After 1,086 regular-season games, Tyson Chandler is finally home.
The 36-year-old center made his debut with the Los Angeles Lakers Wednesday night after agreeing to a buyout with the Phoenix Suns, his employer for the previous three seasons. As the first sub off the bench, Chandler had an immediate impact; though he scored just two points on 1-of-4 shooting in 23 minutes, the veteran behemoth leveraged his 7-foot-1 frame to scoop nine rebounds and create space for his new teammates. The Lakers ultimately beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 114-110, with Chandler on the floor in the dying seconds to help secure the win.
"I love this city the way they love me," Chandler said after the game, according to ESPN's Dave McMenamin. "When you're homegrown from here, go to high school and all of that, and you have these same fans that have been watching (your career) and now you represent the jersey that everyone has been cheering for their entire lives, you kind of become one."
For a lifelong Californian, Wednesday's game packed plenty of sentimental punch. Improbably, given his 18 years in the NBA with six different franchises prior to the Lakers, Chandler had never played for any of his four home-state teams, let alone one based in the City of Angels. Chandler was born in Hanford, a relatively small town halfway between L.A. and San Francisco. He played his high school ball at Manuel Dominguez High School in Compton, from which he was drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers No. 2 overall in 2001. Even as his journey brought him closer to Los Angeles, he'd never play a minute for the Clippers; he was swapped to the Chicago Bulls for Elton Brand in a draft-day trade.
Now, with an NBA championship, Defensive Player of the Year award, and an All-Star appearance to his credit, Chandler can add one more distinction to his resume: Hometown hero.
"I've been on the other side and played the villain," Chandler added. "Now it's great to be on this side and actually rep 'em."