Mario Chalmers has come to a point where he expects it.
Ever since Chalmers, the Miami Heat point guard, entered the NBA out of Kansas four year ago, his annual trip to Memphis is one in which he admittedly doesn’t look forward to.
“I always get booed whenever I come here,” Chalmers said before Sunday’s Heat versus Memphis Grizzlies game in FedExForum.
That’s because Memphians recall all too well Chalmers’ memorable shot against the University of Memphis in the 2008 NCAA championship game, one that has drawn comparisons to Michael Jordan’s baseline game-winner that lifted North Carolina past Georgetown in the 1982 title game and Keith Smart’s jumper in the waning seconds that allowed Indiana to upend Syracuse for the Hoosiers’ fifth national crown.
With former Memphis and current Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose closely guarding him, Chalmers drained a desperation three-point basket with 2.1 seconds remaining in regulation that forced overtime. His basket ultimately shifted momentum the Jayhawks’ way, considering Memphis led by nine points with just over two minutes remaining and seemed well on its way to capturing its first national title in history.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, Chalmers’ shot that was later dubbed “Mario’s Miracle,” essentially marked the end of what was a dramatic run through the NCAA tournament. Kansas went on to defeat Memphis, 75-68, to seize the school’s third national championship.
Consequently, the Memphis basketball program endured even greater hardships in the aftermath of arguably the biggest setback in Tiger hoops history. John Calipari eventually bolted the school after nine seasons as head coach to asume the same position at Kentucky in what he described as the “Notre Dame of college basketball.” It was later discovered that Rose, who played one season at Memphis, allegedly had someone to take his SAT entrance exam, an infraction that forced the program to vacate the entire 2007-08 season. The school also was stripped of its Final Four appearance.
While Memphis was forced to remove its national runner-up banner from the FedExForum rafters, Chalmers’ shot in the waning moments of regulation against the Tigers is what Memphians will remember most. During the Heat’s pregame shoot-around Sunday afternoon, Chalmers enjoyed a rather peaceful atmosphere as he drained shots from as far as 30 feet from the basket in a mostly empty arena.
As expected, however, after he was the first player introduced during the starting lineups, he was met by scattered boos throughout the announced sellout crowd.
He has only himself to blame, but for good reasons.
“They took that personally,” Chalmers said of the shot that overshadowed the winningest season (38-2) in Memphis basketball history.
So much, in fact, that Chalmers said he also remembers during his rookie season how Memphians essentially reminded former Kansas and current Grizzlies forward Darrell Arthur of the disheartening turn of events that unfolded in San Antonio’s Alamo Dome on the night of April 7, 2008.
“I think Darrell Arthur got booed a bit,” Chalmers said with a grin. “I mean, that was one of the biggest shots in college basketball history.”
Arthur, who were roommates with Chalmers for years while at Kansas, said that while he understands the disappointment among Memphians over the Tigers’ loss to Kansas, he is still happy about the outcome.
“I think they booed me my first year,” Arthur said. “We took what they had been waiting a long time for.”
For Chalmers, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA tournament, many believed his game-tying shot from beyond the arc in the 2008 title game only elevated his celebrity.
“It enhanced it,” Arthur said. “He’s just that type of player. He won two high school championships. He won a college championship. And he won an NBA championship last year. That was a heckuva game. It probably won’t be another college game like that. I think about that game every day.”
As for Chalmers, whenever he visits Memphis, he realizes Tiger fans are almost certain to remind him of how he broke their collective hearts on what was shaping up to be an exuberant night in the Bluff City. As Chalmers tells it, he has come to point where he expects it.
“I took that championship from them,” Chalmers said.
Which, fortunately for him, was one shining moment.