Watch: Mario Chalmers on NBA Finals Picks and LeBron comments
In our exclusive interview, former Miami Heat guard, Mario Chalmers reveals his NBA Finals picks, reviews Heat-Nuggets season, and clarifies “Nobody Fears” LeBron comments.
I'm not talking trash. I feel like Bron is the greatest basketball player to ever play this game, but he's just not my GOAT. And that's a whole different subject.
You know, I hardly ever root against the Heat, but it's going to be a tough one. I think Denver might get this one 4-3. I definitely think it’s going six or seven games.
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2023 NBA Finals Preview – Heat vs Nuggets
Last Saturday night and game six, Jimmy puts the heat up by a point with those three successful free throws. Talk us through your emotions and reaction to that crazy final 3 seconds of the game.
Mario Chalmers: You know, there's been an atmosphere like that before us a lot.
Emotions run high, you know, especially when you at the free-throw line. They say it's the easiest shot in the game. So you don't want to miss the easy shot in the game. So I know there's a lot of emotions going through his head. He just had to take his time, be calm and sink all three know figure out how to get a defensive stop, which they wasn't able to do, but that was very close.So I know a lot of emotions is running. A lot of emotions was involved in that game.
Given that gut punch in game six and the fact that the hated squandered a three-nil series lead, how did you feel about Miami's chances heading into Game Seven in Boston?
MC: I felt pretty good just because knowing being a part of the Heat organization, knowing the Heat culture, when the back's against the wall, that's when we're at our best. And, you know, they kind of dug ourselves a hole, letting Boston come back and win three games straight. But, you know, that was able to prevail and figure out how to do to put it all together. And you got a good thing about that game six loss, like even though Jimmy didn't play that well, they did everything they needed to do to win that game and by, say, luck or a bad miss, something going right for the Celtics, that's how they were able to win that game.
So even with that being said, you still you still have a different sense going into Game seven. Like we know we can win this game seven. We basically beat ourselves in game six.
Do you think also that maybe scoring a blowout win on the road in Game seven is better for the Heat moving forward than what a sweep would have been?
MC: It’s definitely better just because of the fact that you keep playing. Like Denver, with them being able to sweep early and they've been probably sitting at home for almost a week now, trying to figure out what days to practice, how much time to get their guys a rest period. So it's always- it's always a different vibe.
So for me as a as a former player, I didn't really like sweeps as much just because you just get to sit around, have to wait for the next opponent. So I think it's better that they got to get seven games. They still got that camaraderie. They still got their focus. They still- they still know what's ahead of them.
Now, Caleb Martin's stepped up big time. Mario has been huge for the Heat through this final series on both ends of the floor. How surprised have you been with his game?
MC: I'm not very much surprised at all. Like we can’t- the thing about him, he's their 3 and D guy. And now with Tyler Herro being hurt, he's had to take a little bit more of the offensive role and he saw that he's been ready for that moment and he's prepared for that moment. So I'm not really too shocked at that. I'm just happy for him. I know what type of work he put it. I know how hard he works and what this means to him. So it's just happy to see him and his work come so far.
NBA Eastern Conference Finals MVP
There's plenty of chatter on social that he perhaps should have been the Eastern Conference Finals MVP. What are your thoughts?
MC: Hey, it's tough. I did say that, but when you have- when you have moments like that, you got to think about what Jimmy did through the whole season, through the playoffs and the crunch time of the game and things like that. So when it comes to actually being an MVP, Jimmy did everything. And I think that’s what kind of prevails it. You know, he's a stat sheet coverer. With Caleb, he's a scorer. He's a shooter. He's also a great defender. And a lot of the things that he probably does are not on the stat sheet. So that's probably why he doesn't get that finals MVP like some people say he should.
Who are the all-time best players on the Miami Heat
So I mean, you're talking about Jimmy there and of course, he continues to step up in the big games. Where do you think Jimmy sits in terms of all time great Miami Heat players?
