Tyson Chandler was born on October 2, 1982 in Hanford, California. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) He was raised by his mother, Vernie Threadgill. His biological father did not have a hand in his upbringing. Tyson had two younger siblings, Terrell and Tervon. They grew up on his family’s farm in central California, just south of Fresno.
Tyson began shooting baskets at the age of three, on a rim that his grandfather Cleo fixed to a tree. Tyson and Cleo were as close as father and son. Years later, in fact, Tyson called his grandfather his best friend. Cleo notwithstanding, the Threadgills were a matriarchal family. Tyson’s mom and grandmother did much to mold his personality.
Tyson was a farm boy. He milked cows, slopped pigs and worked in the field cultivating corn and okra. As farm boys go, Tyson was a tall one. When his family moved south to San Bernardino, the 9-year-old was already close to six feet tall. The children in his new school teased him. They assumed he was much older than he actually was, and that he had been held back several grades.
It was in San Bernardino, east of Los Angeles, where Tyson began to get serious about basketball. In 1991, he was recruited to play on a local rec team and quickly found a comfort zone in the pivot. Meanwhile, Tyson kept growing. When he was 11, he stood 6–4. On Halloween, one house refused to give him candy because no one believed he was a kid.
In 1997, Tyson enrolled at Dominguez High School, in Compton. He had grown to 6–11 and soon became an object of excitement and curiosity. Tyson was not the least bit gangly or uncoordinated. He ran the floor like a player a foot shorter, with soft hands and fluid movements. On defense, fans tended to watch his shot-blocking and rebounding, but those in the know marveled at his sophisticated footwork.
The star of the Dons was senior Tayshaun Prince. He had led the school to a state championship the year before and was a McDonald’s All-American during Tyson’s freshman season. After Prince graduated, Tyson became the star of the Dominguez varsity. When the Dons traveled, he was besieged by autograph seekers. In 1999, the team went all the way to the state’s Division II title game and won.
As a junior in 1999–00, Tyson averaged 20 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and three blocks. He led the Dons to a second state championship in a row. Dominguez also captured the USA Today High School National Championship.
Tyson enjoyed another stellar campaign ss a senior, pacing the Dons to a 31-4 record and a third straight California state championship. He averaged 26 points, 15 boards, and eight blocks a game.
ON THE RISE
Tyson was not quite NBA-ready, but he seemed awfully close. After being told he might be the top pick in a draft replete with teenage centers, he decided to forego college and throw his hat into the professional ring. Tyson was picked second in June of 2001 by the Los Angeles Clippers. He was hoping to go first, but the Washington Wizards tabbed Kwame Brown, another big man right out of high school.
Before Tyson could weigh the advantages of playing close to home and the disadvantages of suiting up for a perennial loser, he and Brian Skinner were shipped to Chicago for Elton Brand. Bulls GM Jerry Krause had a vision for the team’s post-Jordan era. The team planned to use Tyson in a “twin towers” configuration with Eddy Curry, another high school phenom who had leaped directly into the pros.
Needless to say, Tyson felt the pressure to step into the lineup and fill Brand’s shoes. At 19, however, he had no chance to do this. Brand was a legit 20-point, 10-rebound center. Tyson had the instincts to play in the middle but not the offensive skills. In this respect, Curry was ahead of him. The Bulls were willing to wait for both to fulfill their potential.
Chicago fans weren't as sure. The team won 21 games in 2001–02, tying the Golden State Warriors for the worst record in the NBA. Tyson showed enough as a rookie to earn 31 starts. He averaged 6.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. He typically played about 20 minutes a game. As with most young centers, foul trouble was usually a problem.
After the season, Tyson disappeared. He spent the summer on his family’s farm, fishing, doing chores, and recharging his batteries. The pressures of life in the NBA melted away when he was surrounded by his large and loving family. He returned to Chicago for the 2002–03 season ready to claim a starting role.
Tyson did just that, averaging 9.2 points with 6.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks. He shared frontline duties with Curry and veteran Donyell Marshall. The Bulls improved to 30 wins, primarily on the strength of guards Jalen Rose and Jamal Crawford.
