and Flamengo was just that; it was the team I grew up cheering for and hoping one day to play for.
In my first season, we ended up finishing in first place in the regular season, but we lost in the semifinals.
The second season, we came back and basically won every tournament and NBB competition (Novo Basquete Brasil) which included the state tournament, the Super-8 (The league’s top 8 teams mid-season), and the Finals. The Finals were unique not only did we play against Franca, the team with the best record, but also Franca was the team that I played for in Brazil before I left for Barcelona and before I came to the NBA. So, it was a big deal.
We wound up beating them in Game 5 in their house – it was unbelievable!
That was the first time I believe that I cried after winning a championship.
At the hotel the night before Game 5, fans were going around with fireworks – ’BAM!’ ‘BANG!!’ So we were up all night; it was impossible to sleep. We had security guards at the hotel trying to run them off, but it didn’t work.
Regardless of the Franca fans’ efforts, we wound up beating them in Franca, which was crazy! It was one of the most emotional championships I’ve won in my career. I don’t know if it was the circumstances – that I played there – or the pressure, maybe a little bit of everything.
Whenever I would touch the ball, the whole arena would scream. They had signs against me everywhere in the arena. There was a lot of hate ! Where there once was a lot of love because that’s where I started my professional career, and the Franca fans always identified me as one of there own. But I believe they were just to try to distract me.
I feel like if I went back there, everything would be OK. But it was tough, man.
I was just glad that I was able to help the team, and we wound up winning it.
After that, I played in the World Cup with the Brazilian national team in China.
Then I came back to Cleveland; I had offers overseas and a couple of teams throughout the NBA. Though I decided to stay with my wife throughout her pregnancy – go to every doctor’s appointment. For example, the first ultrasound we went in and heard the baby’s heartbeat, it was very emotional.
It was important to me to make sure I was present and part of everything. I was able to go to sleep at night talking to the baby in my wife’s belly, and every time I would speak – whether it was in English or Portuguese – I would get a reaction from the baby as if she knew I was talking to her.
It was just beautiful to be able to do that – and to be able to choose to do that.
So, now I’m in Cleveland, staying in shape. My physical therapist, who is also the Brazilian National Team’s PT, flew to Cleveland to personalize workouts and treatment to keep me in shape and prepared to compete for the Olympics.
When they shut things down, all I could think is how important my wife’s and daughter’s health are, so I stopped going places and started working out at home.
Unfortunately, they had to cancel the Olympics, which was one of my goals. But I’m going to stay ready and see what happens.
I’m not retired just yet; my goal is to play one more season, then go qualify for the Olympics. We’re not there yet. We’d have to go to Croatia to do so. And if we do, I’ll play in the Olympics, and then I’ll probably be done. That would be enough for me.
But right now, I’m enjoying my daughter alongside my wife each and every day as much as I can. It’s just beautiful, it’s an amazing feeling. It’s hard to explain.
Everyone that is able should go through this to understand what it’s like to be a father or a mother. It’s really the best feeling!
Where would you like to finish your playing career?
Varejao: I’m not sure what’s going to happen yet. I’m just staying in shape, taking care of my body. So, whether it’s Brazil or if it’s the NBA.
I wouldn’t go just anywhere. Kind of what I did with Flamengo, I would only go somewhere that would be meaningful to me.
I know I can be a valuable vet for a team, with my experience (Brazil, Europe, NBA, and National Team). I believe I can really help younger guys.
"I never get tired of saying this, but Z (Zydrunas Ilgauskas) was really helpful. He took me under his wing, and he showed me everything. He was my mentor."
Maybe if I were to reconnect with a former team, coach, or teammate, it would make for a more meaningful situation. I come in, be the vet on the roster and then transition into a role with the franchise. But again, it would have to be the right situation.
Looking back, what do you remember from your early years in Cleveland?
Varejao: I remember my rookie year, having no idea what was really going on!
It was mostly because I didn’t really speak any English. And I never get tired of saying this, but Z (Zydrunas Ilgauskas) was really helpful. He took me under his wing, and he showed me everything. He was my mentor.
Z and I had two connections before I got here. One, we had the same agent (Herb Rodoy), and two, one of my great friends and teammates in Barcelona, was Sarunas Jasikevicius, who was Z’s best friend. So, he told Z about me, and we had this connection right away.
Here’s a story from when I first got to Cleveland.
I was staying at a hotel downtown, and Z calls and says: ‘Hey, I’ll come get you, and we’ll go to dinner.’
I was here for less than a week and my English well I couldn’t understand much. I mean, I understood a couple of words – and I knew that he meant he was ‘coming to get me for dinner,’ and that we were going to go to Sushi Rock.