MC: All time great Miami Heat players. You got Zo, Shaq, Bron, D Wade, Tim Hardaway, Glen Rice, Eddie Jones. I mean, there's a lot of players up there. So with him winning this championship he will be top 5 just because you bring a championship to an organization like that, that's known for winning championships, that has had some of the best players ever to come through there and win championships. He'll go right up there with them.
Good Call. You forgot to mention your own name, then Mario.
MC: I’m definitely up there (laughs).
Miami Heat Culture
You mentioned this a little a couple of questions ago: the Miami Heat culture. How significant is that in terms of of drawing inspiration and going forward, the culture of the Heat? Can you talk to us a little bit about that and their underdog mentality?
MC: That's what it is. It's an underdog mentality. It's never letting anybody think they can get the best of you, preying on people's weaknesses and, you know, just staying together and sacrificing for the person next to you. Have you seen the Heat? That's what we all been about. That's what this team is about, sacrificing for the man next to him and not just dependent on one person. Everybody stepping up. Everybody's contributing. Everybody's helping on both ends of the floor. You see the bench up and cheering. You just see a lot of camaraderie and you work it as a family and being as a family. And that's what the Heat culture is about.
One of the players last night after the win, I think it might have been Jimmy, they spoke about a four minute video that they're coach Spo played them between game six and seven. Any idea what that video might have been?
MC: Oh, I could probably have a pretty good idea what it is. When I was there, we always had a highlight video, hype video before every round. And it just shows, you know, what you did throughout the season to get to this moment. And don't forget about the good times. Don't forget about the bad times. But now is a new time, a new season, new mentality. You’re 4 games away from your goal, so I'm sure Spo has something up there with the passing, the Heat championships, what the mentality means, of what Heat culture really means: to go out there and embrace it. And I'm pretty sure that's what the video is about, embracing that Heat culture.
Denver Nuggets Games on the 2023 NBA Playoffs
Well, let's talk about Denver. Mario, what impressed you about the Nuggets during the playoffs?
MC: Just how well they're playing together. Everybody stepping up. You know, we know Joker's going a walking triple double. We know he's going to do what he does. But I’ve been really impressed with Jamal Murray, you know, just coming back from an ACL injury.
I know he's had a whole year to play and get his feet wet, but he's really stepped it up to me that last series and it kind of took it over and, you know, put a lot of on his shoulders to help Joker out and make sure they got past the Lakers. So it's going to be a tough matchup for them. But if you look at it, I think the two teams balance out pretty well as far as on paper. And I think the biggest factors: who's going to be hitting these shots and who's going to be able to get that first stop for that last stop. And I think that's going to be the biggest difference in the game and the series.
And you mentioned Joker and obviously, I mean, Denver has a lot of size in general, a lot of length on the perimeter. How does Miami stop or at least perhaps slow down the big joker?
MC: Oh, that's crazy. I mean, my good friend, they was talking about that earlier, how stop the Joker. I don't think- I don't think you can. Nobody's been able to do it yet. You just got to figure out how to control everybody else. And the thing with Joker is he's not a selfish player, so you can't force him to take shots, you can't force in the pass. That's just his game.
He's just going to play the game at his pace. He sees a floor very well. He's very patient. So with the Miami Heat defense, you know, they’re one of the best defensive teams out there. They like to get into you, into your chest in and cause problems and be physical with you. So it's just going to be a tale of who's going to able to make the most in-game adjustments, I think. I think on paper, like I said, they match up.They're pretty two pretty good teams. It's going to come down to adjustments and who wants it more, I think.
So what does the Heat have to do to win this series?
