Their teams waged memorable battles in college, splitting regular-season encounters at Kansas State and Kansas, and they entered the NBA together with the Miami Heat.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Michael Beasley, the smooth, can’t-miss forward with All-American talent. And guard Mario Chalmers of “Mario’s Miracle” in the national championship game, but no sure thing as a professional.
Their paths and fortunes diverged, and on Friday night at a sold-out Sprint Center, where the Miami Heat beat the Charlotte Bobcats 86-75 in an exhibition game, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra found himself explaining Beasley’s position as a September roster addition to the two-time defending NBA champion.
It feels something like a last best chance for Beasley not to be an NBA bust.
“His only expectation is to fit in, to fast track with our system and our culture,” Spoelstra said. “This team is more about how you can help us with the big picture than how we can help you with your individual opportunity.”
Beasley, back in Miami after failed landings in Minnesota and Phoenix, fights for his place on the team that made him the second overall pick in the 2008 draft.
“I’m going into a delicate situation,” Beasley said. “It’s not like I’m on another team. I’m on a team fighting for a spot in history. I definitely don’t want to mess up. I don’t want be the reason the ship fails.
“I’m definitely taking it more seriously than I did my first two years.”
That was the concern about Beasley after his dominant freshman year at Manhattan — that the 19-year-old who wore SpongeBob SquarePants shorts wasn’t mature enough to handle the NBA life.
It became apparent before he ever suited up for the Heat. At the NBA rookie orientation, he and Chalmers were fined and thrown out for violating camp rules.
But Chalmers, a second selection of Minnesota who was traded to Miami on draft night, recovered from his rocky start, eventually becoming Miami’s starting point guard and playing an important role in the Heat’s title quests.
Beasley’s contribution to that run? His trade to Minnesota in 2010 cleared cap space for LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
Chalmers remained, and the longer he endured the more seriously he took his career. This year, Chalmers reported to camp at the same weight (187 pounds) he was as a Jayhawks sophomore. He lost 10 pounds from the end of last season, cutting out fried foods, soda and sweets.
Chalmers, like Beasley, started off an NBA knucklehead but grew up.
“It was about adjusting to your life and how to figure out how to keep yourself occupied,” Chalmers said. “You’ve got to will yourself to keep the main thing the main thing.”
Beasley continued to search for that simple formula. In 2009, he checked into a rehab center. With the Timberwolves, he was pulled over for speeding and police found marijuana.
In a statement explaining Beasley’s departure last month, Suns director of basketball operations Lon Babby said the franchise would no longer tolerate Beasley’s behavior. “… It is essential we demand the highest standards of personal and professional conduct as we develop a championship culture. Today’s action reflects our commitment to those standards.”
Now Beasley is back where he started and wants to impress.
“I’m trying to work hard and gain the trust of my teammates,” Beasley said.
More games like Friday will help on that front. Beasley entered the game with about 3 minutes left in the first quarter. Before the period was over he had scored on three straight possessions. The sweetest: a turnaround from the baseline, a shot that fell so often for Beasley in his lone season at Bramlage Coliseum. Beasley finished with 13 points on Friday, Chalmers made the KU fans happy with 10 and James delighted the 18,770 in the building with 20 points in 24 minutes.
Valuable minutes off the bench are what Miami asks of Beasley.
“We don’t need him to do a lot,” Chalmers said. “We need him to keep a level head within the team.”
That’s never been a given for Beasley. But he seems to understand this is his chance.
“I’m trying to work hard,” Beasley said. “And gain the trust of my teammates.”