SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Tyson Chandler felt terrible when he arrived at Sleep Train Arena on Thursday evening.
The big man's body was worn down after playing six games in the previous nine days and folding his 7-foot frame into a bus seat for a 90-minute ride following Wednesday night's loss to the Golden State Warriors, when he expended a ton of energy during a 21-point, 17-rebound effort. He knew how badly the Dallas Mavericks needed him to battle 6-foot-11, 270-pound Sacramento Kings star DeMarcus Cousins but was honestly dreading the matchup.
Then inspiration arrived in the form of Hall of Fame center Bill Russell, the reason Chandler wears No. 6.
Chandler interrupted his pregame warmup routine to make a beeline over to the 80-year-old Russell, the legend who led the Boston Celtics to 11 NBA titles, and chatted for several minutes. Russell, who encouraged Chandler to keep leading the Mavs, energized the 14-year veteran center with his mere presence.
There was no way that Chandler would allow himself to have a mediocre performance with Russell as a courtside guest of Kings owner Vivek Ranadive.
"You better play well. You better lead," Chandler told ESPNDallas.com. "You argue less with the refs. You encourage your teammates a little more. It's the president of basketball, the ultimate. I don't know what title I can give him, but for me, he's that. Whenever he's out there, I've got to make sure I'm on my game."
Chandler's performance certainly didn't disappoint Russell. Chandler scored 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting and grabbed 16 rebounds in 30 minutes, leading the Mavs to a 101-78 rout.
It wasn't a complete domination of Cousins by any stretch, as the Kings' first-time All-Star had a routine statistical outing by his standards, putting up 23 points and 11 rebounds. The highlight of the night for Kings fans was a spectacular Cousins dunk over Chandler when the big man drove baseline from the right and slammed the ball home on the other side of the rim.
But Chandler, like Russell in his day, doesn't define success by stats or highlights. He's all about winning. And the Mavs outscored the Kings by 26 in his 29:30 on the floor.
"He's got a motor unlike any big guy I've ever seen," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "He's got tremendous pride and he's really into winning. The combination of those things, plus he's got the ability and the skills, just makes him a terrific player.
"He's as important as any guy we've got. We've got a lot of important players. He's kind of the heartbeat of our team in a lot of ways."
Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson recently described Chandler as "kind of a modern-day Bill Russell."
Sure, Chandler is 10 rings shy of matching Russell's record-setting collection, so that comparison could be considered hyperbolic. But the point is that Chandler is an incredibly athletic center whose intangibles are more impressive than his physical gifts.
"That's the freakin' biggest compliment I can ever receive," said Chandler, who is averaging 10.9 points, 12.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks this season, numbers that are better across the board than his production during Dallas' title campaign. "Just to even be mentioned in the same breath as him in any kind of way is the ultimate. I take that humbly and hope that I can get an ounce of what he accomplished in his career."
Chandler first met Russell on the night the Mavs clinched the 2011 title by beating the Miami Heat in Game 6. Chandler told Russell that night that he wore No. 6 as a tribute to him.
"He told me that it was an honor," Chandler said. "That just kind of made my world."
Chandler's immense respect for Russell goes far beyond basketball. He's well aware of the cultural impact that Russell made as one of the first dominant black professional basketball players and a man who stayed true to his beliefs regardless of the circumstances.
Chandler strives to be the type of man that Russell has been throughout his life. And he considers Russell the NBA standard as a leader and winner, which is all Chandler wants to be in basketball.
"I think for every basketball player he should be the ultimate icon, idol, whatever you want to call him," Chandler said. "For me, he sets the totem pole as far as just being a winner. Greatest of all time, we can go through debates on all that kind of stuff, but as far as just being a winner, a leader, changing his era not only in basketball but the world at that time, he's huge.
"Every time I see him, I try to pay homage. I want to give him a hug. I feel like I just want some of his energy, his aura to rub off on me."