MC: I don't think they have to do much. I think it's just if they can figure out the game plan. Like I say, with Denver, you know, you got a two headed monster in Jamal Murray and Joker. With Miami, you know, you've got a two headed monster in Bam and Jimmy. So I would like to see Jimmy take the challenge and guard Jamal Murray whole series. That's what I would do to see, just to give him a different look, different sizes, a little different physicality. But then you got to worry about where Jimmy’s at on the offensive end. And so like I said, it's going to be it's going to be tough. You got to think about adjustments, but I would definitely send a message early on. I'll play Jimmy on Jamal Murray.
And what about Joker then? Who guards him?
MC: Everybody. Everybody who comes in the game’s got to guard Joker. So I'm going to start with Bam, of course. Definitely some Kevin love. You just got to give him different looks and different options, I think. I think the best thing to do is put Joker in a position where he has to either score or strictly run the offense. I think you can't allow him to do both, and I know that's easier said than done, but if you can figure out how to do that, I think it might make your chances a little bit easier.
Do you think the media underwrite Joker in terms of a player? Is it is it just that his style of game so hard to understand or what is it do you think it is about him that maybe he doesn't get the respect perhaps that he should?
MC: There's there's two things why I think Joker doesn't get the respect that he deserves. And I really don't want to say disrespect because he was the two time MVP before Jojo took it. So I would say for him, the two things that lack him, that lack is jumping ability and speed. Like if you look at all the top players in the league, they either jump really high or they're really, really fast. And with Joker, he's neither one, but he's a walking triple double no matter where he's at or what you do. So I just think his style of play, he's not- he's not this air style of play. Flashy, energetic, jump over the rail guys like that. So that that doesn't give him the top popularity like a like somebody else will get that's a high flier.
Miami Heat Head Coach – Erik Spoelstra
We've spoken about Spo a couple of times. How influential do you think he's going to be for the Heat's chances in this series?
MC: I think he's going to be very big just because he's been there before and not just once, not just twice, but multiple times. He's been successful in the finals. He's been unsuccessful in the finals. And, you know, with Spo, he doesn't like when people get the best of him. So I know right now he's in his hotel room, drawing up one of the biggest game plans ever and trying to figure some stuff out. So I definitely think Spo will be big in this series and we're going to see- we've got to see why Coach Spo deserves to be one of these coaches of the year, one year, one of these upcoming years, because he's a hell of a coach.
Heat vs Nuggets Game 1 Prediction and Pick
Mario, we need to get some picks from you. Hold your feet to the fire on a few of them. Game one, of course, in Denver on Thursday night. Denver, as you pointed out, will have had about nine or ten days off by then. Who wins game one and why?
MC: That's a tough one. That is a very tough one, because I look at it like this. Denver's had nine days off and I know they're hungry, but their rhythm might be a little bit off. But for them it's to be their first trip to the finals. You know, the crowd’s going to be to it. You know, Denver’s crowd is one of the best out there. They love their home team.
They love their city. They love basketball. So if the Heat- I say that if the Heat can withstand that first punch from Denver, they could win that game. They can win game one. But if they can't take that first punch and they're tired from Boston and being drained from their series then it could be it could be a Denver game. So it's still up in the air. I don't necessarily want to pick right now because I want to wait a little bit closer to like the day before the game. And I can hear all the stories and see what's all going on. I hear the interviews and stuff like that. But my gut feeling, I think I think Miami gets game one.
2023 NBA Championship Prediction and Picks
All right then we need you pick though, and your prediction for the series. Can we get you who's going to win and potential score as well?
MC: This is a tough question for me because for me, I'm Heat nation. You know, I hardly ever root against the Heat, but it's going to be a tough one. I think Denver might get this one 4-3. I definitely think it’s going six or seven games. So with Denver having that home court advantage, if it goes to game seven, I think Denver could win four to three. But the way Miami just put it on Boston at home, you really never know. So I would say 4-3, I think that'll be the series. I'm not going to say who's winning the series, but I definitely think it's going to be 4-3.
All right. Mario Chalmers says it's going seven games. We've got a game seven in the finals. What about who wins finals MVP?
