Mario Chalmers discusses with TalkBasket current trends, developments and the different coaches that marked his career in Europe and the NBA.
Mario Chalmers boasts one of the most impressive career resumes European basketball has ever witnessed.
A two-time NBA with the Miami Heat (2012, 2013) and a one-time NCAA champion with Kansas (2008), the now 34-year-old guard is making a living overseas for the third season in a row. After lifting the Basketball Champions League with Virtus Bologna in Italy (2019) and the Greek Cup with AEK Athens (2020), the Alaska native decided to stay in Mediterranean territory for another round, this time with Aris Thessaloniki.
Chalmers is widely known as a player who has won titles almost everywhere he’s been. From Kansas to Miami and then Europe, he always brings his championship pedigree wherever he goes. However, his average of 9.3 points on 36.7% threes over 7 Greek League games with Aris BC this year has not proven enough to give the historic team from Northern Greece the necessary boost in order to aim higher.
His seven-year tenure in Miami was followed by a two-year stint with Memphis and also a right Achilles tendon rupture that eventually put a rather premature end to his NBA presence. Finding ex-Kansas standouts in Greece, such as Keith Langford and Brandon Rush, makes him feel more comfortable, even amidst the covid-19 pandemic.
After Aris BC lost to his former team AEK in Athens (84-67), Mario Chalmers took some considerable time to answer TalkBasket’s questions about his impressions from basketball in Europe, make some predictions about the upcoming NBA season and share his opinion on some of the coaches that marked his career.
Q: How has the season been for you?
A: It is what it is. At the end of the day, we just try to play basketball, without worrying about anything else. I haven’t had the chance to experience Thessaloniki because of the lockdown. I haven’t really seen anything. We get tested every week and try to stay away from people. I’m getting a real taste of the Greek League and I like it. It’s a different kind of basketball. It’s very physical, but the Champions League is even more physical because they let you play like that.
Q: How is the situation with Aris BC right now?
A: It’s a situation, that’s the way to describe it. It’s getting a little better day by day. We’re getting better as a team, but as far as management there’s still a lot of things that we have to work on as a whole to make everybody more comfortable.
Q: What kept you in Greece for another year?
A: It was just another good opportunity. I feel like playing for AEK last year, the season was cut short because of COVID, but at the same time I like Greece. I had a lot of fun and success here. The offer I had from Aris was really one of the best at the time, too. So, that’s why I took it.
Q: Do you feel bitter about not staying with AEK for another year?
A: Not at all because it wasn’t my choice. It was up to the management of AEK. They decided to go in a different direction, which happens. So, there’s no hard feelings. I still have love for AEK. I definitely had a great time last year. Meeting Zisis, getting close with Gkikas, knowing Keith (Langford) since 2003; it’s always good to be here.
Q: How do you come to terms with not being in the NBA?
A: I know why I’m not there. I had a major injury and then had to bounce back, but it didn’t go as planned. I just never got another opportunity. So, I had to decide whether I was going to keep playing basketball or I was ready to quit.
Q: Seeing the Miami Heat back in the NBA Finals was a surprise for you?
A: Definitely not. The coach has always built around going to the Finals. I know how hard those guys have worked and now they know what it takes to get to the Finals.
Q: If LeBron James and Erik Spoelstra were to call you at the same time to take you on board, who would you pick?
A: (He takes about 10 seconds to think about it) I think I’d go back to the Heat, just because the Lakers are the champs. You never want to join the champs, you want to beat them. That’s how I think. I always prefer the underdog. I’ve been considered one throughout my whole life. No matter the championships, I’m still fighting and I’m still going for the underdogs.
Q: Do you believe that many NBA players downgrade the importance of the overseas grind?
A: I don’t think they downgrade it. I just think they don’t experience it. They don’t really know exactly what it is until they play the Olympics and even at the time, it is a quick game, a one-month tournament. I definitely don’t think they downgrade it.
Q: What would you tell them?
A: NBA is more about iso basketball, running more, wide open spaces. Europe is like getting back to college. You can sit in the paint all day, teams give you different schemes and defenses.
Q: How was Sasha Djordjevic as a coach in Bologna?
