It’s hard to have much sympathy for anyone or anything associated with the Miami Heat, and it’s not all about LeBron James, either.
Dwyane Wade? He’s already got his championship. Chris Bosh? Hey, he volunteered to be the third wheel in this circus. As for the rest, even if you acknowledge that they’re all under a significant amount of pressure to deliver a title, there’s really not a whole to complain about if they don’t. Can Mike Miller really feel sorry for himself when he’s pocketing $5.4 million this season to average one 3-pointer per playoff game and watch James play some of the best basketball the league has seen? Never mind that whole thing about spending nine months of the year in a city where the rest of the NBA comes to vacation.
But there is one member of the Heat organization who deserves sympathy on almost a nightly basis. In these NBA Finals, I’m starting to feel bad for Mario Chalmers.
It has been something of a running joke the past couple years, the way Miami’s veterans berate Chalmers when he takes a bad shot or commits a turnover. But it’s happening so frequently now, so publicly, it’s almost uncomfortable to watch.
A couple wobbly possessions at the end of Game 2? There’s Bosh coming to a timeout huddle, screaming something unholy at Chalmers. A bad shot in the third quarter of Game 3? There’s James grilling Chalmers coldly. A missed defensive rotation on Russell Westbrook? There’s Erik Spoelstra going crazy, and you can take one guess at whom his anger is directed.
It’s almost as though the Heat have found a security blanket in the midst of these nip-and-tuck Finals games. When something’s going wrong, yelling at Chalmers makes it all feel better.
“It’s not always champagne and roses in the locker room,” veteran forward Shane Battier said. "There’s tough talk sometimes, and in a situation like this where tension and pressure is high, things get said. Would we all like a better manner at some point? Yeah, but he’s man enough to take it.”
And God bless him for it, because I’m not sure how many other players in the NBA would be able to withstand this much verbal abuse — especially when it’s not deserved.
Granted, Chalmers has not had a terrific series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. After a 12-point, six-assist performance in Game 1, he’s made just 2-of-15 field goals since.
But Chalmers doesn’t have an easy job. Not only is he a four-year pro starting on a team full of veterans, he’s the point guard playing alongside some of the biggest divas this league has seen. It’s an easy balance, especially when he knows what’s coming if he doesn’t execute something just the way James or Wade expect.
“Everyone wants the best for Mario,” said forward Juwan Howard, who acknowledged not every young guard can handle that kind of treatment. “He’s able to accept criticism and use it to his advantage. Some guys will go into a shell and become very sensitive. He’s not sensitive at all. He takes the abuse, and what I love about him is he finds a way to get better.”
There is definitely a little brother aspect to the dynamic between Chalmers and his veteran teammates. They pick on him because they know he won’t complain, and he takes it because he’s deferential to the point of being intimidated.
Even when pressed about the abuse he takes every night, Chalmers has come to accept that it’s just part of the deal. And since the little brother never really stops being the little brother, it’s not going to change.
“For me, being a point guard, I have to be on my A-game every night,” he said. “If I make a mistake, my teammates are going to get on me.”
But Chalmers is only a couple wins away now from joining a select group of players with both NBA and NCAA titles, the latter of which he delivered to Kansas with a regulation game-tying, 3-pointer against Memphis in the 2008 championship game. The confidence to take and make big shots has been part of his aura since.
“He has amazing stones,” Battier said.
At some point in this series, the Heat will need Chalmers to show them. If he doesn’t? Well, we all know at whom LeBron will yell.