MC: Miami: Jimmy, of course. Denver: it’s going to be between Joker or Jamal Murray. But I think Joker. I think Joker gets this finals MVP.
Which role players do you think perhaps have the ability to outperform their player lines and have a massive series?
MC: Michael Porter Jr, for sure. That's one of the sleepers in this in this series and he has a really good series, it'll be a big problem for Miami. And for the Heat. I say I say Caleb Martin because he's going to have to take the defensive challenge on Jamal Murray, KCP Christian Braun.
He's going to be the guy that has to match everybody on Denver's energy. And that's the thing about Denver's second unit. They have Bruce Bruce Brown, Energy guy, KCP Energy Guy, Christian Braun our energy guy. So with the heat, they’re going to have to need somebody to match that energy on the defensive end. I think that's going to be big for Caleb Martin.
Mario Chalmers on LeBron James, Coach Spo, and winning a title
I want to turn the clock back a little bit to your Miami Heat days. And firstly, if we can talk about the arrival of LeBron back in 2011 and how do you reflect on that period?
MC: Life changing. Once you make it to the NBA, you're on an NBA team, your with some your favorite players like D Wade, that you get to be a starting point guard and you get to add two more Hall of Famers in Chris Bosh and LeBron James. So it's kind of like, you know, as a point guard, it's a dream come true. It's made my job a lot easier.
And the 2011 finals didn't quite go to plan. How influential was Coach Spo back then as far as rallying you guys to come back bigger and better the following season?
MC: That's one thing about Spo. With that series, it was a lot of people's first time being in that situation. Spo As a head coach, you know, of course Bron had been there before but D Wade was the only one that won a championship. So it was a it was more of a learning experience for everybody and learning how to deal with that loss made everybody hungrier. So it was Spo that kind of put the bug in our ear like, “you know, we've got to do this, we really need to do this.” But at the same time, being around that group of guys, they all took that personal and everybody went that summer and worked on our individual selves and how to better themselves. And then they figured out how to make it better for the team. And Spo did a good job of allowing everybody to be in a position that they were comfortable in and spreading the floor and giving us that option to play freely. So it was a combination of everything by Spo definitely changed our offense and made us more of a moving unit and made more pieces involved in the offense.
And by the time the 2012 finals arrived, your squad was obviously battle tested. How much did the experience of 2011 contribute to you overcoming the thunder that year?
MC: It contributed a lot. You know, having that taste of defeat, you know, in our mouths from that Dallas series, we were very hungry. And, you know, coming into that series, we knew exactly what it took to beat OKC and we knew what to do to win that series. And were able to stick to the game plan after game one and to go from there.
What do you remember about winning your first NBA title?
MC: It's funny for me because like is it was a dream come true, but at the same time I was hungry for more. I was ready for the next one. I was ready to start the next season right then and there and go get that second one and be able to keep going, keep going and keep going. So my mindset after the first one was, “yeah, keep going”. I wasn't satisfied with that. Like, yeah, we just won a championship, but it just felt like we were supposed to win that and I wanted something different and that next season was definitely something different to that championship.
I mean, you stayed hungry obviously, but you were down, what, three, two in, in the finals against the Spurs. How did you guys kind of turn it around from there? What do you remember about that?
MC: So the saying is: it takes a lot of luck to win every championship. And, you know, our luck was Ray Allen hitting that three and Kawhi missing a couple of free throws that put us in a position to hit the three. So I mean, that's what I do remember. And I remember that game six, like I tell all my friends that Game six is probably the hardest basketball game ever had to play as far as like emotions, just being in the moment, seeing everything going on and still be there to be able to perform. And you know, all that we did in that Game six, we still needed some luck to help us win that game and go to Game seven.So that's what I definitely what I remember is how hard that game was, how hard we had to play, how emotional it was, and just everything that comes with a basketball game and trying to win a championship. Everything was left on our line in game six.
