All-Access: A Champion’s Return

Jonah Ballow
KnicksNow.com

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“Words can’t explain.”

This was the text in Tyson Chandler’s tweet just before an image link to his sparkling new championship ring. The simple social media message was actually jam-packed with meaning.

Chandler entered the league as a highly touted high school prospect with extreme size and athleticism for a player of his age. The No. 2 overall pick in 2001 was forced to match major expectations while attempting to find his specific niche in the NBA. After a couple of years in Chicago, the seven-footer was traded to New Orleans, where he transformed into one of the best defensive player’s in basketball and a threat to punish opponents on pick-and-roll alley oops.

The consistent play earned him respect and eventually led to a spot on the Dallas Mavericks roster after a short stop in Charlotte.

Dallas was a team in search of a defensive presence after several failed attempts in the playoffs, including a heartbreaking loss to the Heat in the 2006 Finals. Behind Dirk Nowitzki and a strong bench, the Mavericks owned an elite offense but the franchise needed to alter its identity to reverse the postseason exits.

Chandler slipped on the Mavericks uniform and helped the squad run through an impressive list of Western Conference foes before shocking the NBA nation with a 4-2 series victory over the Miami Heat to claim the 2010-11 NBA Championship.

How important was Chandler to that title run? Just ask Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle.

“He was such a big part of last year. He was great in so many different ways, charismatically on the floor, anchor of our defense, he’s done great things with the Knicks, they have become one of the better defensive teams this year in a relatively short period of time,” Carlisle acknowledged.

New York snagged the top free agent prospect of the offseason and is immediately witnessing his defensive skills on the floor and his leadership inside the locker room. These same types of qualities left quite an impression on his superstar teammate in Dallas.

“He just wants to win and that’s what I love about him. He doesn’t care about numbers, he doesn’t care who scores, he doesn’t care who gets the rebound, it’s all about winning and you need those guys around,” Nowitzki expressed.

The Finals MVP and Chandler enjoyed a dinner together in New York before both of their teams squared off at the Garden in February. Nowitzki shares true admiration for the man that is now building the same relationships with his current teammates. “He’s like family to me now. We won the championship together and that’s a bond for life.”

The Knicks travelled to Dallas on Monday with a day of practice at the Mavericks facility prior to the rematch between the two teams on Tuesday night. Watching Chandler greet every in-arena employee and share a couple of minutes of discussion, showed the love that was shared during his one season in the Lone Star state.

The anticipation for Tuesday’s ceremony was building as Chandler was the last member of the team to receive his championship ring. Even Dallas owner Mark Cuban described his excitement, “Yeah, it will be fun. I’m just afraid he’s gonna chest bump me so hard that I go flying across the floor, either that or I bruise a sternum.”

Just before the opening intros, a Chandler highlight reel video quickly grabbed the capacity crowd’s attention. The mix of Mavericks and Knicks fans rose to their feet in celebration of the man in the middle. In a New York shooting shirt, Chandler walked in front of the cheering fans, hugged Carlisle and Cuban and placed his hand high above his head at center court in a truly memorable event.

Chandler expressed his emotions, “The moment was amazing, lifelong of work, and definitely everything you ever dreamed of. I think whenever you feel that kind of appreciation from not only the fans but my teammates, my former teammates, I was just overwhelmed.”

The California native achieved his career goal in Dallas but the symbolic piece of jewelry he received will now serve as motivation to capture a championship once again, this time in the orange and blue.


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