How homelessness and KG motivated Tyson Chandler
The 19-year veteran reflects on his NBA career and what lies ahead
Who will be the longest-tenured player in the NBA after Vince Carter retires at the end of the season?
The answer would be Tyson Chandler — much to his surprise — should he return for a 20th season.
“I knew I was the last player from my draft. But I didn’t know I’ll be the longest tenured in the league. I didn’t know that,” Chandler told The Undefeated.
The second overall pick in the 2001 NBA draft, Chandler went straight to the pros from Dominguez High School in Compton, California, and is now one of just 20 NBA players to play in at least 19 seasons. He has appeared in more than 1,100 games for seven teams — the Chicago Bulls, New Orleans Hornets, Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers and, currently, the Houston Rockets.
In doing so, the NBA champion and former defensive player of the year helped change the dynamics of his once struggling family by making $187 million during his career.
Chandler, 37, recently reflected on his journey to the NBA, his successful career and his future.
Hell, no, I never could have envisioned being around this long. I said when I came into the league 10 years would be good, 12 years would be great. And once I got past that, it was just every year trying to set different goals.
“Kevin Garnett was the measuring stick. He’s everything that I wanted to be. Everything I looked up to. He’s what everybody in my generation was reaching for. He was just an animal. He inspired me from high school. When I was in the gym by myself, he was at the top. There were others that I got motivation from, but he was at the top of the list. Whenever I got tired, I would picture him in my head, picture him dog-tired, and picture him pushing through it to get to where he is.
“I was 18 when I made the decision to go from high school to the NBA. It was a huge decision. For me, it was all about my family. The whole college experience wasn’t worth not being able to take care of my family.
“My circumstances were tough. When I was sophomore and a junior, my family was homeless. I was staying from couch to couch. All of the cats there and even my little homies, everybody protected me. They were like, ‘You got a shot to make it out of here. We don’t. We can’t. We’re going to be here. So, you go ahead and you stay focused on what you focused on. We will make sure you don’t have no problems around here.’
“People get it twisted. People don’t want to be in them circumstances. It’s just the way this country was set up. We’ve evolved a lot, but in a lot of ways we haven’t evolved. And I think the country knows that. I was a product of that.
“That s— was hard. At the time I was out in Compton, and my mom, my stepdad, and my brothers were homeless. It was before they moved down to L.A. They were staying with my mom’s best friend and I would go back on weekends and I just remember, I was just like, ‘I got to make it. I got to do something to change this because I see where this is headed.’
“At the time I was living with an uncle on the borderline of Compton and Long Beach. I was sleeping on his couch. The toughest thing was just really understanding where my family was at. There were two families in a three-bedroom house. They had one room as a couple, and their four kids were in the other room and my mom and my whole family was in one room. Just coming back, seeing that, seeing the neighborhood they were in, seeing what I already faced and what my brothers were facing, I said, ‘I can’t let them go through this because I had an opportunity.’
“When we get one opportunity, you can’t take that one opportunity away. A lot of people don’t understand that. A lot of people don’t understand what we go through as youngsters, especially young black men in a lot of the areas that we come up in and not having opportunity, any opportunity.
“For me, I was determined to figure out a way, whatever that way was. I was blessed with the talent I have, the size that I have and the ability to be able to pursue this. But it was an option for me. And once I knew it was an option, that’s all I was focused on.
“The key to longevity is taking care of your body and understanding this is your profession, and your body is how you make your money. Change diet. Change habits. Getting a lot of rest. Just really taking those things serious as a professional.
“If I was to talk to the NBA draft class of 2020, I would say, ‘This is your profession. This is your business. You are coming into your professional career quicker than most people are. But the faster you understand and recognize that this is your profession and you take it seriously the same way anybody else who’s trying to grow in their career, the better you’ll do.’
“I remember when I got my first NBA check, I said, ‘I’m buying my mama a house.’ I put the down payment down on mom’s house and then started making payments on it. It was in Riverside. My uncle at the time was out in that area. So, I bought the house and then started making payments on it. I told myself, ‘Listen, if I f— everything off, at least I could go back to my mama’s house.’ I got to make sure I pay this thing off. That, initially, is the reason that I did it.