After Tyson’s solid sophomore campaign, Chicago fans expected him to take another step forward in 2003–04. Instead, he missed more than half the season with a sore back. It was just one aspect of a chaotic year for the Bulls, who dropped back into the division cellar. The team saw many players come and go, but among the new faces was rookie Kirk Hinrich, whom the Bulls viewed as a building block for the future.
Tyson was healthy and motivated heading into 2004–05. He reclaimed his starting role and was joined by a group of young players that included Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Chris Duhon and Italian import Andres Nocioni. The Bulls had assembled enough talent so that Tyson could focus on his strengths without exposing his weaknesses. He came into his own as a defensive force and flourished as a shot-blocker. Twice during the year, Tyson made dramatic game-saving swats, one against Paul Pierce and the other against Carmelo Anthony. The Bulls soared to 47 wins and celebrated their first playoff appearance since Michael Jordan's days in Chicago.
Tyson was a major factor in a turnaround that better than doubled the team's 23 wins from the year before. Indeed, his 9.7 rebounds per game put him in the Top 10 in the NBA. In the playoffs, the Bulls faced the Wizards in the first round. Chicago took the first two games, but Washington bounced back to sweep the next four. The Bulls, who were without Curry for the series, put up a good fight in the final two games, which gave fans hope for the future.
Things were looking very good as the 2005–06 season started. The club had cut bait on Curry, who refused to submit to testing after being diagnosed with a heart condition. Also shipped away in the deal was Crawford, thus unclogging a crowded guard situation. That made Tyson the team’s center, and Chicago rewarded him with a six-year contract worth $11 million per season. That wasn't the only good news that greeted Tyson during the offseason. He also married his longtime girlfriend, Kimberley.
Despite the security that should have come with a long-term contract, Tyson seemed tentative in 2005–06. He committed silly fouls and spent big minutes on the bench. In turn, his scoring dropped drastically to 5.3 points per game—10 fewer than many in the Chicago organization had envisioned. Part of the problem was a hiatal hernia, which made breathing painful and caused Tyson to miss several games.
To make matters worse, he and coach Scott Skiles did not always see eye to eye. Skiles liked his guards to do the shooting. So whenever Tyson launched a shot, he almost felt guilty about it. Ironically, the team had originally gone after Tyson because Krause believed he would develop a nice scoring touch.
The Bulls finished with a lackluster 41–41 record—and that mark came about only on the strength of a 12–2 stretch run. They barely made the playoffs and were overmatched in the first-round tilt with Miami. Chicago was dispatched in six games by the Heat, who went on to win the NBA championship.
Desperate to recapture the magic of 2004–05, the Bulls signed Ben Wallace as their new enforcer in the offseason. The writing was on the wall for Tyson. Since joining the team, he had been passed by several players in the NBA with less talent. Chicago, tired of “babysitting” Tyson, shipped him to the New Orleans Hornets for P.J. Brown and J.R. Smith.
Tyson joined a team that would play its second season in Oklahoma City, as New Orleans was still rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina. One of the first things Tyson did was establish his own fundraising effort, Rebound to Rebound. Every time he grabbed a rebound, he donated $10 to a fund that helped teachers rebuild their homes as part of the Hornets’ Hoops for Homes program. He also challenged fans and local business to join him for as little as $1 per rebound.
As the 2006–07 season began, Tyson could not shake the feeling that he had failed in Chicago. He believed that he had been “banished” to the Hornets. But New Orleans was hardly an NBA backwater. After a couple of down years, the team was on the upswing. Byron Scott was a terrific coach who knew how to instill a winning attitude in young players. Also, in assistant coach Kenny Gattison and VP Willis Reed, Tyson found two excellent teachers.
Tyson’s first season with the Hornets was an unqualified success. He was good for 10 points, 10 rebounds and a couple of blocks almost every night. His 12.4 boards ranked second in the NBA. Tyson also shot a league-high 62% from the field, though technically he didn’t have enough baskets to qualify for the NBA lead. Tyson was amazed when informed later that he had nearly become the only player besides Wilt Chamberlain to top the NBA in shooting and rebounding in the same season.
More important, Tyson was proving to be the critical third piece of the puzzle in the team’s nucleus, which included point guard Chris Paul and power forward David West. Tyson—who immediately clicked with Paul on the alley-oop wavelength—was on the cusp of stardom.
