Mario Chalmers on vying for NBA return: 'To not even get a workout, it's disheartening'

Mike Ehrmann/BIG3 via Getty Images

Mario Chalmers on vying for NBA return: 'To not even get a workout, it's disheartening'

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Mario Chalmers on vying for NBA return: 'To not even get a workout, it's disheartening'

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Recently, nine-year NBA veteran Mario Chalmers was a guest on The HoopsHype Podcast. He discussed his favorite memories from the Miami Heat’s run, his recovery after rupturing his Achilles in 2016, his hope of making an NBA comeback, “The 5 Tournament” that he helped organize and more. You can listen above or read a transcribed version of the chat below.

In the 2008 NCAA championship game, you hit the game-tying three with 2.1 seconds left and Kansas went on to win the title. You were named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. How did your life change after you hit that epic shot?

Mario Chalmers: It changed dramatically. I mean, just for myself, getting ready for the draft after that and just being a known face in all of these communities and in the basketball world worldwide, [it helped me] just leave behind a legacy. Everybody remembered me for that; you know, the kid from Alaska who hit the shot at Kansas. It’s just a great way to leave a legacy.

What was it like growing up in Alaska?

MC: It’s just like any other city. I mean, sometimes we definitely get a lot more snow than in most cities and it’s cold, but it’s colder in Chicago, New York and places like that – they’re all colder than Alaska during the wintertime. In the summertime, we have 24 hours of sunlight, so everybody is playing basketball all day. When I was growing up in Anchorage, there was a big basketball community and playing basketball is pretty much all we did every day.

Moving from Alaska to Miami had to be strange. You went from one end of the weather spectrum to the other.

MC: It was very different! I went from seeing snow for six or seven months out of the year to not seeing snow at all. So, the weather was probably the biggest. That and the culture. Miami is a big Spanish [city] and Spanish culture and Latino culture, but we don’t really have that type of culture up there as much in Alaska. It was just different as far as the culture and different as far as the climate.

You were on the Miami Heat for two seasons before the Big Three came together. During that summer of 2010, what was your reaction when you learned that Dwyane Wade was re-signing and LeBron James and Chris Bosh were coming to Miami too?

MC: I was happy; I was ecstatic. For me to be on that team and be able to play alongside three Hall of Famers, I knew it was great to add that to my resume, a great learning experience for me and a great chance to win. 

The Heat had to get rid of a lot of players in order to create the Big Three. They cleared a ton of salary-cap space and made some trades. At one point, you were the only player who was still under contract. What was that like and were you worried that you might get moved too?

MC: Honestly, I didn’t know what was going to happen. But I figured with them trading away everyone else and with me being that last piece that I might be safe. I had good guys who vouched for me and I held my own when I was needed. I think I was just blessed to be in that position and to fit that spot that they needed.

(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

How much did you learn from playing alongside veterans like D-Wade, LeBron, Bosh, Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, Ray Allen, James Jones and so on?

MC: I learned everything. Anything that you want to name, I learned it from them – business-wise, how to be a professional in the NBA, what it looks like to take care of your body, how to be an everyday father (handling the ins and outs of traveling and being away from your kids) while playing basketball… All of those guys that you named, I’ve had multiple conversations with them (and still have conversations with them). Just being on that team and being with those guys, we formed very close relationships. And, like I said, I’ve always been a guy who held my own, so they all respect me. They all still talk to me, so we’re still friends and that’s a good thing.

When that team came together, there were super-high expectations. When David Griffin was on this podcast, he said that when he learned that LeBron was returning to the Cavs in 2014, he went from celebrating to getting anxious because he realized that there would now be insane expectations and pressure. Did you feel like that at all?

MC: Nah, I didn’t think that at all. Especially, for me, I’m the type of guy that loves the pressure situations. So, for me, I was just welcoming the challenge. I knew that with those guys coming to Miami, we were going to get everybody’s best shot every night. And then with how they were guaranteeing championships, we couldn’t let them down. We had to step up.

When LeBron is on your team, not only are there super-high expectations, there’s a ton of media attention and there’s a lot that’s asked of you because he demands greatness. What was it like playing with LeBron and experiencing that environment firsthand?

MC: You’re playing with one of the greats, so it’s a learning experience and it’s a lot of fun. But it’s also hard, like you said, with all the scrutiny and everything that comes with it. For a player like me that likes to take the last shots and likes to be in that moment, you gotta respect LeBron and you gotta let him take those shots sometimes. So in situations like that, it was a little difficult. But it was fun. I would never take away that experience of playing with that guy – he’s one of the greats and he’s still a person who I talk to to this day; we still have conversations. I learned a lot from Bron and we’re still friends to this day… He’s got one of the greatest basketball minds that I’ve seen.

