A home­grown love for L.A.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - DY­LAN HER­NAN­DEZ

His legs were cramp­ing. His back was aching.

Tyson Chan­dler felt his age.

And it was glo­ri­ous.

“Hon­estly, I can’t de­scribe it,” Chan­dler said. “It’s amaz­ing.”

In the af­ter­math of his first game for the Lak­ers this week, the jux­ta­po­si­tion of his phys­i­cal and emo­tional con­di­tions was strik­ing. As his 36-year-old body was in pain, the youth­ful spirit in­side him was beam­ing.

Even af­ter more than 1,100 games be­tween the reg­u­lar sea­son and play­offs, even af­ter 18-plus sea­sons in the NBA, bas­ket­ball was still ca­pa­ble of trans­form­ing Chan­dler back into the boy from San Bernardino with a dream.

Chan­dler was an All-Amer­i­can cen­ter on Comp­ton Dominguez High’s na­tion­ally ranked team dur­ing what was a par­tic­u­larly event­ful pe­riod on the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia bas­ket­ball scene. The Lak­ers were build­ing a dy­nasty around Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

So when Chan­dler made his

Lak­ers de­but Wed­nes­day night in a 114-110 vic­tory over the Min­nesota Tim­ber­wolves, the mem­o­ries flooded back, for him and the Sta­ples Cen­ter au­di­ence. Now an old man by the stan­dards of his sport, the for­mer preps-to-pros phe­nom was fi­nally play­ing for his home­town team. He en­tered the game with 3 min­utes 8 sec­onds re­main­ing in the open­ing quar­ter. The crowd wel­comed him home, this time with the warmth re­served for a home player, not the hos­til­ity di­rected at vis­i­tors.

Chan­dler was re­flec­tive later when re­call­ing the scene.

“It’s hon­estly all love,” Chan­dler said. “I love this city the way they love me. When you’re home­grown from here and go­ing to high school and all of that and you’ve got th­ese same fans that have been watch­ing and now you rep­re­sent the jersey that ev­ery­one’s been cheer­ing for their en­tire lives, you kind of be­come one.” He smiled. “I’ve been on the other side and played the vil­lain,” he said. “Now, it’s great to be on this side and ac­tu­ally rep them.”

Stand­ing 7-foot-1, Chan­dler will pro­vide the Lak­ers with some much-needed size, as his pres­ence will al­low coach Luke Wal­ton to play with a true cen­ter when starter JaVale McGee re­quires a breather.

“It gives us more op­tions, right?” Wal­ton said. “It al­lows us to make some de­ci­sions based on how the game is go­ing and what we feel we need most at that mo­ment.”

Chan­dler can still play de­fense. He can still re­bound. He has knowl­edge to share. But there is more. The Lak­ers are only 11 games into their sea­son, but they al­ready look and sound tense. Wal­ton’s fu­ture has al­ready be­come a sub­ject of spec­u­la­tion. The team’s younger play­ers such as Lonzo Ball, Bran­don In­gram and Kyle Kuzma are fight­ing to prove they should be con­sid­ered part of the fran­chise’s long-term so­lu­tions. LeBron James has been spared of any crit­i­cism, but he has to know that’s only tem­po­rary. If the Lak­ers aren’t a con­tender by next sea­son, ques­tions will be di­rected at him too.

Chan­dler has an op­por­tu­nity to in­ject a mea­sure of joy­ous en­thu­si­asm into the locker room. His ex­cite­ment ex­tends be­yond wear­ing a Lak­ers uni­form. Equally im­por­tant to him was play­ing along­side James.

The only other time Chan­dler played with James was dur­ing the 2012 Olympics.

“LeBron is the great­est player of our gen­er­a­tion, so to be able to lace them up with him, it’s a great op­por­tu­nity,” Chan­dler said. “Like I told him, I’m go­ing to fol­low his lead. He’s an in­cred­i­ble leader. I’m look­ing for­ward to adding to that, try­ing to get this thing started.”

The more Chan­dler talked about James, the more the fan within him emerged.

“I haven’t played with a closer like that since Derrick [Rose],” Chan­dler said. “To be able to have him close out games, I know how spe­cial he is on both ends, de­fen­sively and of­fen­sively. I just want to take some of the pres­sure off of him. The more pres­sure I can take off of him, it will free him up to do all the spe­cial things he’s been do­ing his en­tire ca­reer.”

Chan­dler said he was for­tu­nate to be waived by the re­build­ing Phoenix Suns at this stage of the sea­son.

“When things came up and I looked at the list of teams, I couldn’t hon­estly pass up this op­por­tu­nity and be a part of some­thing that’s go­ing to be great,” Chan­dler said.

The out­pour­ing of de­light was some­what of a sur­prise, as Chan­dler spoke with a sense of de­tach­ment when asked about what he could of­fer the team.

He said of his team­mates, “They got young fresh legs so they fly up and down the court. My job is to help get stops and re­bounds and get them out.”

He al­luded mul­ti­ple times to how he’s com­pen­sat­ing for his di­min­ished mo­bil­ity with a know-how that was de­vel­oped over nearly two decades in the league.

He col­lected eight re­bounds in 23 min­utes Wed­nes­day, in­clud­ing a tap-out with 12 sec­onds re­main­ing and the Lak­ers hold­ing on to a one-point ad­van­tage. Of the fi­nal of­fen­sive re­bound that helped seal the vic­tory, Chan­dler said, “I’ve been in the league long enough to know where the op­pos­ing team is sup­posed to be when they’re try­ing to re­bound to close the game out.”

Chan­dler also spent sig­nif­i­cant stretches guard­ing Tim­ber­wolves cen­ter Karl-An­thony Towns, who failed to make a field goal in the sec­ond half.

“He’s a cham­pion for a rea­son,” Kuzma said.

Chan­dler won a cham­pi­onship with the Dal­las Mav­er­icks in 2011.

But he shared how he ex­pe­ri­enced a surge of adren­a­line at the team’s shootaround be­fore the game Wed­nes­day.

And he ac­knowl­edged he was in awe of the jer­seys hang­ing from the rafters at Sta­ples Cen­ter.

“Be­ing from here and watch­ing the tra­di­tion over the years and then be­ing able to be out here and see all the num­bers up there, it’s pride,” Chan­dler said.

Chan­dler is the old­est player on the team by al­most two years. But if he feels like it, it’s only phys­i­cally.

Harry How Getty Images

TYSON CHAN­DLER, right, who starred for Comp­ton Dominguez in high school, says he’s happy to be with the Lak­ers.

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