Phoenix Suns coach Earl Watson, center Tyson Chandler have long history together
PHOENIX — When Tyson Chandler was just a teenager, Earl Watson was there for him, picking him up in his car to take him to lunch at an In-N-Out Burger from time to time.
Back then, Watson was an incoming freshman at UCLA. Chandler was a Hanford, Calif., native about to be a ninth grader at Manuel Dominguez High School in Compton.
Now it is Chandler’s turn to play the part of mentor for a young Phoenix Suns team.
“Tyson has inherited a lot of younger brothers, slash could be sons, so to speak,” Watson said. “They are very fortunate to have a veteran leader like Tyson Chandler in their life.”
With eight Suns players younger than 25 years old, Watson said the young Suns call Chandler, 34, as if he’s a father figure for simple things such as how to pay bills.
Mentorship is the “biggest thing” in the NBA, according to Watson. And he said Chandler is the perfect person to take on the role.
The two first met through Baron Davis, a mutual friend who was at UCLA then and would become an NBA All-Star. Davis grew up in the Los Angeles area and played with Watson at UCLA. They were the first two freshmen to start together for UCLA since the 1979 season.
“Baron (Davis) and I were ballin’ on a budget so we took Tyson to In-N-Out,” Watson said. “(Got a) couple Double-Doubles. We didn’t let him (Chandler) get any fries though. It’s too much for the budget. Shake or fries, he had to choose. So he didn’t get the fries.”
And In-N-Out wasn’t the only place Watson and Davis took the young Chandler.
“I remember them sneaking me into bars on campus in Westwood,” Chandler said. “Just me staying in the back and trying to lay low, but being 7-foot already.
“It was such an amazing time in L.A. when him and Baron were Bruins.”
In 2001, both Chandler and Watson entered the NBA Draft.
At only 18 years of age, Chandler was chosen directly out of high school as the second overall pick by the Los Angeles Lakers, who subsequently traded his rights to the Chicago Bulls.
Watson, who was 22 and had started for four years at UCLA, was chosen in the second round by the Seattle SuperSonics.
Chandler and Watson faced each other twice during their rookie year and their relationship has continued, first as players and now player and coach.
“Having that connection and being drafted together and coming up that way I think is just a real mutual respect,” Chandler said.
After a 13-year playing career in the NBA, Watson retired and set his sights on coaching. He became an assistant coach with the Austin Spurs in the NBA D-league, then an assistant coach with the Suns in July of 2015.
It was in that same month that Chandler signed a multi-year contract with the Suns and joined his mentor of the past.
Watson made his interim coaching debut on Feb. 2, 2016, after the Suns fired coach Jeff Hornacek. The interim tag was lifted when Watson was officially named the Suns head coach in April of 2016.
“Getting a head coaching job after just a couple years in coaching, he’s beaten every odd that’s been set in front of him,” Chandler said. “It says a lot about his character and who he is as an individual.”
Chandler said he wants to see all his coaches do well, but seeing what Watson has achieved in such a short amount of time hits close to home.
“I want to see him succeed because he’s like one of your brothers,” Chandler said. “I just try to do whatever I can to help him from my side of the ball.
“Now it’s different for him. He’s coaching, so I try to communicate with him everything I’m seeing from a locker room aspect.”
Because the two have known each other so long, Watson is comfortable pointing out one thing he doesn’t like so much about Chandler.
“The beard to me is just a wall,” Watson said. “It’s like a dog that barks and you turn the corner, and it’s the nicest dog in the world — even though he’s 7-feet tall.”
Chandler said people either love the beard or don’t. But despite their difference of opinion about Chandler’s facial hair, player and coach know the challenges they have overcome. That knowledge provides them with a unique bond and trust for one another.
“I know that I can go to my coach to talk about anything,” Chandler said. “Whether that be life or basketball or whatever. I’ve got his best interests in the locker room at all times to help motivate players and move the organization in the right way.”
Watson said Chandler has been mature his entire life and has a “special presence” about him. Not only is Watson proud of Chandler’s development as a person and player, but the perks of Chandler’s success aren’t bad either.
“Now he can take me somewhere to go eat,” Watson said. “I’m not going to In-N-Out. Someplace nice.”