Battier, Chalmers striving to join elite group
MIAMI — Grant Hill won two NCAA championship rings at Duke to one for Shane Battier. But Battier has a chance to gain the upper hand on something else.
If it happens, you'd better believe Battier will remind the Phoenix forward any opportunity he gets.
“As long as I can do something Grant Hill didn’t do,’’ Battier, a Miami forward, said with a laugh Saturday about the possibility of adding an NBA title ring to his NCAA bling. “That’s my idol. That’s who I grew up watching. That’s why I wanted to go to Duke. Grant Hill. Anything I do that Grant Hill hasn’t had a chance to do yet.’’
If Battier, who won his title at Duke in 2001 years after Hill's in 1991 and 1992, is on the victorious side against Oklahoma City in the NBA Finals, he would join a small group of active players who won both an NCAA and NBA crown. So would Heat guard Mario Chalmers, whose dramatic last-second three-pointer in the 2008 NCAA championship game forced overtime in a game in which his Kansas Jayhawks eventually beat Memphis 75-68.
If the Thunder win the Finals, the group also will grow because reserve center Cole Aldrich picked up a ring at Kansas in 2008. And reserve center Nazr Mohammed simply would add to his stash.
Mohammed, who won at Kentucky in 1996 and 1998 and with the San Antonio Spurs in 2005, is one of four active players with both NCAA and NBA championships. The others are Chicago guard Richard Hamilton (Connecticut, 1999; Detroit, 2004), Dallas guard Jason Terry (Arizona, 1997; Mavericks, 2011) and Denver guard Corey Brewer (Florida, 2006 and '07; Mavericks, 2011).
“You can say that it’s a very unique group,’’ Mohammed said. “It definitely will grow but hopefully just with Cole instead of two (Miami players).’’
Aldrich said it would “awesome’’ to join the group even if he easily would be the least exclusive member. Aldrich played just four scoreless minutes off the bench in the 2008 title game and has yet to play in the Finals, which are tied 1-1 entering Sunday’s Game 3 at AmericanAirlines Arena. And it’s not as if Mohammed, who also hasn’t played in the Finals, is much of a contributor for the Thunder, either.
But Battier and Chalmers are Heat starters, and both have had their moments in the Finals. Battier has scored 17 points in each game and is shooting 9-of-13 overall from three-point range. Chalmers is averaging 7.5 points and 3.5 assists, including totaling 12 points and six assists and shooting 2-of-4 on three-pointers in Game 1.
But unless Chalmers wins these Finals with one, no three-pointer he hits could top the one he made four years ago.
Dubbed by Jayhawks coach Bill Self as “the biggest shot ever made in Kansas history,’’ Chalmers’ three-pointer with 2.1 seconds left in regulation tied the score 63-63 after the Jayhawks had trailed by nine points with just over two minutes remaining.
“It depends on what part of the country I’m in,’’ Chalmers said when asked if he’s recognized now more for the huge shot that capped his Kansas career or having played in a second straight Finals for the Heat. “If I’m in the Midwest, a lot of people recognize me from my Kansas days. Of course, Miami is East Coast, and it’s all Heat.’’
If the Heat beat the Thunder, Chalmers figures to expand his NBA profile nationally.
“It would feel good,’’ Chalmers said of being able to join the group of players with both NBA and NCAA titles. “I’m sure they got some type of record book or some type of stats for that. It would be good to be mentioned with those guys.’’
Chalmers scored 18 points and had three steals in his NCAA championship game. Battier also scored 18 points in his title game, an 82-72 win over Arizona, while handing out six assists and playing all 40 minutes.
Now Battier is trying to do something not common among Duke alums in the NBA. Only two have won a title — guard Jeff Mullins with Golden State in 1975 and forward Danny Ferry with the Spurs in 2003. If the Heat win, Battier would become the first NBA Finals starter from Duke to win a championship.
“Much has been made about it, but it’s completely circumstantial,’’ Battier said of the Duke dry spell, which gets its share of publicity considering 10 alums of arch rival North Carolina have won NBA titles, including a number of stars.
When the NBA unveiled its list of the top 50 players during its 50th anniversary celebration at the 1997 All-Star Game, the Tar Heels offered up a pair of guys with both NBA and NCAA championship rings, Michael Jordan and James Worthy. Seven others in the top 50 also can make that claim: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, John Havlicek, Magic Johnson, Jerry Lucas, Bill Russell, Isiah Thomas and Bill Walton.
But it’s a much rarer occurrence now considering so many NBA-bound players spend such little time in college. And until the rule was changed in 2006 to require a one-year period after a high school player could join the NBA, many top players skipped college altogether.
Heat star LeBron James didn’t spend a day on campus. But he still appreciates the opportunity Battier and Chalmers can accomplish.
“Everyone likes to build and put championships into their resume,’’ James said. “It would be unique, and it would be cool at the same time for them.’’
Chalmers could have added to his resume last year, but the Heat lost 4-2 to Dallas in the Finals. Also on that Miami team were center Jamaal Magloire, who won an NCAA title in 1998 at Kentucky, and guard Mike Bibby, who triumphed at Arizona in 1997. But instead of Chalmers, Magloire and Bibby all joining the group of dual winners, it was Terry and Brewer who gained membership.
Battier never before has come close to winning an NBA title. So the 11-year pro is relishing a chance to add an NBA ring to his NCAA one.
“It’d be special,’’ Battier said. “If you win a championship on any level, you understand what it’s about. There’s been books written about it, speeches given about being a champion . . . I don’t care if it’s tiddlywinks, I don’t care if it’s hopscotch, if you’re a champion and you’ve won a tournament, there’s a gratitude and something about that journey that only you understand. Those guys who have both college and NBA titles, they have double excitement and double gratification.’’
If it happens with Battier, he’ll let Hill, who hasn't been to the NBA Finals since being drafted in 1994, know all about it.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson