After missing last season with hip surgery, Wilson Chandler had a great summer. The Denver Nuggets forward spent his offseason switching up his diet, going vegan and spending time fishing, where he semi-famously caught a humungous grouper fish.
Now after getting back into the swing of things, Chandler re-joins the Nuggets as a 29-year-old veteran on a team full of early twenty-somethings with something to prove. Denver’s been one of the early surprises of the year sitting at 3-4 with recent road wins over the Boston Celtics and the Minnesota Timberwolves and Chandler is averaging 15.7 points and 6.2 boards per game.
Chandler spoke with SLAM about his diet change, his return to the court after missing last season, going deep-sea fishing and that it was like to be traded by the Knicks in 2011.
SLAM: What inspired your choice to go vegan?
Wilson Chandler: I think it was just about being health-conscious and then I was just reading a lot and I watched a few documentaries. I watched Food, Inc., I watched GMO OMG. I kind of think I made that connection—that’s what inspired me.
SLAM: Was there anyone that you spoke to that you looked for advice on going vegan?
WC: Yeah, I had a friend in L.A. She had this service where she taught people the benefits of being vegan and just all about the GMOs in food, the benefits of the alkaline diet. So she kind of helped me a lot.
SLAM: What’s the best vegan meal you’ve had?
WC: Actually, right now, Detroit Vegan Soul in Detroit, Michigan. I’ve been here maybe eight or nine times and about to head over there right now to get a soul food platter. I also get a catfish sandwich made out of tofu.
SLAM: Is anyone on your team interested in going vegan?
WC: It’s like they want to know more, but they’re kind of like, ‘Ah, you’re vegan?’ and that’s about it.
SLAM: You have a diverse roster with Nikola Jokic from Serbia, Jusuf Nurkic from Bosnia, Danilo Gallinari from Italy and Emmanuel Mudiay from the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa. Have you learned anything from being around that group of players coming from different countries?
WC: Yeah, it’s different. Nothing different in culture or vibe, but this year it’s different because we travel a lot together. It’s nice to be around guys like that because you learn more about the world, different countries and different cultures.
SLAM: You have more of a veteran role on this team. Do you find yourself helping the young guys on the roster adjust to the NBA?
WC: When you have guys from different countries, there’s always going to be a barrier in terms of language or just having a feel for the game. In-game, you always want to be a positive outlet for those guys.
SLAM: Was there anything that you can point to in terms of someone didn’t understand what was going on, or they had culture shock when trying to get adjusted to the NBA culture in America?
WC: I think with the traveling, how many games we play, the back-to-backs and four games in five nights, I think that’s a big adjustment for those guys. We play twice as many games [in the NBA]. I think they play maybe 25 or 30 games overseas. It’s a lot of wear and tear on your body, so diet and getting your rest is a big part of that.
SLAM: So fishing is something you’ve done for fun your whole life, right?
I grew up fishing on the bank and on the rivers of Michigan, but not deep-sea fishing. That was only my third time going and it was great.
SLAM: I watched the video of you catching the grouper fish and there was a lot of talk of technique with your hips. Was the necessary technique when having to get such a big fish out of water the biggest surprise for?
WC: Yeah, definitely. Like you said the technique was crazy. You have to have it down pat just to be able to fish. The second thing is when they was telling me, ‘When you catch this fish, it’s going to be this hard, going to be this big.’ Even that doesn’t really prepare you because when it first hits the line, it’s crazy. You have to experience it, it was an adrenaline rush. I had a great time so I just want to do it a few more times in the offseason.
SLAM: The Nuggets are a young team that has shown a lot of improvement. Where do you think the team can go this year and in the future?
WC: I think we can be a really good team and competitive. I think we can make the playoffs. It’s just a situation where we gotta get the guys comfortable playing with each other, coach [Mike Malone] figuring out which lineups he’s going to go with, which lineups work best together.
I think it’s kind of figuring it out on both sides from the players standpoint and from the coaches and front office. I think once you get that figured out, then I think the sky’s the limit for the team.
SLAM: Do you really notice the change in the altitude in Denver as a road and home player? Is it an advantage?
WC: It’s a huge advantage. It’s not a myth, it’s real. I know a lot of people say it’s not real, but it’s definitely real. We’ve played numerous teams where guys are gasping for air and are tired by the third or fourth quarter.
SLAM: You were coming off of a missed season because of hip surgery. What was it like being away from the team and how hard was it and how do you prepare after missing the entire season?
WC: When something you love gets taken away from you it’s tough. You have to sit there watching and you can’t be a part of it, so just from that standpoint it’s super tough not being able to be around the team during the games. When you see the team struggling during a game and you know you can help in certain ways, it’s definitely tough.
Being back this year, it’s been a blessing. I’m still finding my rhythm, but being able to play with those guys and help them along the way has been great so far. So, hopefully we continue to build this year.
SLAM: If you go on YouTube and watch Wilson Chandler dunks or highlights, you won’t see a celebration after you make a big play. Where did you develop that calm personality?
WC: I’ve always been a calm person since I was a kid. My grandma was calm, so I think a lot of that comes from her. I’m just kind of reserved, relaxed and I think it just comes from the way I grew up.
SLAM: Have you ever thrown someone like Kevin Garnett off of their game because you won’t react to their trash talking since you’re so reserved?
WC: Nah, not really. It’s kind of like the opposite, I’ve never been intimidated by ‘rah-rah’ guys. I respect KG, though, he’s one of the greatest players to ever play.
SLAM: What was it like playing for the Knicks?
WC: I miss playing there. Madison Square Garden alone is the greatest arena in the world. Being in New York, there’s energy in the people and the fans. They know a lot about basketball and how they react to the game is like on a whole ‘nother level. So I definitely have respect for it and I miss it sometimes.
SLAM: I always thought the team with Amar’e, Felton, Landry Fields, Gallo and coach D’Antoni was a lot of fun. Was it tough to be playing well individually and as a team and then to be traded in the middle of the season?
WC: Yeah, I mean we all know D’Antoni’s system. It was kind of perfect for the players that we had. Amar’e had played in it before and guys like Gallo and me flourished in [the systerm]. It was tough; it was my first time being traded from a situation that was working for me.
SLAM: Do you remember anything from getting that call about the trade?
WC: Yeah, I remember that whole day. It was kind of like the day we had gotten back from All-Star break. The gym was kind of quiet, the energy really wasn’t there. I don’t know if Amar’e missed a practice or if he had something to do, but he wasn’t at practice. It felt like a weird day. And then I went home and I was asleep. Then my girlfriend woke me up and she was like, ‘You just got traded to the Nuggets’ and then my phone had missed calls from my agent and the GM of the Knicks at the time.