So we go to dinner, and we sat there, and he’s trying to say stuff in Spanish, and I’m trying to say things in English, but it wasn’t really working out. So, he was like: ‘Let’s just order a beer.’ Beer, I knew, of course.
So, we got one beer, we started talking. We got another beer, and we kept talking. Then another beer. And I swear, I felt like by the time we got to six beers, he was fluent in Spanish, and I was fluent in English!
When he got home, his wife Jennifer asked: ‘So, what’s he like?’ And Z said: ‘Well, we really didn’t understand each other, but that &%@#&%#@ can drink!!’
But Z was great. He would take me to dinner everywhere on the road. He even ordered my food.
He knew when I got here that I was trying to stay in shape. So, I would order a salad no matter what and then a main course. He had that down. He would explain the menu, even do the mimics – do the arm motion and the clucking for chicken.
He was amazing.
You also joined a high-profile team that featured LeBron James. What was that experience like?
Varejao: No matter where we went, it was always crazy. Hotels, people waiting for us – actually LeBron, right? – to get there. But it was really crazy and different because in Brazil and Europe we didn’t have stuff like that. We had people that, I mean, we had fans who would wait after the games and would ask for autographs, but with LeBron, it went on a different level – all the stuff to sign, all the people, the fans.
He wasn’t even 21 when I got here, which was unbelievable.
Not quite LeBron level, but your star rose pretty quickly in Cleveland. How much did it help that you were an early fan favorite?
Varejao: It happened very quickly, and to be honest, I didn’t expect it.
Getting to Cleveland, I knew I would try to do my best to stay with the team and play my game and do what I felt would help the team.
One thing about me, every team I play for, I always try to figure out: What I can do to help? My role with the Cavs was different than my role with the Brazilian National Team, my role with the National Team was different than my role with Barcelona, which was different from the Warriors and Flamengo.
So, being on a team with LeBron, I knew if I set good screens and go for every offensive rebound and play good defense, that I probably was going to play.
I think it was right after the preseason that people kind of started to scream my name for Coach Silas to put me in. We played one or two preseason games, and the crowd would start to get excited when they’d put me in.
"It’s been 20 years since I’ve been playing professionally. (You miss) even the everyday stuff: going to practice, getting ready for games, sitting in the locker room, talking about nothing, talking about everything, talking about life in general, the jokes, the locker room talk."
Here I was from a different country I didn't speak the language and people are cheering for me to get in the game, that was really big for my confidence and truly was a warm welcome kind of like love at first sight. I care so much for the city of Cleveland. To have that connection, it was beautiful, and that’s one of the reasons I still live in Cleveland.
Are you still in contact with any of the guys?
Varejao: I played with so many good guys and was part of so many great coaching and front office staff when I was with the Cavs. I do talk to a lot of them every once in a while, but only some of them on a regular base. I talk Z. -Zydrunas Ilgaukas, A.P. – Anthony Parker, Sasha Pavlovic, Delly, and the other day I spoke to J.R.
The (2016) Finals against the Warriors were on, and there was a play, it was a fast break, I went for a layup, he fouled me, and they had to review the play. So he posted the vídeo with the play happening in the background, and said something like: ‘Come on, Andy?!!! Really??” It was funny.
It was good to give each other a hard time.
What do you miss about the league? What don’t you miss?
Varejao: When you’re away for a while – by choice, of course – you just miss the locker room stuff, the road trips.
You miss all that. It’s part of you. It’s been part of you for so long. It’s been 20 years since I’ve been playing professionally. (You miss) even the everyday stuff: going to practice, getting ready for games, sitting in the locker room, talking about nothing, talking about everything, talking about life in general, the jokes, the locker room talk.
Especially the days back when we had Z and A.P., We had great laughs, great stories, good dinners. All that. Those days were really, really memorable. And I do miss that.
What I don’t miss are the long, long, long film sessions – sitting in the vídeo room, going over and over stuff.
And to be honest, I don’t miss getting up in the afternoons on the road and going to the game.
I don’t miss the late-night flights – a four-hour trip and get to a city where it’s cold and snowing. I know it’s more convenient than getting a regular flight the next day. But I still don’t miss it.
We have to talk about the deadline trade back in 2016. How did you feel then, and how do you feel now?
Varejao: Of course, when it happened, I didn’t want to leave. I heard some rumors about it, but I wasn’t sure because nobody told me you’re going to get traded. So, I didn’t know.
I went to shoot around that day – I think it was shootaround – and when I got home, I got the phone call.
I was really sad. I was upset. I wanted to stay in Cleveland. But I understood – it’s a business.
I wasn’t the first player to get traded after being with a franchise for so long, and I guarantee I’m not going to be the last. But life moves on. It wasn’t something that I wanted, but it happened. And I understand: it’s part of the business.