In 2007–08, Tyson finally averaged his long-awaited double-double. By broadening his offensive palette, he became a legitimate low-post scorer. Tyson also continued to evolve as an offensive rebounder. His 11.7 boards placed him fourth in the NBA, and on many nights, half that number was made up of follow-ups of teammates’ missed shots. The Hornets—back in New Orleans and playing to larger and larger crowds—won the Southwest Division.
The Hornets erased any doubts that they were for real in the first round of the playoffs. Facing the veteran Mavericks, New Orleans won in five games. Paul set the tone on offense with two marvelous games to start the series, and Tyson ruled the paint.
The team’s magical run ended in a seven-game series against the San Antonio Spurs. Each team won at home until the finale, when the Spurs triumphed in New Orleans. Tyson was less effective in this series. For the entire postseason, he averaged eight points and 10.8 rebounds.
As the 2008–09 season neared, Tyson unveiled his newest weapon, a sweet midrange jump shot. He worked all summer in hopes of bringing his scoring average up. The addition of veteran James Posey to the frontline also promised to give Tyson more room to work—not to mention a teammate who knew a thing or two about winning.
The Hornets won on a regular basis to start the season. Tyson contributed with steady numbers, though his scoring did not reach the level he hoped. But even with New Orleans in solid position for a playoff berth, the team decided to shed salary. Tyson was shipped to Oklahoma City in exchange for Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox.
Leaving a point guard like Paul would be a tough adjustment for Tyson. As it turned out, he didn't have to make it. Tyson failed his physical with the Thunder, reportedly because of concerns over a nagging turf toe condition. The trade was rescinded, and Tyson returned to New Orleans. His Hornets teammates were ecstatic—they never wanted to see him go in the first place. Tyson was in and out of the lineup the rest of the way. He ended up playing in 45 games, averaging 8.8 points and 8.7 rebounds.
The Hornets finished the season with 49 wins, good for the seventh seed in the highly competitive Western Conference playoffs. They met the Denver Nuggets in the first round with little hope of improving on the previous year’s postseason performance—all of their go-to guys, including, Tyson, were hobbled by injury. They were demolished in five games. None of their four losses was a close game, and in one they were blown out by 58 points. It was the most lopsided loss in NBA playoff history.
The trade Tyson was expecting came that summer. It was a one-for-one change of scenery swap with Charlotte, Tyson for Emeka Okafor. The Bobcats had never made the NBA playoffs, a streak that Tyson hoped to end. Unfortunately, he continued to struggle with injuries in 2009–10, missing more than a month with a stress fracture in his left foot. Still, he helped the club win 44 games and earn its first-ever postseason berth. The Bobcats fell to the Orlando Magic in four straight in the first round.
MAKING HIS MARK
After yet another season in a less-than-ideal situation, Tyson found himself in the perfect spot in 2010. He was traded to the Mavericks for Erick Dampier and Eduardo Najera. It was he same club his Hornets had shocked in the playoffs in 2008.
The Mavs were a veteran club that seemed to have crested several years earlier, when they lost to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. However, they were still a dangerous team, built particularly well to succeed in the grinding postseason. The addition of Tyson gave Dallas a front line of 7-footers that included Dirk Nowitzki and Brendan Haywood. Also on the club were Shawn Marion, Peja Stojakovic, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd.
Dallas won 57 games in 2010–11 and seemed to get stronger as the playoffs approached. Tyson played through ankle and back problems to average 10.1 points and 9.4 rebounds a game. He proved especially adept at changing his role depending on who was playing beside him in the frontcourt.
Come the playoffs, Tyson and the Mavs faced the Portland Trailblazers in the opening round. He led the team in rebounds in Game 2 and Game 5, both Dallas victories. The Mavs took the series in six games. Next up were Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. The experts saw that Dallas would match up well in this series, but almost all of them picked Los Angeles to win.
Coach Rick Carlisle did a brilliant job of pressing the Mavs’ strengths against the Lakers’ weaknesses. They took the first game 96–94. Tyson and Pau Gasol went nose-to-nose early in the contest, drawing double-technicals. But Tyson sent a message that lasted the entire series. Late in the fourth quarter, he muscled his way past Gasol and took an alley-oop from Kidd, slamming it home and changing the momentum of the game. A flustered Gasol committed a bad foul down the stretch, followed by a back-breaking turnover.
