MIAMI — Don’t tell Mario Chalmers that Ice Cube’s Big3 half-court league is the career equivalent of shuffleboard or Pickleball.
To the former Miami Heat point guard, it’s more a matter of staying active in the game until, like many, better work comes along.
That delivered Chalmers to AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday night for the first time as a half-court player, part of the Big3’s nationally televised weekly tour.
At 33, five years removed from four consecutive runs to the NBA Finals with the Heat, this is not exactly where the former Kansas championship guard and 2005 Bartlett High School graduate expected to be.
“It’s been kind of tough,” Chalmers said, not of wearing a jersey that says 3 Headed Monsters, but of being out of the NBA since the end of the 2017-18 season. “I’ve had a great NBA career. I’ve had a lot of fun playing. I still want to play. I still want to play at a high level.
“It’s still basketball. For me, it goes either way. I’d love to be back in the NBA, especially to get in my 10th year. But other than that, I just love to play basketball. That’s what it is for me.”
So instead of stepping away, the 2008 second-round pick had stepped up elsewhere, first winning a championship this past season in Italy and then signing on to play alongside former Heat teammate Rashard Lewis on a Big3 roster that also includes former NBA veterans Reggie Evans, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Larry Sanders and Al Thornton.
“What made me decide was just a way to stay in shape, make a little money during the summer, make some connections with different people, being seen, being noticed playing basketball,” he said in advance of Saturday’s appearance on the AmericanAirlines Arena court he called home for eight seasons. “Hopefully it’ll work out for a better job next year.”
Had there not been a torn Achilles with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2016, there likely would have been an NBA career uninterrupted. Instead, he was forced to sit out the entire ’16-17 season before making it back for 66 games with the Grizzles in 2017-18.
And then the phone went silent, leading to last season’s international experience, with Virtus Bologna in Italy’s Serie A.
“Being in America all my career, playing in the NBA, then coming overseas, it was a lot of different,” he said. “The food was different. The lifestyle was different. The basketball was kind of different. But at the same time, I had a lot of fun playing it and I’m grateful for the experience and it’s something I would do again.”
All the while there has been encouragement from former teammates who were along for those Heat championship runs, from Dwyane Wade to Udonis Haslem to Chris Bosh.
“I still talk to D-Wade, still talk to UD, still talk to CB, Mike Miller, Ray Allen a lot,” Chalmers said. “Some of the new guys. I talk to Bam (Adebayo), I talk to Dion (Waiters), James Johnson. I still talk to Tyler Johnson. Still talk to Norris Cole. I still talk to a lot of people on that team. It just shows that bond, that grind that we all went through. It made us connected for life.”
As have these weekly Big3 appearances, with many former Heat teammates part of the circuit.
“It makes it like reunions,” he said. “Actually it’s fun. It’s a good way to get out of the house, still do something productive, hang out with your friends.
“We’re still all about basketball. That’s one thing about a basketball player, we never fall out of love with the game. So any time we get a chance to play, and it doesn’t risk a lot of injury for us older guys, we’ll be out there.”