Tyson Chandler enjoyed a high degree of personal success last season by capturing the Defensive Player of the Year award while anchoring a much improved Knicks defensive unit. One would think the center would take advantage of the off time in the summer following an eventful and lockout shortened year.
Nope. Chandler opted for an offseason that included an intense training session for Team USA in Las Vegas, Washington D.C., England, and Barcelona before arriving in London for the start of the 2012 Olympics. He then started for Team USA in its undefeated run to the gold medal over a two week span. The big man didn’t even have time to properly ice his knees before boarding a plane from London to Tanzania the morning after he won the gold medal against Spain.
The first portion of Chandler’s life changing summer was an experience that allowed him to represent the country on a team of elite NBA stars. When Clippers forward Blake Griffin suffered an injury during the training session, Chandler and Kevin Love were the only true frontline players with pro experience on the squad. He helped fill a void inside the paint, effectively providing the toughness Team USA desperately needed when it faced Argentina and Spain. The Americans flourished throughout the tournament and maintained their claim as the best basketball group on the planet.
Chandler remembers the emotional moment when he received the gold medal, “It was incredible. I don’t think you can really appreciate the magnitude of what you are accomplishing at the time until the song of your national anthem is being played and your flag is being raised. I think at that moment, I really had an understanding of what it means to get out and represent your country and the Olympics.”
The gold medal ride was shared with Knicks teammate and a man that played an integral role for Team USA. Chandler and Carmelo Anthony bonded during the excursion across the pond, which should generate some positive chemistry heading into the 2012-13 season.
“It was great for the Knicks to have us share that moment and grow team camaraderie,” Chandler explained. “I had an opportunity to really get to know Melo and get an understanding of what he stands for.”
As mentioned above, Chandler quickly left Anthony and his fellow Team USA teammates the morning after the Olympics to lend a helping in East Africa. This is the impressive dimension to Chandler’s personality. The 29-year old has accepted a mentor role for struggling communities inside the US and abroad by expanding his outreach this offseason.
In a blog post on ESPN.com, Chandler described a part of the learning process in Tanzania, “I had a couple of touching moments. One, when I was talking to three street kids individually and hearing their stories, one of the little kids was telling me that he left home simply because he had two other siblings, and they were very poor. He felt like if he left, it would be one less mouth to feed for his mother. He thought it was the best time for him to leave, so he essentially ran away. He caught a bus in storage for seven hours to get to Tanzania. He was from a city that was seven hours away. This kid is 14 years old. He's out here living on the streets with two of his friends.”
Chandler worked with UNICEF on the trip and immersed himself in the diverse culture. Throughout the two days, the California native played basketball with the Tanzanian children, visited a clinic, and listened to countless stories from the natives. The exposure to a completely different way of life seemed to truly have an effect on Chandler and was eloquently illustrated in his personal account on ESPN.com.
The Knicks center plans on working with Amar’e Stoudemire and UNICEF in the future to ensure an improved life for communities outside of the United States. Chandler pointed out that Stoudemire is a goodwill ambassador to the country of Sierra Leone.
Chandler will now place a summer filled with life altering events behind him and re-focus on the ultimate goal. The hot humid air has shifted to a crisp chill, which signals the start of training camp in the near future. Three weeks to those who are counting. The NBA champion, Olympic gold medalist, fashion expert, mentor and photographer has become a renaissance man and we’re all waiting to see what’s next for Tyson Chandler.