A smiling Tyson Chandler stands on the court of Dallas’ American Airlines Center, eyes transfixed on the JumboTron hanging from the arena ceiling. Jeremy Lin, positioned on Chandler’s right, gazes at the screen with the eyes of an impressed younger brother, joining the stares of the rest of the Knicks. Together, as a team, they watch as the Mavericks honor their former center with a video tribute.
This montage, however, is different than most. Seven plays from last year’s Playoffs are shown. The first is Chandler blocking LaMarcus Aldridge from behind. A nice block, but nothing special. The next is Chandler emphatically grabbing an offensive rebound against Portland, gathering himself, and…getting fouled before he could get the ball up to the basket. After that was the Championship-altering charge that the 7-1 center drew on LeBron James in Game 5 of last year’s Finals. Then there is Chandler diving on the floor to save a ball that he stripped from Udonis Haslem, followed by a clip of him softly blocking a Dwyane Wade foul-line jumper. Finally, two dunks are shown, almost as if the group in charge of putting together the tribute had received a last-minute memo instructing them to insert some highlights of Chandler actually putting the ball in the basket.
Fast forward a little over a week, and the roller coaster ride that has been the Knicks season has gotten crazier. Linsanity has cooled, and the Knicks, losers of six in a row, have dropped to six games below .500. Their defense, which has kept them in Playoff contention all season, has become dismal. Their effort is lackluster. The offense, despite finally having the previously injured Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire back in the lineup, is stagnant. Mike D’Antoni and the Knicks decide to part ways hours before the team plays Portland. Mike Woodson takes over as interim head coach, and the Knicks go on to trounce the Trail Blazers 121-79. Yet another chapter in the story that is the ’11-12 New York Knicks season begins.
“I haven’t been through anything like this since the beginning of my career,” Chandler says in the locker room after the Blazers game. “But it’s time for us to change things here. Time for us to stop having the revolving door of players and coaches, and to make a statement that we’re going to be here for a while.”
What’s funny about that statement is that Tyson Chandler, the man who has become The Voice of the Knicks, was never supposed to be a Knick in the first place. Since ’08, the Knicks have had a plan: clear cap space and buy their own Big Three. And until this offseason, they hadn’t veered from it once. Then the lockout happened, the amnesty clause was created and all of a sudden New York changed its plan. It amnestied Chauncey Billups and signed the 29-year-old Chandler to a four-year, $58 million contract.
Which brings us to another funny sentence: The Knicks’ best player this season has been Tyson Chandler. Even before Mike Woodson took over, the Knicks had played vastly better defense this season, ranking in the top-10 in efficiency (after being 21st last season). The difference has been the man from that video montage.
“We haven’t had a guy like him since Patrick Ewing,” says assistant coach Herb Williams, a man who knows Knicks basketball, considering he’s been associated with the team for over 20 years. “In terms of having a guy back there with his energy, athleticism and who controls everything, we just haven’t had a guy like that. And that’s starting to rub off on the rest of the team. All Tyson cares about are wins and losses.”
Chandler’s teammates have also noticed the change he’s brought to 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue. “The way he controls the paint, blocks shots, is a presence in the back line, always talks, that’s all made such a big difference,” says Jared Jeffries, another defensive-minded player.
Now the Knicks are hoping that Chandler’s ways spread to all of his teammates. They are hoping, essentially, that every man in the locker room unlocks their inner Tyson Chandler. If and when that happens, watch out for the new-look Knicks.
“I have no regrets about coming here,” says Chandler, the day before a win over Philadelphia brings New York’s record to 5-0 under Woodson. “I love this city and I love my teammates, and I love the progressions that we’ve made. I feel like we have a bright future.”