Tyson Chandler’s NBA career has spanned 14 years, and in that time, his experiences and wisdom have grown exponentially. Drafted straight out of high school in 2001 as a gangly schoolboy sensation, the 7-foot-1 center collected an NBA championship with Dallas – along with the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year Award and an All-Star Game appearance as a New York Knick – on his way to signing a four-year, $52 million contract this summer to help tutor the youth-laden Suns. He also developed a passion for photography that has taken him from the streets of New York to the tropical climes of Tanzania. We chatted with Chandler about his journey from prep prodigy to worldly mentor.
You began your NBA career as a teenager, following the Michael Jordan era in Chicago. How great was that challenge?
My first experience with the Bulls describes my whole Bulls experience. I hopped on a plane to Chicago, landed and thought, “What now?” I didn’t know where I was going; I didn’t make any arrangements for a rental car or hotels. I just had my bag and I’m walking off the plane and it hits me: “I’m in a different state without my mom who does everything for me.” Thank God I ran into (former Bull) B.J. Armstrong, who just happened to be walking through the airport and took care of me, but it was hard.
Did winning a title with Dallas in 2011 increase your confidence level?
For sure. It was like that stamp of approval I had been looking for my entire career. I used to watch the NBA Finals and the moment a team won, I’d leave the room because I couldn’t stomach watching anybody else celebrate. I felt like, “Damn, I’ll never be up on that stage celebrating.” Now I’ve climbed that mountain.
You’ve developed a passion for photography with the help of photographer/filmmaker Ari Marcopoulos. What are your most memorable subjects?
In New York, we would just hit the streets and wander about, capturing the scene behind things. In New York, there are just so many vibes: I would catch skaters, amazing-looking people walking down the street, great fashion or some random tree that found a way to grow up through the concrete. I like shooting things in the street.
How about your trip to Tanzania?
I took a lot of shots of elephants and hyenas and lions, and in the streets of Dar es Salaam, on the way to the HIV clinics, but there were shots there I wouldn’t take because I never want to take advantage of my situation or invade someone’s privacy. There were all these women with HIV who had come together to form a family. In Africa, men leave them on their own and they’re frowned upon even though, in most cases, the men were the ones who contracted the disease and gave it to the women. They created a community to lean on each other and they’d bring their babies into the clinic where doctors would monitor them. That was something I didn’t want to shoot, but it changed me forever as a person.
Why did you choose to sign with Phoenix?
I wanted to go to a team where I could have the most impact, but the moment I really knew I made the right choice was when I was sitting on a bus with my family coming back from this clinic where everybody brought their kids. I said, “Now I know why I’m here. This is what I’m supposed to experience at the latter part of my career: being around family and being alongside these young players.”
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