If you ask Tyson Chandler about how life has been for him, he might say “great” outright. But we know it’s an understatement.
Like any other teenage basketball prospect gifted with height and incredible leaping ability, Chandler already feels blessed, having made it to the NBA. So to become a No. 2 pick in the Draft, a Defensive Player of the Year, an All-NBA Team member, a one-time NBA All-Star, and an NBA champion were all bonuses for a man who once lived a tough life on the streets of Compton, Los Angeles.
An opportunity to turn things around
In an exclusive interview with The Undefeated in 2020, Chandler opened up about the challenges he had to overcome to give his family a better life.
As a lean, savvy, seven-footer in high school, Chandler knew early on that the future could be bright for him. Typically, it was just a matter of how and when, but in Chandler’s case, it was a make-or-break decision as he had to be sure that his next move would take him and his family out of a very difficult situation. Specifically, being homeless.
In the process, young Chandler struggled to focus. Fortunately, he had the support system he needed.
“I was 18 when I made the decision to go from high school to the NBA,” Chandler revealed. “My circumstances were tough. When I was sophomore and a junior, my family was homeless. I was staying from couch to couch. All of the cats there and even my little homies, everybody protected me. They were like, ‘You got a shot to make it out of here. We don’t. We can’t. We’re going to be here. So, you go ahead and you stay focused on what you focused on. We will make sure you don’t have no problems around here.’”
“I just remember, I was just like, ‘I got to make it. I got to do something to change this because I see where this is headed,’” he added.
Eventually, Chandler learned how to deal with all the stress, and he was able to maintain his lethal form on the basketball court. It was at Manuel Dominguez high school in Compton where he honed his skills and became one of the most sought-after teenage prospects in the country.
It didn’t take long before NBA scouts all showed up to see Chandler play, and from that point forward, he knew that the time had come, and there was no turning back.
“At the time I was out in Compton, and my mom, my stepdad, and my brothers were homeless,” he recalled. “It was before they moved down to L.A. They were staying with my mom’s best friend and I would go back on weekends.”
“At the time I was living with an uncle on the borderline of Compton and Long Beach,” he continued. “I was sleeping on his couch. The toughest thing was just really understanding where my family was at. There were two families in a three-bedroom house. They had one room as a couple, and their four kids were in the other room and my mom and my whole family was in one room. Just coming back, seeing that, seeing the neighborhood they were in, seeing what I already faced and what my brothers were facing, I said, ‘I can’t let them go through this because I had an opportunity.’”
KG pushed Tyson
By the time Chandler was officially drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 2001, the NBA was ruled by centers and power forwards who preyed on less-physical defenders inside the paint.
Back then, a big man didn’t have to have finesse because as long as he could dismantle his defender with brute strength, he could already make a living. And that is why guys like Kevin Garnett stood out in the eyes of Chandler.
For the youngster, Garnett was more than just a versatile player. Apart from family, KG was one of the people who pushed Chandler to the limits whenever he hit a slump.
“Kevin Garnett was the measuring stick,” Chandler admitted. “He’s everything that I wanted to be. Everything I looked up to. He’s what everybody in my generation was reaching for. He was just an animal. He inspired me from high school.”
“When I was in the gym by myself, he was at the top,” he continued. “There were others that I got motivation from, but he was at the top of the list. Whenever I got tired, I would picture him in my head, picture him dog-tired, and picture him pushing through it to get to where he is.”
He may not have reached the same footing as Garnett, but Chandler epitomized a reliable and well-rounded rim protector for almost the entirety of his 19-year NBA career. More importantly, knowing what he had to endure in life prior to making it to the league makes us realize that Chandler is way tougher than we all thought he already was.