HOUSTON -- Tyson Chandler is soaking up the moment as he's whisked from interview to photo shoot to commercial shoot to more interviews. He keeps smiling, exuding the energy of a rookie making his first All-Star appearance.
Chandler is making his first All-Star appearance, but the Knicks center is far from a rookie. He is in his 12th NBA season, joining Vlade Divac as the only players to be named to the All-Star team for the first time this late in their careers.
The way Chandler is carrying himself, it's as loud and clear as one of his primal screams after a big dunk. He's thankful to be here and can't wait to hear his name introduced with the East All-Stars before tonight's game.
"It means the world to me," Chandler said. "I was just in there doing a commercial and seeing a guy like Tim Duncan, who has been through it every year. The path I've taken, I'm really appreciative to be here. A lot of guys at this point in their career, this is pretty much over for them. They wipe the All-Star dream out of their window. I feel like I'm just getting started."
In the last 18 months, Chandler, 30, has won an NBA title, been named defensive player of the year, earned an Olympic gold medal and become an All-Star with averages of 11.4 points and 11.1 rebounds.
Chandler thinks about when he was booed and called a bust with the Bulls, for whom he averaged 7.1 points and 7.7 rebounds his first five years in the league after becoming the second pick in the 2001 draft from Dominguez High School in California.
Chandler also reflects on a doctor telling him he jeopardized his career by playing for the Hornets in the 2009 playoffs on an ankle that required surgery. Chandler said he did something to the muscle and his "leg was almost going dead." Playing through the pain almost cost him his career.
"I remember going into the surgery and really wondering if I'm ever going to be the player that I was and second-guessing myself," Chandler said. "I'm like, 'Did I crush myself with this one? Did I make the wrong decision at the wrong time?' "
Chandler had just started establishing himself in New Orleans, where he was traded in 2006. After leaving Chicago, he was "motivated" to prove his critics wrong, and playing with Chris Paul helped that mission.
In their second season together, Chandler averaged 11.8 points and 11.7 rebounds. Paul said Chandler should have been an All-Star then and is thrilled he's here now.
"I'm too happy for Tyson. That's like my brother," Paul said. "He deserves it. He's one of those guys who should be a perennial All-Star now. He's just the ideal teammate and player and a great guy."
Byron Scott, Chandler's coach with the Hornets, said, "I'm so proud of him -- just the way he's kind of stuck to it. This is a man that a lot of doctors said he wouldn't play two or three more years in this league when he was in his sixth or seventh year. He's gone on to play in his 12th year and not only that, make the All-Star team."
"He has become one of the top three centers in the game," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "The fact he has improved in each of his 12 years in the league to get to this point speaks to his work ethic, enthusiasm and character. We could not have won the championship in 2011 without Tyson Chandler. He brought energy, toughness, athleticism and personality . . . He is a flat-out winner."
Chandler has brought that same passion and attitude to the Knicks. Last season, he became the first player in franchise history to be named the top defender. This season he became the first Knick since Willis Reed to grab 20 rebounds in three consecutive games.
"He changed the whole culture of what it means to play defense in New York," said LeBron James, Chandler's Olympic teammate. "He's a guy you have to scout every single night. Our league doesn't have many centers anymore. He's like one of those guys that could have played in the '90s: real tough, physical, and he doesn't care about getting the ball. All he really cares about is defending and rebounding, and that's big."
The NBA eliminated the center position on the All-Star ballot this season. If it hadn't, Chandler would have been voted in as a starter. Instead, he was picked by the coaches. That meant more to him because it tells him he earned it all these years after being called a bust and fearing his career was nearing an end.
"It's special knowing you never stopped," Chandler said. "I never gave up on my dreams. All the ups and downs in the world, I just stayed focused on my goals, making sure I trained hard every summer and worked hard during the season, and I felt like eventually it was going to pay off."