One of perhaps the most astonishing upsets in NBA Finals history was in 2011, when Tyson Chandler and the Dallas Mavericks took down LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Now, eight years later, the two are teammates on the Lakers and quite a bit has changed.
Chandler was asked on ESPN L.A. Radio about the way he has evolved on and off the court since 2011, when he and the Mavericks ended the Lakers' threepeat attempt:
“Same player, but then of course as you get older you get wiser. You understand the game a lot better and you’re able to contribute in other ways. When you’re young, you’re just running around and moving. So for me it’s the mental aspect of the game as I’ve been able to learn more and been seasoned, I feel like I’ve gotten better throughout the years.”
The growth Chandler mentions here is perfect given his role for these Lakers. Chandler obviously had more to offer physically when he was in his prime en route to that 2011 title, but his understanding of where to be and when to be there is huge for a defense that is still finding itself.
Chandler’s role is one that allows him to pick and choose his spots, something he had a great understanding of how to manage, too. Thus far, the fit has been perfect, and that has a lot to do with how he’s grown as a player and a person.
What has Chandler noticed from James over the years?
“He’s grown so much. I think after that finals he really started to evolve and change his game. Of course from the moment he stepped into the league, he’s been one of the best players in the league and then grown into the best player in the league, but I think at that time, we saw some things on film and put together some defensive plans to try and guard him in different ways.
"Then the following year he had none of those flaws. So clearly he’s an incredible student of the game and continues to get better as he gets older. And then I had the opportunity to play with him on the Olympic team in London, and I couldn’t believe how much better he got just in those couple of years. He just led that team, played 1-5, guarded 1-5, he led practice every day. I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
"And he was then fresh off of a championship, and the Olympics and all that is literally only weeks later. I couldn’t believe the type of level he was playing at for that long.”
This, to me, speaks to James’ most important talent. He’s probably the most gifted player the league has ever seen. His incredible athletic ability, combined with size alone would have made him a special player. But the way his skill as a passer, shooter and defender (when he wants to be) has evolved has been an absolute joy to watch.
To attain the success James has both on and off the court and still work the way he does is really remarkable. Chandler is by far not the first to notice James’ growth nor will he be the last. The Lakers have a couple special ones. It’s no coincidence they’re both champions.