And it's a team sport of course, but given your personal contribution in games, not just six but seven, and helping how one of the greatest teams of all time are all times to back to back titles. How proud are you to this day to have been a part of that team?
MC: Very proud. Like you said, that was my moment. You know, even being on the team with those guys and all those Hall of Fame guys, you still have moments where he was like, Mario Chalmers held his own. Mario Chalmers did his thing. And for me to be able to say that I held my own playing alongside Hall of Famers, it just shows that, you know, I was a pretty good player. I did what I did and I did what I had to do for us to win. You know, the thing about me is I don't mind sacrificing my game to make sure that we win or help somebody else win. And I think that's one of the things that the Heat always loved about me and respected about me. And, you know, kind of wanted him to bring me to Miami because I was that type of player. So just seen all the sacrifices and all the efforts paid off in two championships. And now your NBA career- it’s a dream come true for me.
A couple of LeBron questions for you, Mario. How do you see LeBron today as a player compared to what he was back then? In your opinion? How different is he compared to when you played with him ten years ago to how he is now?
MC: A more willing passer. And that's going to sound weird, but, you know, just being in those moments back then, it was it was more for me. I like taking a shot. I love being in that moment. So to be able to take that last shot and, you know, my pride and joy, I hit one in college, a couple of the NBA, so I always love and live for those big moment. And having that sort of player on my team, he lives for the big moments too. Back then, he was taking all the big moments and now you see he's more willing to the drive and kick him out to a corner three for Dennis Schroder or throwback three for Danny Green up three one situation. He wouldn’t of done that back then. So it just shows he's grown more into trust of his teammates and you know just being more of a team player. Not saying that he never was, but he knows that the players around him can help him more now and he's more willing to use the players around him.
You caused a little bit of a stir recently by commenting on the lack of fear factor that LeBron's opponents possibly have when facing him. Can you elaborate a little bit on what you meant by that?
MC: Definitely. So when I said that, I wasn't saying like players don't fear LeBron. I'm saying when you come into a basketball game, you have that matchup. We know everything about Bron. When Bron came to the league, he was the number one pick. We grew up watching Bron, he’s always been a social media influencer like everything about him is always portrayed to the media and for us to see. So, when you know at the end of the day, he's a nice guy, he's a walking triple double, you know you're not you're not fearing him. He's not coming to take your head off like they say about Jordan. Like there’s stories about Jordan like “don't talk to Jordan because he will bite your head off and give you 60. You don't hear stories like that about LeBron.
MC: Not saying he can’t. Like I've heard plenty of players be like, “man, going against Bron as tough as matchup ever.” It's like, yeah, after the fact. But going into the matchup you weren't scared of him because you know everything about him. Like you know when Bron left Cleveland, he was hated by everybody. Everybody made it a point to talk about what he couldn’t do, not what he can do, but what he couldn't do. They nitpicked at everything. So, once you know different things like that about a player, you don't fear that player. You try to attack the things, the negative things that people are saying. And when Bron heard those negative things, he was in the gym. I was in the gym with him that summer, and he's working on the negative things that they say he can’t do. So now when you're matching up against Bron and you're thinking that he can't do these things that other players or other media say, but a person like me who's been in a gym, we have the whole summer and seeing the things that he's been working on. Yes. You're going to be scared afterward because you know, what he's done in the gym is coming to light. He's going to show you everything.
MC: So that's what I kind of meant by that comment. It wasn't a shot, it wasn't anything like that. You know, people say like, “You're his teammate. How can you talk trash.” I'm not talking trash. I feel like Bron is the greatest basketball player to ever play this game, but he's just not my GOAT. And that's a whole different subject. That's a personal subject. It's not because I don't like my little Bron to death, but it's just me for my GOAT, I want my GOAT to live and die with that shot. And with Jordan and Kobe, you know they're taking that last shot everytime. Me, I want to take the last shot. Bron? Bron’s going to make the right basketball play. And there's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing bad about that. It's just a personal opinion. This is not what I want my GOAT to do. I want my GOAT to shoot it no matter if I'm on the team or not. So that's just me, that's just my personal opinion. So like I said, there was nothing malicious about that comment. Not a shot at Bron at all. Like I said, I love Bron to death. Still one of my good friends to this day. And it's just what it is. When it comes to basketball, I’m going to speak my truth about basketball.
