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Tyson Chandler, Home at Last

November 12th, 2018 · No Comments · Basketball, Lakers, Sports Journalism

I saw the high school basketball debut of California native Tyson Chandler. Not many people can say that, because among the material I filed on deadline that night, December 2, 1997, is a note about how the Compton College gym was pretty much empty.

Chandler was a 15-year-old freshman and, more importantly, already 6-foot-11. But he did not dominate his first game. He didn’t even start. He came off the Compton Dominguez bench to score five points, two on a “sorta dunk” (as he put it), take three rebounds and block three shots in 13 minutes of a 53-42 victory over Perris.

I was there because the previous season Chandler had played for Arrowview Middle School, in San Bernardino, where I was sports editor, and if he had moved on with his Arrowview teammates he would have been The Biggest Man on Campus in the city, and our newspaper had suggested, as did many officials in the local school district there, that Chandler would be better off going to high school in San Bernardino.

But, one thing we can say without hesitation: Prospective professional athletes should not take career advice from journalists. Or, as it turns out, school officials.

Had Chandler stuck around at, say, San Bernardino High School, he would not have seen the caliber of opposition he typically encountered as a player for Dominguez, at the time one of the leading (and best-supported, by Nike) prep basketball programs in the nation.

After four years at Dominguez, Chandler went directly to the NBA (no one-and-done required, back then), the No. 2 pick in the 2001 draft, behind only the epic underachiever Kwame Brown, and a few weeks later began earning what has, over 18 seasons, amounted to something north of $180 million.

At 36, he is nearing the end of his career, but the Lakers (or LeBron James) decided the team needed another rim protector, to ease the load on the surprisingly effective JaVale McGee, and signed Chandler after the Phoenix Suns released him.

(Conspiracy alert: The general manager of the Suns is James Jones, who won three NBA titles playing with LeBron and, lookie here, the Suns gave up the the veteran channeling Yoda to the club’s rookie center Deandre Ayton, also the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. And the Lakers snapped up Chandler the next day. Hmm.)

And, so far, after three games, all of them Lakers victories with Chandler’s fingerprints on them, he has come “home”, after all.

Chandler was born in Hanford, a town in California’s sprawling Central Valley known for cotton, white corn, alfalfa, etc. It seems Young Tyson lived a genuinely rural existence.

When he was 13, Tyson and his mother moved south to San Bernardino, and by then scouts and shoe-company agents were following his every move, and the consensus of the basketball wonks was he ought to go to Dominguez, which at the time was led by Tayshaun Prince, who would become an NBA fixture, mostly for the championship-winning Detroit Pistons of the mid-2000s.

In his first game with the Lakers, Chandler played 21 minutes and took nine rebounds, while also handling his usual duties on defense, clogging the lane and altering shots, and two of his rebounds came off the offensive glass in the final minute, helping the Lakers keep the Minnesota Timberwolves at bay in a 114-110 victory.

And Chandler seemed a bit emotional, when it was over. Being “home” and contributing to the team he followed when he was a kid.

After the game, and after the lusty cheers he received from Lakers fans, he told reporters: “I love this city the way they love me. When you’re homegrown from here and going to high school and all that and you’ve had these same fans, and now you represent the jersey that everybody has been cheering for their entire lives, you kind of become one.

“I’ve been on the other side and played the villain. Now it’s great to be on this side and actually rep them.”

Chandler has had an interesting career. Typically, if a 7-footer goes No. 2 in the draft, it can be assumed he will score a lot of points. Chandler, however, has been a defense-first guy throughout, never averaging even 12 points a game during his seven-team career, but being acknowledged as being one of the best at what he does … which included being the tower of defense in the paint during the 2011 Dallas Mavericks run to an NBA title.

Now he’s in Los Angeles, pulling on the same end of the rope as LeBron James and the Lakers and their fans, and it feels kinda nice.



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