“I managed my money when I first came out by talking to my advisers and the people around me. I was like, ‘I don’t want to be a statistic. I don’t want you just managing my money and doing this. I want to actually know what you’re doing.’ And I don’t know why I had that. I just knew I didn’t want to go back to where I came from. And I knew the only way I was going to go back was me blowing things. I was like, ‘I don’t want to be that guy cause I ain’t going back there.’
“That’s why all high school players should be able to come out. You can fight in a war. You can go and do all kinds of things. So, I don’t know why you can’t come up and be professional and be able to provide for your family and make that decision. They say, ‘Guys aren’t ready.’ Well, guys aren’t ready when they come out of college either. It just varies. Some of the greatest players we’ve had in our league came out of high school and some of the greatest players that had the most longevity came out of high school.
“So, it just varies from athlete to athlete. You can’t put an age on it. I think we should be able to have the opportunity. I don’t like what’s going on in college, I think they’re stealing from players. They’re making millions of dollars off athletes. And then you see what happened to the kid in Memphis [James Wiseman] this season. Guys should have a choice to make that decision.
“After 19 years in this league, I have my days just like everybody else. But for the most part, I feel good.
“I came back this season after talking to the family. A couple of these players were calling me. I only wanted to play for a couple teams. If one of those teams didn’t call, I wasn’t going to play. The criteria was just more of a veteran team that’s really trying to win a championship right now, a place that I feel I can make an impact and get along with the guys.
“The last couple of years I had a big mentorship role. I was kind of over that and I wanted to be at a place where we were trying to win and then I could lead from that standpoint. Little lessons, day-to-day stuff.
“It’s been so much fun playing for the Rockets. This is where the league is today. I feel like I’m with the best guys to do it in this style of basketball in James Harden and Russell Westbrook. It’s fun to be on this side and see it firsthand what they’re doing. And I just feel like this is the window for this team. And part of the reason why I came back was because these two L.A. boys reached out to me. I know where they are at. I know what time it is, I know it’s a small window. I just wanted to come and play my part and try to help them. For me, it’s about being healthy and being ready at the end of the season.
“Potentially being the longest tenured NBA player next season would be a great accomplishment. But as far as it being part of my decision-making at the end of the year, no, it is going to be about family and my body. I will talk to the family, see where we stand there, and then make a decision.
“My daughter is 13 going on 14, going to high school next summer, which is the reason why I’m evaluating where things are. She has to be OK with me continuing to go. It’s an important time in our lives. So, I want to make sure I make the right decision and I’m there. I’ve been blessed and fortunate to make a lot of money throughout my career. If it’s time to move on and do something else, it’s time to move on and do something else.
“I don’t know what I will do when I retire. I’ve thought about everything from coaching to a lot of stuff, TV. I’ll just have to find it out and see what I’m actually really good at, see what I have a passion for. Anything I do, I got to be all in.
“Do I think, ‘What if?’ with the Dallas team? Absolutely.
“The best player I ever played with was Dirk Nowitzki. He just was so unbelievable. His work ethic. Watching him, he taught me so many things on and off the court. He doesn’t talk much but he’s just a machine with his regimen and how he goes about things every day. It’s like clockwork.
“My championship with Dallas in 2011 means everything. I keep the ring in my safe. I bring it out every once in a while. Once I settle down and retire, I will probably enjoy the accolades a little more than I do now.
“If you ask me, I should have finished my career in Dallas. I should have played the last 10 years, and play 20 years, and finished there. But I also feel like everything happens for a reason. My journey was a hell of a journey. And I wouldn’t change it.
“I feel like all of the trials and tribulations builds character. I’ve used it throughout my career as motivation. And even just reminding myself why I’m here, my purpose, how I got here. I’ve tried not to get lost.
“I’m staying focused on what’s important. Honestly, basketball accolades or accomplishments, they really don’t mean s— at the end of the day. It’s awesome. It’s my legacy. People can talk about it. But lives were changed and that’s the important part.
“Changing the dynamics of my family was invaluable. I look at the way my little brother came up and the schools that he went to and the way he acts. I’ll watch my kids now. It’s a difference and it honestly brings joy to my heart every time because I’m glad they didn’t have to face the s— that I had to face.”