His first tattoo? Chris "Birdman" Andersen turns over his left forearm. He points to a Chinese symbol in black ink amid the body by Brito.

"Good,'' he says, translating the symbol.

He turns over his right forearm to show another Chinese symbol.

"Evil,'' he says.

What do you do when your life is a contradiction? When your public self clashes with your private story? When you bodily broadcast yourself like a cartoon figure through tattoos and a Mohawk haircut, but move quietly and are really, as Heat teammate Dwyane Wade says, "a man of few words?"

To understand Andersen — to at least understand this story about him — you need to hear why he chose these first tattoos and, for the time, ignore all the others on his body that provide cover for one of the more amazing journeys in the NBA.

Think of it: He was abandoned by parents at one point. He rode a bike eight miles on a dirt road to school each day. He graduated from a class of 34. He quit community college. He played in China at 20. He moved from one minor basketball league to another to yet another before — ta-da! — landing in the NBA.

And then the real crises began. Drugs. Career issues. Legal concerns.

All that, and he's an important piece and fan favorite as the Heat start the Eastern Conference finals tonight against Indiana?

Andersen, 33, looks down at those forearm tattoos he received at age 21 while playing in a minor league in Albuquerque, N.M. When asked why he chose them specifically, he answers, "That's me, I'm kind of between good and evil."

He offers nothing more. You sense a door closing, and not for the last time in this story. When asked why he's between good and evil, he says, "It's all personal, man."

The door closes a little more.

When asked why it's so personal, he says, distantly now, latching the door shut, "It's just how it is."