What are some of your favorite memories from those Heat teams and that incredible run? 

MC: Just the card games on the plane. Just traveling to different cities and seeing all of the hype that surrounded us every time we came into each city. Just the all-around experience of being in the NBA and being around those Hall of Famers, those greats. And Mike Miller and UD, who had been in the league for 15-16-plus years. I will never take those moments for granted. I’ll always remember those moments and always laugh about the fun we had.

When LeBron left in 2014, you were still in Miami with Wade and Bosh for a bit. How did you react when LeBron decided to leave the Heat? Were you surprised by that?

MC: Umm, not really. I really wasn’t surprised. I don’t know why I wasn’t surprised, but it was just something that had kind of run its course. We had fun with it and then, you know, stuff happens like that. He wanted to go back home and he wanted to do something for his city, so you can never be mad at a guy like that who wants to go back home and do something for his city. So, I respected his decision.

In November of 2015, the Heat traded you to the Memphis Grizzlies. What was that like, getting trading and dealing with the change of scenery?

MC: That was a hard experience for me, I’m not going to lie. It was my first time being traded and then how I was traded, going to a city where I already wasn’t one of their favorites just because of the Kansas-Memphis thing. It was fun at the same time, to win the city over and them having my back, but it also had its hard moments with it – dealing with all the extra stuff that came with being a Jayhawk and beating Memphis in the National Championship… In my first game, I actually got some applause and that helped me relax a little bit and it showed that the city of Memphis loves the game of basketball. Whether they are die-hard Tigers fans or die-hard Grizzlies fans, they still love the game of basketball and Grit and Grind. If you show that you can Grit and Grind, you can win their hearts over and be one of them. And that’s what happened with me, so I had a lot of fun in Memphis.

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

In 2016, you ruptured your Achilles tendon. That’s one of those injuries that’s so devastating because you’re out for a long time and some players are never the same. How tough was it to go through that rehab and come back from the Achilles injury?

MC: That was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do in my life. When I first had surgery, my stitches weren’t reacting well with my body, so I had an additional three surgeries. I had three extra surgeries, so that’s why it kind of took me longer to get back and for my Achilles to heal. But once I finally got going, I got everything feeling almost back . I was able to show a little bit of what I could do when I came back to the league [in 2017-18]. But after that, it felt like I lost a step. I don’t think I did, but I was just trying to learn how to use my body and work with that Achilles. I feel better now. I feel a lot better. It’s just a tough injury to come back from, I will say that. 

Did the stitches cause an infection and that’s why you needed three more surgeries? 

MC: Yeah, it caused an infection in the back of my Achilles, so they had to go in and take those stitches and put more in. But those didn’t react well either, so the stitches kept coming out. They were just trying to figure out why the stitches wouldn’t react well with my body and why they wouldn’t dissolve into my Achilles. Then, they finally figured out the right ones and then, after that, that’s when the healing process finally started.

Man, that’s brutal. There’s been a lot of talk about Kevin Durant recovering from his torn Achilles this season. Having been through that same injury and recovery process, what do you expect to see from Durant when he returns?

MC: With all of this time off and how he’s been able to work and how hard I know he works, I think KD is going to come back and not even lose a step. I think he will be right back to normal. Of course, it’s gonna take him some time to get adjusted to it – getting used to the physical contact of playing on that leg and pushing off that foot. But once he gets comfortable, he’s gonna be back to being KD, I think.

Playing on it for the first time after the injury has to be tough. Chauncey Billups once told me that he had a hard time after his Achilles injury because he would overcompensate with his other leg/foot and that caused additional injuries. How did that adjustment period go for you?

MC: It’s tough, like you said. It’s definitely tough. It’s just something that you’ve got to get comfortable with and it’s going to take time. I worked out with a track coach a couple times, just to help me with my stride and to be explosive off my foot when pushing off with that foot. There are just different things that you gotta learn and you have to be comfortable with it and trust in it before you can actually step on the court and be comfortable when you’re playing again. 

You’ve played nine seasons in the NBA, most recently suiting up with the Grizzlies in 2017-18. Do you still hope to sign with an NBA team in the future?