MC: I hope so.
You obviously certainly never feared LeBron too, Mario, as evidenced by that infamous moment when LeBron had to be sort of held back from you during a game. Have you ever kind of cleared up to the world what you actually said to him that day? And do you remember what kicked him off in the first place?
MC: I actually do remember what I said. I've told people. It's not that I didn't call him a bitch. I said, “stop playing like a bitch”. And everybody knows that word can be derogatory and get people going. So I was using that as a motivational talking to the whole team and not singling anybody out. Like, if you see me in a huddle, I'm talking to him, D Wade, CB, myself. And whereas in a game, it's just he took it personally. And where I'm from, you know, there's, there's guys like him walking around all the time that's 6’8, 240-260. And you know, we had some rumblings with them guys. Sometimes it's on the basketball court, different things. So that's not a factor about me being scared of him or me being a mean person. It is about motivating my team and the way I know how to motivate my team is to get under your skin and to know it's not malicious. But they know it's coming from a place of love and a place where I want to win and we want to win.
Mario Chalmers predictions on 2023-2024 NBA Season
If we can sort of firstly get your prediction, what do you think will be the biggest storyline of the off season heading into the new season?
MC: The biggest storylines I'm waiting to see. I want to see with what's going to happen with Kyrie Irving and I'm curious to see how Bron’s going to come back next year after what he just tweeted and all the stuff that's going on, all the little talking heads. I don't think he's anywhere close to retiring. I don't think so. I think he has a lot left in the tank. But at a certain point, as a basketball player, as a man, you reach a breaking point about certain stuff. So I'm curious to see where he's at. Is he- is his love for the game still there or is that continuance of him being beat down and negative stories kind of getting to his head. So I want to see his bounce back. Want to see what he's going to do.
What about with the Heat? Who do you think will be the player that can become that go to guy after Jimmy Butler?
MC: Herro won't be ready for game till game 2-3. So that's my first pick. I think the go-to guy could be Kyle Lowry. I think he'll be the go to guy as far as making plays. I'm not talking about scoring-wise. I'm talking about making plays or running the offense just because he's been there before. He want championship with Toronto. He has the smarts, the vet-ness. He has all the tools to to get him over the age as a playmaking helpful point guard. I think that's the one that's gonna be a sleeper.
The team that you see improving the most next year, next season?
MC: Houston. Basically, if they get James Harden back with the young guns they got and the high flyers they got, they're going to be exciting to watch. I don't know how many wins it will produce, but it'll be definitely exciting to watch.
Okay. And what about a player? Some players from across the league, one or two players that you think are ready to make the leap into superstar status?
MC: Is De’Aaron Fox superstar status? Did this the playoff run- Did this make him superstar status?
It'd be bordering. You can throw it in there as a tip for next year.
MC: Okay then De’Aaron Fox for sure. And I might say Tyrese Haliburton from the Pacers. I’ll take Tyrese. I like his game. I like how he finished the season. I like his confidence. And my other guy will be Shai. But I think I think Shai’s already a superstar. I think he’s proved himself.
And what about an early pick to win next year's NBA title? If the Heat win could they go back to back?
Oh, they definitely could go back-to-back, But I'm very curious to see what the Suns are going to do. I think that is the that is the sleeper out there just because on paper, I think they got the better team and the better pieces when they're all healthy and put together. It all depends what CP does and how he's going to bounce back. But I'm very curious to see what the Suns are going to do. And the Clippers. And the Clippers with Westbrook. I want to see what happens with them.