OAKLAND, Calif. -- It had been quite some time since Tyson Chandler avoided anyone in the lane, but this was different.
As the free agent big man drove down a neighborhood street in Calabasas, Calif., he saw the one man he wasn't ready to face coming from the other direction. It was Golden State's Mark Jackson, the first-year coach who lives a mile away from Chandler in the Southern California neighborhood and who had pushed so hard for him to join the Warriors before he decided to sign with New York.
Jackson saw the 7-footer as the perfect fit for his new team, a defensive-minded veteran and powerful locker-room presence who could help with the daunting task of changing the Warriors' culture. On this day, however, he saw the chance to sign him pass him by and then saw the man himself get smaller in the rearview mirror.
"I know he got wind of (the decision), and I'm on my way to pick up my daughter from school," Chandler said on Wednesday night in his first visit to Golden State since his Knicks' signing, a 92-78 Warriors win. "I don't know where he was coming from, and we just made eye contact driving down the street. (It was) the most oddest moment in my career.
"This was before I had a chance to reach out to him. I know he knew it was me. And I was like, 'You've got to be kidding me.' ... (Jackson) did everything in his power to persuade me to come (to the Warriors), and I was probably about 24 hours from letting him know I was going to come here before the Knicks called last minute."
The chance to join forces with Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire was ultimately more appealing than joining Jackson. And as compelling as the longtime Knicks point guard and former TNT analyst was in the recruiting process, the New York appeal coupled with a pitch from Anthony swayed his decision.
"It wasn't a hard sell," Chandler said. "(Anthony) called me. ... It was almost like a welcoming (call) though. There wasn't no, 'I (know) you're thinking about it.' It was, 'Good to have you. I know you're going to come. Once you get here, we'll get things started.'
"He expected it. He was like, 'What option could you have better than this?' He was ultimately right. Playing alongside those two gives you a chance to contend for the next four years or so."
Chandler has no intentions of shying away from anyone in the lane from here on out. There are championship aspirations for the Knicks now, with Chandler preaching defense in ways that coach Mike D'Antoni simply never will, and his influence already proving to be quite the pitchman on that front. The stakes are higher this season, as D'Antoni is in the final year of his contract, and the memory of being swept by Boston in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs remains.
Chandler's championship with Dallas last season gives him credibility that even Anthony and Stoudemire can't boast, and now comes the challenge of being the kind of difference-maker in New York that he was with the Mavericks.
"(We're) just getting better defensively every day with his infectious attitude and communication," D'Antoni said. "Offensively, I think we can do some things with him that will make him better hopefully. He's improved his game a lot offensively, so it's really his doing. Hopefully we can find ways on the floor to get him involved a lot more."
Rookie guard Iman Shumpert, who will be out two to four weeks after spraining his right knee in the Knicks' season-opening win against Boston, sensed the seriousness of their mission from the start.
"You can tell that the level (Chandler, Stoudemire and Anthony) want to be at is through the roof," said Shumpert, who was taken 17th overall out of Georgia Tech and was in D'Antoni's rotation. "It's just a different type of focus. You can see it in their face. You can hear it in every command that they give. After every play, they're teaching, after every practice they come over (to help him).
"(Chandler) believes that on every team he's on he can change their direction. To have Amar'e and Melo saying that before he even got there, and then to have a third guy saying that -- and a guy who has the hardware to prove it -- this team could go places."
If Chandler had his way, however, he wouldn't have had to leave Dallas to begin with. But with the rules changing so drastically in the new collective bargaining agreement, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban
"I understand what he's thinking," Chandler said of Cuban. "He's thinking about next summer, and (2012 free agents) Dwight (Howard) and D-Will (Deron Williams) and maybe being able to hit a home run with both. But the problem with that is if Dwight ends up in L.A. or with the Nets or anyone else, that kind of shatters that whole thinking and then I guess it's back to the drawing board."
Not that Chandler wants the Mavericks to struggle. While he admitted rooting for his former teams to lose after his departures from Chicago and New Orleans, Chandler said his exit from Dallas is different. He remains close with the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry and cringed for his old teammates when their title defense began with a humbling 105-94 loss to Miami on Sunday. Ironically, he even came to their defense while watching the game with family members in a New York restaurant.
"You know how family is: I'm gone (from Dallas), so even though they love those guys over there, it's like, 'Oh, yep see, I told you they should've never let you go,'" Chandler said. "And I'm sitting there and I honestly got a little angry. I barked at my family a little bit, because I didn't want to see my teammates go through that. I didn't want to see them look the way they did, but I sensed it was going to come.
"I know that I was there filling a lot of that void last year, and I can see it. I'm barking at the TV when I was watching the game, because I know what's going on."
While Cuban's approach may pay off in the future, Chandler said it sends the wrong message in the present. Dallas followed its loss to Miami with yet another embarrassing loss to Denver (115-93) on Monday.
"I think it's difficult for guys to go out there and play," he said. "I think a lot of it for those guys is that we won a championship last year there together, and basically the guys in the locker room were told that we're looking for next year. And these are guys who just came off of winning a championship, guys with a lot of heart, a lot of passion for the game, and they know that the organization is looking at next year. It's almost expected for them to get off to a slow start."
That's not his primary concern, of course, especially in light of Wednesday's game. The Knicks were beaten badly on the boards in their loss to Golden State, with Chandler finishing with just three rebounds in 22 minutes to go with just two points. Chandler received a technical foul late in the fourth quarter for throwing Warriors forward David Lee to the floor while going for a rebound.