Tyson Chandler is one of the NBA’s most creative and cultured players. While he’s traveled across the globe, from backpacking through Europe to going on safari in Africa to enjoying the beach life in Australia, he’s photographed his adventures along the way.
Using his Leica camera, the center has also captured his teammates behind the scenes, from the Knicks to his current Suns. In fact, he had his own photography exhibition in the artsy SoHo district while he was playing in New York. Up next, Chandler, who also paints his family and old record covers (he attended Sofia Art Academy while playing in Dallas), is thinking about publishing a coffee table book highlighting his different pictures.
The 16-year NBA veteran is also celebrated for being fashion forward, and in the past Vogue named him Best Dressed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s prestigious annual Costume Institute Gala. In addition, he’s a standout brand ambassador for UNICEF, for which he’s assisted runaway children and HIV-positive mothers in Tanzania. He was also one of the first supporters of the organization’s Kid Power initiative to promote children to stay active, while helping save the lives of kids their own age in Africa. By last year, 71,000 students in 13 states were participating in the program.
Recently during the Suns’ road trip in New York, Chandler caught up with the NBPA to chat about the different parts of his multicultural palette: life in Phoenix, evolution in fashion, progression in photography, favorite trips around the world and his work with UNICEF. His conversation is presented below in a first-person perspective and edited for clarity and length.
I always want to take advantage and embrace the city where I live and play. So being in Phoenix, I’ve taken advantage of the calmness that it brings. It’s a different city in the way it moves. It’s more of a casual, chill city. There are a lot of retired people. It’s more relaxed, which has been a good thing because it’s kind of kept me off of my feet.
Phoenix has also been great for my family. It’s been pretty peaceful as far as just being able to be outdoors and be at my son’s football games and baseball games, and taking my girls around. It’s because the weather allows, so it’s been a plus. Before the season started, I went out to the canyons a little bit just to unwind.
I really enjoy the landscaping and changing of the seasons as far as the sky goes in Phoenix. Phoenix has some of the most beautiful nights as far as all the colors—orange, grey, purple. So for me, it’s been more so of just looking up, whereas before in various cities I was looking around for inspiration. I’m also trying to find the art scene in Phoenix for inspiration.
I’ve embraced the look in Phoenix. It’s less layers that you put on because it’s typically warm all the time. I had to think of something to be different, so I started growing my beard out. I stopped cutting it last February.
For me, fashion is just all about yourself and your vision, as well as emotion and timing. Being in Phoenix, it’s a lot of comfort these days, mixing different fabrics that are comfortable and making it more edgy. I just have more of a sweat look, more tailored look. I wear leather bomber jackets from Pyer Moss and tailored sweatshirts—different things that I can still layer and have fun with, and make it an easier transition from the plane to a meeting or dinner. I’m all about functionality. And now I’m rocking more fashionable baseball caps. Phoenix is more of a baseball-cap look because it’s little more of a laid-back town.
I started on his fashion journey like eight to 10 years ago with my brother-in-law, Browne Andrews (pictured below, to the left). I got so frustrated with not being able to really nail down the looks that I wanted as a big guy. I wanted to be able to express myself, and it was impossible because I couldn’t buy off the rack. So I was always faced with the same looks, wearing clothes that were a little too baggy. It’s been a fun, creative process working with him because we’re mixing with imagination and coming up with different concepts.
Fashion is a different world and I can appreciate the art aspects as a creative. I had fun with it in New York—photo shoots and fashion shows—but then there were times where I just wanted the art, because that’s where the creative is. I love the art of fashion, I love the creativity, and that’s what drew me to it really in New York. I was just able to be immersed in it and talk to a lot of designers about their vision. In New York, it was just like a dream come true to be amongst all these creatives.
I remember being in New Orleans earlier in my career and really getting into fashion back then. Players used to be in locker rooms laughing about European cuts and different designers, and now you see all these athletes out there with fashion. It’s popular now. It definitely turned into a lifestyle.
Photography is a life thing. Any time you talk to me, it brings me to something with photography because I just enjoy the beauty of capturing the moment, being able to go back and look at that moment and relive it.
Like I did in New York, I capture my Suns teammates behind the scenes and my kids and around the house. It’s random quite honestly—just something that catches my eye. We were in Mexico City last month and I took a lot of film. I was so fascinated by the way of life and the grind, the hustle. It was New York in a different magnitude. Everybody was moving, everybody had somewhere to be. It’s fast paced, but a different culture.
I have an old Leica camera. The beauty of film is you can get half of things that you’ve taken and develop that film as a surprise. You look at the film and you relive it, and you’re, like, “Wow.” The shot that you think is going to be great isn’t it, and the shot that was random is the one. When I was in New York, I did a photography show. Looking ahead, I’m thinking of doing a coffee table book.
