The man in the pinstriped suit stands tall in front of his cornfield, gazing into the distance. He is an old man now and has seen so many years of hard work that his skin has the same leathery sheen as his shoes. There is an aura of contentment in his bearing, one that seems to say he knows he is standing exactly in the place where he belongs.
Tyson Chandler, professional basketball player and amateur artist, loves this picture of his grandfather, 81-year-old Cleo Threadgil. Chandler took the photo when he was visiting his grandparents' farm in August, four months before signing a $58-million deal with the Knicks.
Chandler takes a lot of photographs -- he often brings his camera on the road, looking for interesting subjects -- but as he prepares to begin his first season in New York, this image of his grandfather is the one on his mind.
"My grandfather is all about hard work," said Chandler, who spent his first eight years living on the farm in Hanford, Calif. "He is my role model."
The Knicks hope that by adding the hard-working Chandler to the front line of Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire that they can contend for the NBA title this season. The 7-1 center doesn't have eye-popping statistics -- he averaged only 10.1 points and 9.4 rebounds last season with the Mavericks -- but he does have incredible intangibles. Not since Charles Oakley patrolled the Garden floor with his lunch bucket in the 1990s have the Knicks had a player with such a rare mix of toughness, work ethic and defensive savvy.
"He brings everything that we didn't have," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said the day the trade was announced.
Chandler already has quickly transformed a team. Before he arrived in Dallas last season, the Mavericks seemed destined for an early playoff exit. Instead, with Chandler anchoring coach Rick Carlisle's zone defense, Dallas won its first championship, coming back from a 2-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to beat the favored Heat in six games.
"Tyson Chandler changed our season on a lot of levels," Carlisle said after clinching the title. "It wasn't just his play. It was his enthusiasm, his energy. He got other guys on board with keeping each other accountable."
Other big men had tried and failed to play alongside Dirk Nowitzki. Chandler, however, is a big-time player who doesn't act like a big-time player, which bodes well for his meshing with superstars Stoudemire and Anthony.
"I don't really have an ego," Chandler said. "I guess it's just my roots. I think everybody has a competitive edge. I definitely do. I want to be the best and strive to be the best. But I'm not an ego guy, an individual type of guy. I'm more into the team and helping everyone look good."
One way for Chandler to make his teammates look good is to convince them to play defense as hard as he does. He may be new, but Chandler isn't afraid to give his opinion about what is going down on the floor. He will yell out instructions, call out switches and make suggestions.
"He anchors the defense," D'Antoni said. "When he talks, just his voice alone will get everybody energized. It fires up the whole team, and there's going to be nights I think the Garden will be going absolutely crazy over him because of his energy.''
The work ethic
Chandler's energy and ability to sublimate his ego for the greater good likely is a byproduct of being one of 27 grandchildren who lived either on or near Cleo and Tecel Threadgil's farm about 40 miles south of Fresno. Cleo built his house with his own hands and fed his family of seven children from the crops he grew, Chandler said.
It was Cleo who first got Chandler playing basketball, nailing a rim to a tree in the backyard when Chandler was 3. It also was Cleo who woke him up before dawn countless times to do chores, which may go a long way toward explaining Chandler's work ethic.
"When you milk a cow, it gives you a different appreciation for life," Chandler said.
Papa, as Chandler calls his grandfather, is a man of few words, so it was Tecel, Cleo's wife of 62 years, who did the talking when a reporter called their house this past week. She recalled a giant of a child who was almost inseparable from his grandfather.
"Tyson always wanted to be out there with my husband. He'd be riding on the back of the tractor," Tecel said. "The two of them have always been very close."
Chandler and his mother moved south to San Bernadino when he was 9. He already was nearly 6 feet tall, and his basketball career took off soon afterward. One thing Chandler did after turning professional at age 18 was to buy Cleo a new tractor, even though his grandfather initially put up a fuss about taking it.
"He said, 'I don't want anything more valuable than what I produce,' " Chandler said. "He always told me a man makes the best of what he has."
Now Chandler is hoping to make the best of the incredible opportunity he believes he has in New York. He said a chance to play with Anthony and Stoudemire was the biggest draw for him, but he also is thrilled with the city itself. An avid photographer and painter -- he occasionally tweets photos of his work to his followers -- Chandler is looking forward to exploring the gallery scene in Manhattan.
"I love art in all different forms," Chandler said. "Painting, fashion, photography. To me, basketball is an art if it's played the right way. When it's done correctly, it's amazing."
New York hasn't seen that kind of art in quite a long time, and Chandler would like to help change that. He knows he is in for a challenge, which may be one reason he has been thinking so much about the picture of his grandfather.
Said Chandler: "My grandfather watches every single game. He sold extra crops to pay for the television package. He would never let me pay for it. He has always worked hard to earn what he needs . . . I plan to do the same thing here."