A: We were just talking about it with the guys of AEK. He definitely knows a few things, but he has a complex against American basketball players or the ones that have played in the NBA. I had a very short time with Sasha. We were successful and we won. That’s the main thing.
Q: How did he treat you?
A: I didn’t have any interactions with him. I played there for two months in the end of the season.
Q: So, how did you get that impression?
A: Just by the way he talks. He made some slick comments here and there about the NBA game; and then, the treatment that he gave me. It was a couple of little things that I know.
Q: Were you surprised that they got Belinelli back?
A: Yes, but he’s from Italy. I’ve known Marco since we played in the league together. It was definitely a surprise, but not a bad move at all.
Q: Four NBA Finals, two championships and one college title is what you expected when you started your career?
A: Definitely. That’s why you play the game. You want to win championships and be successful. When you set out to achieve goals and you actually do that, it’s always good.
Q: Do you feel that once you’re gone from the NBA, it’s very difficult to return?
A: It’s very hard to get back to the league. The NBA changes so fast. Right now, they’re getting young guys and they want to go younger and younger and develop more players instead of having already developed players or veterans who have been through a lot. It’s all about the swing that the NBA is going with right now.
Q: Is it related to people in the States not paying much attention to Europe?
A: I don’t know. They look at Europe a lot. I don’t think they look at the BCL level, to be honest. They definitely look at the EuroLeague and try to see players who are successful. It’s always about the highest level of basketball.
Q: Do you remember the comments made on Luka Doncic before and after he was drafted?
A: I was just talking to Marcus Slaughter who is a Luka fan. Luka was able to prove what he could do. So, I’m a Luka fan too. I watched many of his games. I’ve heard about what he did in Madrid because he played with Marcus there, but I didn’t see him until he got to the NBA.
Q: This season, you are playing with a former Jayhawk in Mario Little and also against other notable Kansas players, like Brandon Rush and Keith Langford. Do you hang around?
A: Brandon has been one of my best friends since we were 12 years old. Any time that we play each other, it’s a little personal. I was able to get the upper hand and steal the ball from him in the last game we played. I was happy that our team won.
Q: Could you highlight similarities and differences in the point guard position between Europe and the NBA?
A: It’s a little bit different. Most point guards at the Greek League and the BCL level are not really scoring point guards. They set up the offense and hit the open shot when they got it. In the league, point guards are the scorers, the leaders of the team, people who have the ball 24/7. I think they rely more on the point guard to make plays instead of team game, as it is in Europe.
Q: Do you believe players like Mike James and Shane Larkin deserve a spot in the NBA?
A: They both had their chances in the NBA. Especially for Shane and Mike, they are more successful and are making more money in Europe. I’m sure they enjoy it over here, but everybody wants to play in the NBA. That’s just life.
Q: Since you consider becoming a coach or a scout, which elements would you pick up from each coach you had?
A: Coach Self was a defensive guy. I definitely take his defensive system. Offense I would take from Dave Joerger who I played for at Memphis. In terms of motivation and everyday preparation, definitely Erik Spoelstra. He’s one of the best I’ve seen do that; being on point with everything, knowing how to make adjustments and being able to make the game a little bit easier for his team.
Q: Coaching-wise and playing-wise, is there any similarity between the NBA and Europe?
A: Kind of. The NBA is more of a spread-out game, more wide open. So, the scheme is different for teams that play in those leagues. Most European teams pack the paint, in the NBA you can’t sit there.
Q: Which are your NBA projections?
A: It’s going to be a good season with a lot of competition going around. There’s a lot of things people got to prove, so the season is going to be more entertaining. Everyone’s healthy now: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving … And now they’re on the same team. That’s a scary combination once they figure out how to play with each other. The Lakers are still at the top, being the champs from last year. You still got the Heat.
Q: Who would you like to win the championship?
A: I would go with the Heat. I’m a Heat guy; my first NBA experience was with them, so I’m a die-hard Heat fan.
Q: Did you expect Giannis to stay with Milwaukee for another five years?
A: Yeah, definitely. That’s a lot of money to pass up. He’s built for that city, he’s a star there and he loves it. That’s his new hometown.