"When people ask me, I say I’m a Clevelander. The reason I say that is because I’ve been living in Cleveland since 2004. This is the place that I’ve lived the longest in my life. Even longer than in my hometown."
So, I feel now the same way I felt then. After a while, you learn how this business goes.
But I don’t hold anything against the organization or the Cavs.
Even the fans who booed me when I came back. It’s fine, I understand. Fans go with passion over everything. It’s a passion that they have, and they want to win and to protect their team.
So I have nothing against the organization. If I had to say something, it’s just the appreciation I have for the Cavs and the city, the organization. From day one of my rookie years, they were great to me.
You have no beef with the fans who gave you a hard time when you came back with Golden State?
Varejao: (laughs) Well, I don’t know what was said after I was traded, but to this day, some people think that I just left the Cavs. And that’s not what happened! I was traded. They called me ‘traitor’ and stuff.
Here’s a story from that series.
You know when (players line up) for the National Anthem and you have those little kids in front of you? I had one of those kids turn around and call me ‘traitor’!!
I told him: ‘Listen, buddy – let me tell you something: You’re too young to be saying that, and that’s not what happened! Be careful what you’re saying. I was traded.’
And he said, ‘Really?’
And I thought, ‘Ok, I don’t think everybody knows what happened in Cleveland yet.’
Do you still watch the Cavs? Root for them?
Varejao: Yes, I still watch the Cavs. I still root for the Cavs to do well.
I know they’re going through a rebuilding process right now, which happens. I went through a rebuilding process with the Cavs. It’s not easy.
But I feel like if they keep playing for each other with one goal – get better as a team, put ego aside and do what it takes to be a tough team, they have a chance to become something special.
So I watch it when I can. Maybe not the whole game, but parts of the game. It’s tough – there were some games that they were up big and ended up losing.
But that’s part of the rebuilding process. It’s going to happen. It’s frustrating, but you have to go through it.
In terms of watching the team, you were pretty close to Fred McLeod, and you came right from a long plane flight to attend his wake. How hard did that hit you?
Varejao: I was actually in China when I got the news. It was right after the World Cup, and I had just gone to the Great Wall with my wife and my brothers and sisters. And I was in my hotel room, and I got a text message about Fred. I couldn’t believe it. It hit me so hard. I was so sad.
Fred was a very active guy, and he worked out a lot; every hotel, you’d see him working out. He was in great shape. He’d watch what he’d eat. He did everything the right way.
It was unfortunate, for sure. And I’m not the only one who feels this way.
Fred was fun to be around. He was so well-prepared for every situation. On the bus or on the plane, he would know my stuff better than me! He’d tell me something I did, and I’d be like ‘Whoa!’ I didn’t even remember that.
He’d make sure he’d know how to pronounce my last name – he’d sit with me and work on it (even though he’d say ‘Andy’ most of the time). And when we’d play against someone I’d played with or against in Europe, and he would come up with stories; he knew everything about when it happened, what year.
But he was like that with every player.
He was just a great guy. A lot of people miss him, and I miss him a lot.
I just hope Beth is staying strong and trying to move on in life without him. Because I know it’s not easy.
How are you enjoying our buddy, John Michael, in that spot now?
Varejao: I think John Michael is doing a great job. He used to do the radio, and he looks very comfortable, very natural doing TV. He’s doing a great job.
I think it’s a significant change when you go from radio to TV. How to carry yourself, how to dress. And I’m really happy for him. He’s such a great guy.
I’m very happy for him to get this opportunity. I know the circumstances weren’t the best for him, but I’m happy for him that he got this chance.
After everything, it sounds like you’re really at peace with your family in Cleveland. Is that accurate?
Varejao: When people ask me, I say I’m a Clevelander. The reason I say that is because I’ve been living in Cleveland since 2004. This is the place that I’ve lived the longest in my life. Even longer than in my hometown. Of course, I love my hometown – Vitória. But when I left Vitória, I was 16 years old, and before that, I lived in a smaller town (São João de Petrópolis) until I was 11.
I’m back in Cleveland. My wife is from Wisconsin; she loves it here! We just had a baby. This is home for us, and we are really happy here.
What I would tell the fans in Cleveland is that I’m not mad at anybody or anything. I’m back here. I love the fans. I’m always going to appreciate what they’ve done for me since day one, the support they gave me even during my bad days. That’s why I made sure after every game and every time I had the chance to stop and show them some love – sign autographs or take pictures – I did.
I went back just this year for Z’s Bobblehead Night. I stopped, signed, took pictures. The fans showed me, love!
It was great seeing a lot of familiar faces working in the arena. I haven’t seen them in so long. Everybody. From the guy that cleans the arena to the top front office, it was good to see them. Some, I didn’t get a chance to see them or say hello.
Being there was giving me flashbacks!
Those are the memories you take with you for the rest of your life.