MC: I definitely do. I definitely think I can still help a team, especially with my resume. I have a lot of knowledge since I’ve been to four NBA Finals and won two NBA championships and a college national championship. I just feel like I can provide a lot of knowledge to a young point guard and be a mentor. That’s the role that I’d come back to the NBA and be, so I’m open to it if it happens. 

Recently, Raymond Felton and I talked about how most NBA teams are pursuing younger players that become available and not going after veteran players as much these days. Have you experienced that as well? And, if so, how frustrating is that?

MC: I’ve definitely experienced that. And, yeah, it is frustrating – just because there’s the saying, “A team always wants a winner.” I just feel like with my resume, I’m a proven winner. I’m not a bad guy in the locker room; I’m not a jerk. So, I just feel like for me to not even get a chance and not even get a workout or nothing like that, it’s a little disheartening. But that’s the way the business goes… I’m definitely surprised how they’ve shifted away from [veterans]. Those guys are very important. For me, some of my vets were Dwyane Wade, Bron, Jermaine O’Neal, Jamaal Magloire and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, so I’ve had vets that have actually been All-Stars and they’ve taught me about basketball, about family, about a lot of different things. I just feel like if I was an NBA GM or somebody that’s running an NBA team, I would want a couple of vets on my team, just to make sure my young guys are following suit and not doing too much off the court. You want to make sure they’re still focused on basketball and that they understand the business aspect of everything. And once you get to the NBA, you have a lot of freedom. And if you don’t use that freedom wisely, it could be a lot of trouble for you. So, I just feel like vets are good with that stuff. I had a lot of vets who helped me out and I feel like vets are always needed; somebody who’s been there before is always needed to help teach the new school.

Last year, you played in Italy and Greece. How was your experience playing overseas? 

MC: I had a lot of fun playing overseas. The game is different, the coaching is different. From my experience, I’ve run into two coaches that both told me that they don’t like the NBA or the NBA game style. But then they’ll come to you like, “Hey, you see the way that Steph Curry runs to the corner? Make sure you do that too!” So, it’s just funny to be over there and hear how they talk about American basketball and NBA basketball. But, I mean, it’s a lot of fun being over there. The fans are great. You get to go to new cities and the cities are great. It’s a lot of fun to experience a different culture and live life and be able to travel while playing basketball at the same time… I had a blast in Greece. That coach was amazing. I had a lot of fun playing for him, but then our season was cut short because of COVID-19. But that was definitely a lot of fun playing over there. I hope to go back there, if I can. 

When your playing days are over, do you know what career you want to pursue?

MC: Right now, I’m going through my options, but I think it’ll be something to do with basketball. Coaching or becoming a scout are the two things that I’m interested in right now.

Speaking of COVID-19, how have you been spending this time off?

MC: I’ve just been at home, hanging out with my kids and that’s been a lot of fun for me – really having our downtime and being able to be with them and watch them grow and be able to have fun with them. Also, I’m trying to do some different business deals. I’ve been learning a little bit about the stock market. And I’ve been putting The 5 Tournament together. I’m just trying to keep myself busy. I’ve been working out a lot and just trying to do different things.

You mentioned The 5 Tournament, which is a three-on-three tournament that features former NBA players from July 19-29 on pay-per-view. How did you initially get involved with this?

MC: I got involved through Jerry Castello. He contacted me, saying, “I have an idea to put a tournament together. What do you think?” And then he ran the idea past me and I was like, “Yeah, I’ll jump on board and I’ll help you put it all together.” We just took off from there. I met Jerry at the BIG3… so that’s how me and him connected. And then through his connections and my NBA connections, we started reaching out to people and we were able to put it together.

There are six different teams and the games will be played in Las Vegas. We’ve seen everything that the NBA is going through to resume their season. Was it difficult to put this event together amidst a pandemic?

MC: It’s been kind of tough, but it’s really not that bad at the same time… A lot of people liked the idea. We had a lot of sponsors jump on board and we had a lot of people jump on board who really helped us put it together. So, once we got the ball rolling, it became fairly easy to put together. The one thing that was tougher was finding out a location where we were going to be able to do the games with all of the testing and everything. But once they figured that out, it was pretty much smooth sailing.

How excited are you to get out there and play 5-on-5 again?

MC: I’m very excited. This is probably the longest I’ve been away from basketball when I’m healthy. So, yes, I definitely have the itch to get back out there and play and compete. We’re going to have some fun, playing against former [NBA] guys. That’s gonna be the main focus of this tournament.

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