Miami Heat

Chalmers back in Miami with Big3 league: ‘I’m going to keep playing until wheels fall off’

Ask Mario Chalmers how his body feels these days and he responds with the three words he’s been waiting and working to put together since tearing his right Achilles tendon in March 2016.

“I feel great,” the former Heat point guard answers.

It’s been a while since Chalmers could say that.

“This is the best I’ve felt in a long time,” he admits. “Just having a full summer with no injuries. Nothing hurts, nothing aches on me. I’ve had the whole summer to really train and get ready for whatever happens for me next year.”

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After playing overseas in Italy last season and winning a title on the European level, Chalmers has spent his summer playing in the halfcourt three-on-three Big3 basketball league, which makes its stop in Miami on Saturday at 8 p.m. at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Chalmers, who spent the first seven-plus seasons of his NBA career with the Heat, decided to join the Big3 to stay sharp as he figures out his next basketball move.

“It’s just a way to stay in shape and keep playing basketball,” Chalmers said, with his 3 Headed Monsters squad listed as one of the league’s six teams playing in Miami on Saturday.

“It’s a chance to compete with guys who you once looked up to that played in the NBA or guys who you competed against in the NBA and are still competing now. It’s just good to link up every weekend and play.”

But the 33-year-old Chalmers is still hopeful he’ll play in the NBA again, even after not finding an NBA home last season. His last NBA game came with the Grizzlies on April 11, 2018.

“I’m happy just to be playing basketball. But I do want to get back in the NBA,” Chalmers said. “As a kid, you always dream about being in this league. I always said to myself, I at least want 10-plus years in the league. I’m at nine right now. So I definitely want to get back in the league for at least two, three more years if I can. At least one, if anything.”

Players like Chalmers who are working to get back into the NBA make up a segment of those participating in the Big3. The list of former Heat players expected to play in Saturday’s Big3 games includes Rashard Lewis, Chris “Birdman” Andersen, and Amar’e Stoudemire.

“Some players are playing just for their psyche because they grew up playing basketball their whole life, and that’s what they want to be as long as they can play,” said Ice Cube, the rapper, writer and actor who co-founded the Big3. “Some guys are playing because it’s a nice piece of change. Some guys are playing because they got a lot of money, but they never won a championship. ... And some guys are in it because they want to get back into the NBA.

“This is what the league is designed to do, to give opportunities where people can showcase their talent to American fans with American scouts and NBA scouts, and even scouts from overseas in the building.”

Just to get to this point has been a difficult process for Chalmers, though.

It took over a year for Chalmers to fully recover from surgery on his torn Achilles tendon, which happened while he was playing for the Grizzlies just months before he hit free agency in 2016. And four additional surgeries because of issues stemming from the injury complicated the recovery.

“It’s one of the toughest injuries anybody can go through. For me, the toughest part was just having to keep getting surgeries,” Chalmers said. “... Just learning how to walk and run and everything again. But I’ve never had any doubt that I wouldn’t be playing again, I just didn’t know when. Going through it, it lets you know that it can go at any time. That’s the thing about it.”

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The injury gave Chalmers time to reflect on his time with the Heat, which ended when Miami traded him to Memphis early in the 2015-16 season.

Chalmers, who was acquired by the Heat in the second round of the 2008 draft, averaged 8.8 points, 3.8 assists and 1.5 steals in 525 regular-season games (383 starts) with Miami. He won two championships in 2012 and 2013 as the starting point guard on the Heat’s Big 3 teams, and ranks among Miami’s all-time leaders in games played (fourth), minutes played (sixth), assists (third) and steals (second).

“All the fun we had,” Chalmers said when asked what comes to mind when thinking about his time with the Heat. “Just winning championships, being on those teams that really was a dynasty team. It’s being part of some special moments. Leaving my mark is probably the main thing.”

The Heat left a mark on Chalmers, too.

“That’s always going to be my team,” he said. “They accepted me, they welcomed me in and I got my NBA start there. So that’s always going to be a team I’m going to root for and check in on.”

Chalmers is looking forward to playing on the AmericanAirlines Arena court again Saturday, this time in the Big3 and not with the Big 3. And he’s looking forward to the next chapter of his basketball career.

“I’m going to keep playing until the wheels fall off,” Chalmers said. “So if the NBA doesn’t work out for me, I’m definitely open to going back overseas.”

Tickets for Saturday’s Big3 action at AmericanAirlines Arena can be purchased here.

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Anthony Chiang covers the Miami Heat for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and was born and raised in Miami.