Tyson Chandler strips down

Body Issue 2012: Tyson Chandler (1:17)

Go behind the scenes for the making of ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue with Tyson Chandler. (1:17)

Why did you decide to pose for the Body Issue?
TC: I think it gives the average person a good look at athletes' bodies and why we are able to do the things we do. I think a lot of people are curious about it. I wanted to allow people to look at my body and see why I'm able to do the things I do on the court. Also, it's a very artistic shoot, and seeing that in past issues made me want to do it.

How did you get started in basketball?
TC: My grandfather built my first hoop. It was a peach basket up against a tree, and we played in the dirt. I couldn't have been more than 6 when he put it up, and I just started playing. I fell in love with the competitive nature of it. I remember seeing how intense it was, even early on, and I just love that.

Is it true you grew up on a farm?
TC: I did. I used to help my grandfather on the farm, driving tractors, raising crops and animals. I used to feed some of the baby cows and pigs, and I had to be no older than 7 or 8. Then at about 9 or 10 I started driving tractors. It showed me at an early age what hard work was all about and how dedicated you have to be, no matter what you do. I remember the passion my grandfather went to work with every day, and I think it rubbed off on me.

What do you like about your body?
TC: My stature. I'm tall with broad shoulders. And my waist is small. I'm into fashion, so I like the way clothes lay on me. I'm pretty much a normal person's size, just stretched out.

What challenges do you face with your body?
TC: Everyday living. Getting on an airplane, using the restroom in the airplane -- they are totally not built for you. When you go to a restaurant, you can't just take any table -- your legs and knees don't fit. Just little things like that you wouldn't think about.

To what do you attribute your body awareness?
TC: My athletic build; I'm long and lean. It comes naturally, but I've always worked to enhance my body to perform better. I also don't have very big feet, relatively speaking (I'm a size 16), and I think that makes me agile and quick.

Talk about your early history with sports.
TC: I played football and baseball when I was younger. I was so much bigger than everyone else, but I never wanted that to be a hindrance, I never wanted to not be able to play a sport, or to have people say that I couldn't play a certain position because I wanted to be just as fast and athletic as the smaller guys. I think that that ultimately helped with my athleticism. I competed with guys at other positions. Even when I played basketball, I didn't want them to just say "Okay, he's the center." I wanted to be just as fast as the guards. So when we ran drills, I competed with the guards rather than the big guys.

When was your first dunk?
TC: I dunked for the first time the summer before sixth grade. I had never tried because I didn't want to be embarrassed in not being able to do it. And then one of my classmates hyped me up in the gym one day, and I just thought "Okay, now is the time to try it." And I did it and surprised myself with how easy it was.

Which exercise can't you live without?
TC: I'm into biking now. I asked Ray Lewis one time how he was able to turn back the hands of time, and he told me he rides 100 miles a day: 50 in the morning, 50 in the evening. I'm like "What!?" But it makes complete sense because it takes the impact off your knees and ankles, but it's also really good conditioning and strengthens the knees and ankles. So, me being me, the day I started I did 35 miles, and I came in the house and collapsed. I probably should have eased my way into it.

Now, I'll ride 17.5 miles to the gym, weight train, get some shots up, then ride another 17.5 miles home. People on the road honk at you and stare, so I try to take the side streets that aren't as busy, but when people see me they definitely notice. I live in LA, so people come alongside me and scream, "When are you coming to the Lakers?!?", and random fans will drive alongside me and videotape me with their phones. I'm probably on YouTube. It's actually very soothing when I'm riding. I put my headphones on -- but not too loud because I want to hear the traffic -- and just check out the scenery while I ride. The only tough part is sometimes I forget that I have to work out once I get to the gym.

What do you tell yourself when you feel like you can't train any further?
TC: I think about my competition. I imagine a fierce person training really hard, out there right now doing more than me, and if I quit, I'm giving them an edge. I think about the top centers in the league, and the top teams I'm going to go against. When I'm doing speed work, I think about some of the great athletes in our league that I'm going to have to play defense against coming at me full speed. I'm the defensive anchor on my team, and I know that in order to be a defensive anchor, you have to be in great condition. So during those times I push through it. When I'm on the court, you take yourself to the brink. I'll do whatever it takes; I'll fall down here before I quit.

Have you ever felt self-conscious about your body?
TC: I did at an early age. I was always proud of my height, but I was self-conscious because I was really skinny. I always wanted to be bigger. I didn't like to wear shorts or show my legs at all because I thought they were way too skinny when I was younger. I was self-conscious about my arms, too. I got teased all the time. They'd call me Green Giant. I was 6'4" in sixth grade, and I grew three inches every summer until eighth grade. I would try to lift weights, but I was growing so fast I could never keep up, I couldn't keep weight on. I had no biceps or chest muscles. I was never able to keep weight on until I got to the NBA. But back then, I took my anger out on the court. Once we got on the court, I went hard.

It was tough for my mom because she could never keep up clothes-wise. At the time we were really struggling financially, so it became a burden. For a while I got clothes passed down from my cousin, but then I outgrew him, so the hand-me-downs weren't working so much. My mom also struggled to keep food on the table because I ate so much.

I had to stop trick-or-treating when I was 11. That year, I was a vampire. I went trick-or-treating with some of my cousins, who were older than me. They were like 15, and nobody gave them any trouble. Meanwhile, I was 11, and I show up to a door -- "Trick or Treat!" -- and the lady who answered was like, "Don't you think you're a little too old to be asking for candy?" I just walked away and that was it.

What's something about your body that would surprise us?
TC: Scouts have always been surprised by the way I'm able to move at my size. How fast and agile I am. Some of the big guys in the league come up to me and say it's not fair. I think because I didn't have one growth spurt -- I just grew constantly -- I got used to my body.

What was your best athletic moment -- a time when everything clicked and you felt completely in tune with your body?
TC: When I was in high school, I felt so athletic, so much quicker, so much stronger, able to jump so much higher than everybody else. That's when everything started to click.

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