Dallas took their second straight game at the Staples Center, 93–81. Tyson played a key role. He shut down the middle on defense, controlled the boards, and relentlessly attacked the rim. When the Lakers tried to sucker him into a shoving mach, he walked away.
Game 3 in Dallas saw Tyson focus almost exclusively on defending against the Lakers’ frontline. His energy was tremendous. L.A. led by six after three quarters but lost that edge down the stretch. The Mavs outscored the Lakers 32–20 in the final stanza to win 98–92. Two days later, Dallas finished off one of history’s most improbable sweeps, blowing out the Lakers,122–86. The Mavs set an NBA record with 20 three-pointers. Tyson led all players with nine rebounds.
All that stood between the Mavs and a return trip to the NBA Finals were the exuberant Oklahoma City Thunder. As it turned out, they had no answer for the big Dallas frontline. In the Mavs’ key Game 3 victory, Tyson pulled down 15 rebounds and made every shot he attempted. He had 17 more boards in the next two games, as Dallas closed out the series in five.
Tyson continued his strong interior defense and rebounding against the Heat in the NBA Finals. Fans around the countryrallied behind the Mavs and Nowitzki, who hoped to end his long-running championship drought. Tyson enjoyed his best game was a 16-rebound effort in Game 4, which the Mavs won 86–83 to even the series.
Tyson had 13 points, seven rebounds and a pair of blocked shots in Game 5, which the Mavs won on their home court. Three nights later, they finished the job in Miami. Tyson chipped in eight rebounds and a couple of steals in the finale, which Dallas took 105–95. Nowitzki was named the series MVP.
Tyson expected a big payday after his NBA championship and he got it—although it took longer than anyone imagined. A labor dispute delayed the 2011–12 season until Christmas, and free agent negotiations basically went on hold until the players and owners settled their differences. Tyson was acquired by the Knicks as a sign-and-trade free agent, inking him to a four-year deal worth $58 million.
With accomplished scorers Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, and an intriguing mix of role players, the Knicks needed a rock to handle business in the paint. In his first game in orange and blue, Tyson swatted six shots as the Knicks edged the Celtics on Christmas Day. In the abbreviated 52-game schedule, he amassed a total of 89 blocks and had six games of 15 rebounds or more. Those numbers were expected by New York fans. What came as a pleasant surprise was Tyson's offense. He averaged 11.3 points per game and led the NBA with in field goal percentage at 67.9%. Tyson was also named NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
The Knicks switched coaches in March, and new head man Mike Woodson led the team to an 18–6 finish. New York ended the year six games over .500—the team’s best finish in over a decade. Unfortunately, the Knicks entered the playoffs without a healthy point guard and were overmatched in the opening round of the playoffs by the Heat, who went on to win the NBA title.
Tyson continued his fine play in 2012–13. Once again, he was among the league leaders in rebounding and field goal percentage, and was named to the NBA All-Star Game for the first time in his career. He made headlines in a February victory over the Golden State Warriors with 28 rebounds.
When Tyson entered the NBA, he was a baby by big-man standards. Through hard work, perseverance and intelligence, he found the niche that transformed him into the type of player everyone thought he could be—the top defender in pro basketball and a championship-caliber difference-maker.
TYSON THE PLAYER
Tyson is an intense and highly effective interior defender. He is quick and instinctive, and has learned to curtail unnecessary fouls. When a shot comes off the glass, he is among the best there is at controlling the ball. If anyone in the NBA could be considered a natural rebounder, it would be Tyson. Indeed, he has been compared with Dennis Rodman in the sense that he feels every ball on the glass is “his.”
Tyson’s shot-blocking numbers aren't over the top. But if stats were kept for shot-changing plays, he would rank right near the top among NBA centers. Tyson’s offensive contributions depend on the lineup he plays in. In New York, with Carmelo Anthony drawing opponents’ attention, Tyson is adept at spotting a seam and taking interior passes and alley-oops from the club’s veteran guards. He may only attempt a handful of shots a game, but often his baskets are rim-rattling momentum-grabbers.
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