By Ben Collins
Portraits Williams & Hirakawa
Tyson Chandler is fighting exhaustion. Between flying to his teammate Chris Paul’s De La Hoya-Mayweather fight get-together and attending multiple birthday parties for his young daughter Sacha-Marie, dude is running on empty.
“I was a zombie for a few days,” he says.
But you know what? Adventures like this are some of the things he probably should’ve done a long, long time ago. You try having the weight of the basketball world on your shoulders from the first second you picked up the rounded hunk of leather.
Tyson simply never had much of a chance to have weekends like this. Too much pressure. Almost no time.
When Tyson turned 13, he was already growing at an almost exponential rate and had the skills of a guard. Whispers that he would be the first seven-foot point guard were already surfacing; college recruiters were already looming. At a time when other kids were concerned about wearing too much cologne to a school dance, this kid was worrying about wearing too much cologne when 60 Minutes came to do a story on him.
By that point, even if he wanted to trade in a basketball for Solo cups, low ceilings and whatever else high school life is like in San Bernardino, CA, it wasn’t going to happen. Because it was never truly his choice to make.
“I wouldn’t want my son to go through it,” he says. (This is purely hypothetical; Sacha-Marie is currently the only heiress to Chandler family child stardom.) “It could definitely be too much for someone my age.”
As a freshman in high school, Tyson opted to transfer to Dominguez High School in Compton so his growth as a basketball player wouldn’t be stunted by lesser competition. And with that came 90-minute rides to school. Every day. Both ways. But even in that endless, arduous trek, the game never lost its allure.
“My whole life, basketball has been fun. It’s never felt like a job,” he says. “With all the expectations growing up, there were always doubters. There was always someone saying, ‘Aw, he can’t be that good.’ But that’s where I got enjoyment—I wanted to prove all the doubters wrong.”
So he did. In his final season at Dominguez, Chandler recorded 20.1 points, 11.3 rebounds and 4.7 blocks per game, sometimes as a small forward, sometimes as a power forward and sometimes as a 5.
This versatility? Completely, absolutely not on purpose.
“It was kinda brought upon me,” he says about his adaptability. “It’s nothing that I did. It’s a blessing and a curse.”
College coaches would have loved him for it, were they not already resigned to the fact that this 7-1 manchild was obviously headed right to the NBA. So, in March of ’01, Tyson Chandler put his name in the NBA Draft. He’d finally be able to figure himself out, he thought.
All that pomp and attention? Not anything more than any other budding NBA star would get. All those expectations? For an 18-year-old kid in the NBA without a true position, for the first time he might, at last, be granted some room for error. All that pressure? Gone for good.
Little did Tyson know the pressure was just beginning.
“It was a setup,” he says.
For more on this story, check out SLAM issue #110.