Earlier this week, Mario Chalmers dropped in on his old haunts in Lawrence. It had been just five months since Chalmers had been at Allen Fieldhouse for his jersey retirement ceremony, but so much had changed since then.
A cast of veterans had left. Some puppy-dog newcomers had arrived on campus. And as Chalmers surveyed the premises, taking part in an afternoon sweat in the KU practice facility, the Jayhawks’ crew of freshmen kept drilling Chalmers with a rather important question.
“They were just asking me what it takes to win a championship,” Chalmers said. “I was like: ‘With coach (Bill) Self, just listen.’”
It’s been more than eight years since Chalmers arrived on campus in the summer of 2005, a sharpshooting point guard from Alaska in a heralded freshman class. Now the Jayhawks have their youngest team since that season, and Chalmers still remembers the messages from Self during his freshman year.
“Just play defense and we could do whatever we want on offense,” Chalmers said. “Once we figured that out, and were just able to get our defense going, we just clicked and we were able to play together.”
It’s hard to think about Chalmers playing the role of sage. The image of a boyish Chalmers rising for his historic three-pointer against Memphis in the NCAA championship game is a tough one to shake. But there he was Wednesday afternoon, stepping on the floor at Olathe East High School for his own basketball camp, a 27-year-old with two NBA championship rings and a growing professional resume.
Still basking in the glow of the Miami Heat’s second straight NBA title, Chalmers returned to the area this week for some downtime and a loaded schedule of charity events. Chalmers will play host to his fifth annual National Championship golf tournament this weekend at Alvamar Golf Club in Lawrence, and he’s organizing a celebrity all-star game tonight at Olathe East. (Chalmers is slated to coach, and admission is $20).
But Wednesday, Chalmers was busy at his camp in Olathe. His foundation had provided scholarships for three kids from the Urban Rangers Corps in Kansas City, and Chalmers had spent the previous two days hanging out with Nik Tanner, Zion Piper and Michael Graham.
“The coolest thing was actually him teaching me how to shoot the ball,” said Tanner, a seventh-grader from Kansas City. “Because I wasn’t making my shots and he was just like: ‘Put faith into it.’”
The words of advice, Chalmers says, were not all that much different from what he told himself after a horrid stretch in the NBA Finals in June. Chalmers had averaged just 4.3 points while shooting four for 19 in three games in San Antonio, and the Heat returned to Miami for game six, trailing 3-2 in the series and on the brink of elimination.
“My mind-set was just to attack from the beginning,” said Chalmers, who averaged 8.6 points in the regular season. “I had three games in San Antonio where I didn’t play good at all, and I felt like I let my team down.”
The tactic worked. Chalmers finished with 20 points in game six — a thrilling overtime victory — and then celebrated on the floor with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the Heat after clinching the title in game seven.
“The celebration was the same,” Chalmers said, comparing his second title with his first. “But the amount of work it took to beat the Spurs was a lot different than the Thunder, so I’d say the second championship was a little bit harder to win.”
Chalmers will be back in Miami next season for his sixth year — the Heat exercised a $4 million team option in June — and for now, he’s enjoying the break from basketball. But an air of uncertainty remains in Miami. James and Wade have player options to leave the Heat after next season, and Chalmers has begun to think about life without his Hall of Fame teammates.
It’s a scary thought. One that, perhaps, requires a little faith. And one way or another, Chalmers says, he’ll make the most out of his next year on South Beach.
“Next year is going to be a good year — a big year at that,” Chalmers said. “We’re going for the three-peat, and you know, next summer, basically our whole team is up.
“This might be our last hurrah together, so we’re going to go out with a bang.”