For me, photography is constantly evolving. I still have my great friend, Ari Marcopoulos, who kind of started me on this journey in New York. I’m constantly looking at his work and constantly looking at other photographer’s work, and coming up with a vision in my own mind. And then once I get behind the lens, it’s a different world and you just see it from your angle.
Everybody has a different story; your eye is going to be different than mine. And when you look at a picture that brings you in, it makes you wonder what that person was thinking at that time and what they were going through in their lives. That’s the beauty of photography—the imagination. It allows you to go through another world, so photography will forever be a piece of me.
There’s a ton of places I’ve been. I plan on getting a map and just seeing all the places I have been, and all the places I want to go.
Safari in Tanzania tops my list because it’s just seeing nature in its own element and it’s free to just wander around. You watch the cycle of life.
I loved Madrid; it’s a bigger city. I love the movement of people going to different places in the world. For me, it’s the people and the culture and the history—the same thing in Italy, when I went to Rome, Milan and Venice. I like being immersed in doing what the people do. I went to Italy and took a train back and forth to different cities, just backpacking. It’s just better that way for me because you get an idea of what it’s like there, what it’s like for the people.
I loved Sydney, Australia, where I went for the Hillsong Conference. Sydney was very peaceful, a different way of living out there. I loved Bondi Beach. It’s a whole community there. It’s more of a chill environment and people are all communicating to one another. There’s no egos or anything like that, and kicking your shoes off, for me, symbolizes that.
I’m the type of person that I love going to places where I can walk around barefoot. Being able to be in a beachy environment and just being able to walk along the beach and walk into a restaurant, and just do things locally without having to have my shoes on, makes me feel in awe. It’s also relaxing for my feet after the grind of the season.
I also loved Athens, Greece. I’m really huge into Greek history and the Roman empire, so seeing a lot of ruins was huge for me. And partying-wise, I love the South of France. It’s like entering a different world; you run into people from all across the world.
I feel like I’m very well-traveled and there’s like a million places I haven’t been. I haven’t been to South America, and I want to go to Brazil, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and some of those places. Also, Japan. I just think it’s important that you experience life if you have the opportunity, because you can take something from every experience.
UNICEF is just such a beautiful thing because I feel like they do more for me than I do for them being a brand ambassador. What I mean by that is every opportunity is life-changing, and going to Tanzania in 2012 was life-changing for me. I had always wanted to go to Africa and my mother, Vernie, who passed away in November, had always talked about going to Africa. So to go to Africa with my family, and to help people, was huge for me.
I went to some of the women’s shelters and clinics—just educating them about HIV and better health—and held basketball clinics for kids and played games with them. Learning what they’ve had to endure, seeing the process of buildings being built, helping schools out, being there for a malnourished child to feel better—that’s the beauty of being a brand ambassador. It’s being able to truly change lives.
I remember one kid that I met at one of the shelters for street kids. UNICEF gives them shelter at night, and they play games and eat dinner. A lot of these kids are in streets that are dangerous. They’re raped and beat up—just crazy things. The boy was 12 years old and at the age of nine, when his mother worked out in the field to make money, he decided to leave. I asked him why and he said, “I knew that it would be too hard for her to continue to feed me and the new baby.”
He hitchhiked and did all these things. I asked him, “Do you still communicate with her?” He said, “When I can, I call back to make sure she’s OK.” He had a vision at nine to leave his house to get out and work because he didn’t want to be a burden on his mother. It’s just mind-blowing. You think you’ve got it so hard, and then you realize what people are going through in the world. So it’s those stories that stick with you forever.
My daughter, Sacha-Marie, is 10 years old, my son, Tyson II, is eight years old, and my youngest daughter, Sayge, is six, and I tell them about that boy any time they’re feeling sorry for themselves or any time they need a life lesson. We do things now as a family as far as helping others. They’re very aware of terrible things and responsibility of charities. There will come a day where I will take them out to experience what I did in Tanzania. I’m actually talking to UNICEF now about my next field trip.
In the states, one of the biggest things in the states is obesity, so my wife, Kimberly, and I teamed up with UNICEF to help jump start Kid Power in 2015. It’s helping kids work out in the U.S., and the more they work out in classrooms, they’re able to save lives in Africa. When they work out, they build points and then they’re able to send off these food packets that help nourish kids in Africa.
The kids in the U.S. are learning that they can make a change in the world at such a young age. And you would be amazed that when you sit down with these young kids, they see that they’re actually making a difference in some child’s life across the world.