You probably didn't know Tyson Chandler had been overcoming a physical ailment all this time. The now-infamous toe? That's a recent development, still not one he considers that serious. Five years ago Chandler was diagnosed with asthma. You'd think that difficulty with something as essential as breathing would hinder a professional athlete. Not Chandler.
"It didn't affect me in any kind of way," said Chandler, who is promoting a Web site called www.ASTHMyths.com. "I got with the doctor, came up with the game plan; I haven't had any problems since. That's one of the things I want to get out to kids. They can perform at a high level with asthma."
And Chandler has performed at a high level with the turf toe the Oklahoma City Thunder cited in nixing the Feb. 18 trade that initially brought them Chandler in exchange for Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox.
"I haven't had a problem with it," Chandler said. "It hasn't held me back in any way. It was more of an issue three years ago."
Chandler almost reached the off-ramp for the airport when he got the phone call. There was no need to get on the plane. Instead of flying to the welcoming arms of Oklahoma City, Chandler turned around and dealt with the awkward rendezvous with the team that just traded him.
"It's not something that many of us have a lot of experience with it," Hornets general manager Jeff Bower said. "But the thing we tried to do all along was be very up front and explain to him the whole situation, how it unfolded."
Quite simply, the Hornets needed to get below the luxury tax next season, and with Tyson due to make $11.9 million in 2009-10, the roulette wheel was tilted toward his number.
"I felt like I had an understanding of what it was," Chandler said. "Regardless of what anybody said, I had my own impressions of what it was about."
It was almost like an out-of-body experience; Chandler got to see his Hornets teammates mourning his loss as if it were a funeral.
"I had a chance to sit back and see all the comments that were made by my teammates," he said.
And he saw the reaction in Oklahoma City, where fans were high-fiving in the streets at the prospect of getting a 26-year-old big man. But Chandler wanted to be in New Orleans, wanted to stick with the squad that went to seven games with the Spurs in the second round of the playoffs last season. He wanted a chance "to finish what we started."
The Hornets, a disappointing 30-20 at the time of the trade, have actually started playing better. David West went for 37 points and Chris Paul scored the winning basket in a victory at Oklahoma City in which none of the "traded" players participated. Paul went for 36 points and 10 assists the next game, a victory over the same Orlando team that humiliated New Orleans on Christmas day.
"I think him and David West, they went out there and played angry," Chandler said. "It could be the spark to get us over the hump."
They've won seven of nine games, including five straight. Chandler is a double-double threat again.
"They're a driven group," Bower said. "They all want to win. And they're committed to winning. That's the one thing they all share. One of the strengths is the tightness that they'd built up, shared experiences. They just continue to move on, and understand that it is part of the NBA today."
And the Hornets realize Chandler can still be a valuable component, toe and all.
"None of that was a new discovery," Bower said of the toe injury. "It had been discussed in advance. We're very well aware of the entire situation. That's about all I can say about that."
Chandler feels more appreciated than ever, and maybe feels more appreciative of his Hornets team.
"It's one of those cases where something good happens out of something bad," he said.
Rival general managers remain stunned that the Thunder pulled out of the trade. One suggested the Thunder could have become one of the top four teams in the league with a nucleus of Chandler, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook. While New Orleans is the better team now, and there's no better point guard to play with than Chris Paul, the future looks brighter for the Thunder. Especially since there's no end in sight to the nation's economic woes, no promise of additional revenue for the Hornets. Which means there could easily be more salary-shedding trades this summer. Who knows, maybe even Chandler himself.
"I think that's something that we'll deal with in the summer," Bower said. "Right now, we've got total concentration on the finish of this season, to get ourselves in as a good a position as we can in the Western Conference and put all our energy into competing right now. We'll deal with the summer when we can."
For now it's the team they wanted coming into the season. Chandler, you could say, is breathing easier.