For three games of the Finals, and for most of the playoff run before that, and for the first few years of his short career, he took their abuse, he took their perceived lack of respect, and he handled their angry stares. And he responded to it all the only way he best could: with an explosive performance on the court.
With the keys to help orchestrate one of the most devastating trios in NBA history, Mario Chalmers fell into international spotlight, a light that shone on him with doubt, disrespect, and disregard. He was supposed to be the weak link of a team that ran LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh together. His every mistake was magnified, he survived Wade’s angry stares, he survived LeBron’s curses, he survived distrust by his own fans when he scored just 17 points total in the first three games making only an unflattering seven of 22 shots.
In his own confident mind, there was never any doubt about his ability.
“He actually thinks he’s the best player on the team, and that’s a gift and a curse,” said Dwyane Wade of Chalmers – and Chalmers morphed into ‘Super Mario’ in Game 4, scoring 25 crucial points for the Heat. Many of these points came over the outstretched wingspan of Thunder superstar Kevin Durant, who was deputised to defend him for the game to stay out of foul trouble. Chalmers made 9-of-15 shots to finish with a single-game total higher than the previous three games combined. He carried the team’s load when the bigger superstars couldn’t get going. He made four of five clutch baskets in the final quarter and hit the game-sealing free throws to help Miami get just one win away from an NBA title. He saw three-time MVP LeBron James crash on court, limp back, and then crash away again, yet he kept his head up to close the game.
A year ago, he started the NBA Finals as backup to the aging Mike Bibby. Now, Mario Chalmers is back on the same stage enjoying the biggest moment of his career.
‘Super Mario’ has appeared at a big basketball stage before, too. Four years ago, in the NCAA Championship game, Chalmers hit a 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds on the clock to help his side – Kansas – tie the game with Derrick Rose’s Memphis squad. Kansas went on to win the championship in overtime.
You’d be right to think that there is something oddly familiar in Chalmers’ story. A bad team with one superstar brings in two more superstars to form a big three, but the point guard of that team remains an unheralded, unknown commodity. The point guard is treated to both encouragement and abuse from the big stars and survives his doubting fans. He remains so confident of himself that, despite being teammates with three All-Star players, there are moments like this when he rises to match or even outperform them.
The previous story belongs to Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics, who was the young star between Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen, and as the ‘Big 3’ aged, he morphed into the team’s best player. With LeBron James in his prime (and Wade and Bosh not too far from theirs), Chalmers will never rise above his superstar teammates like Rondo did. He's just not that good. But if he continues to improve and offer big time moments like he did in Game 4, then Miami’s opponents will have one more name to fear.
And they can be sure that, no matter the situation, the past shooting slumps, the doubts, stares, and abuses, Mario Chalmers will remain fearless.