ASEAN Basketball League

The assist that brought NBA champion Mario Chalmers to Zamboanga Valientes

Ariel Ian Clarito

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The assist that brought NBA champion Mario Chalmers to Zamboanga Valientes

BIG SHOT. Mario Chalmers gives the Zamboanga Valientes a shot in the arm.

ASEAN Basketball League Facebook page

In a surprising turn of events, the Zamboanga Valientes land former NBA player Mario Chalmers, a two-time champion with the Miami Heat

MANILA, Philippines – It was a story seemed lifted straight out of the pages of a fairy tale. The only thing missing was a Cinderella ending.

A small town basketball team in its first foray in a major international 5-on-5 competition punches above its weight and defies expectations to suddenly find itself in contention for a playoff spot.

Their underdog chronicle gained prominence when they signed a high profile veteran who has played at the highest level of basketball with the biggest names in the game.

Zamboanga Valientes and Mario Chalmers appearing together in the same sentence seemed improbable a month ago. But the unlikely pairing did happen and has brought a lot of mileage to the Valientes that they previously did not enjoy. It also served as a shot in the arm for the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) which has struggled to regain its stature and attract fan interest after a long absence caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chalmers is one of the most significant local ball club signings in the history of Philippine professional basketball. 

There have been NBA stalwarts and imports with NBA championships who have played in the country, specifically in the PBA, but hardly anyone matches Chalmers’ pedigree and the credentials.

Former PBA imports Kevin Porter, Billy Ray Bates, Lewis Lloyd, Dennis Hopson, Chris Morris, and Cedric Ceballos all averaged in double figures in their respective NBA careers. Some of them, in fact, became regular starters for their NBA teams. But none of them won an NBA title. Porter, Morris, and Ceballos all made the finals but fell short of winning an NBA championship.

Glen McDonald, Wes Matthews, David Thirdkill, Terry Duerod, Dennis Hopson, Darvin Ham, Billy Thompson, Scott Burrell, Dickey Simpkins, DJ Mbenga, and Josh Powell all won NBA rings before taking their talents to Philippine shores. A number of them even played key roles in the title runs of their NBA teams. 

But not one of them was ever a starter in those championship teams.

Chalmers averaged 27 minutes per game in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons when the Miami Heat won back-to-back NBA championships. He was the point guard in a starting lineup that featured NBA superstars LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh.

Chalmers and Thompson are two of just less than 30 players who have won both an NBA title and an NCAA championship. Chalmers was a junior at the University of Kansas when his team won the NCAA title over the University of Memphis, which was led by Derick Rose. Chalmers sank a triple with 2.1 ticks remaining to send the championship into overtime. He was eventually named Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA tournament. That was not the only individual recognition that Chalmers has received in his career. 

He was the NCAA Big 12 tournament MVP in 2006 and the Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2007. In his first year as a pro in the 2008-09 season, he was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. 

His last full season in the NBA was in 2017-18 when he played for the Memphis Grizzlies, after which he brought his talent to the international arena, suiting up for teams in Italy, Greece, and Puerto Rico.

How he ended up with the Zamboanga ballclub owned by Junnie Navarro was from an assist by current Magnolia Hotshots import and former Valientes reinforcement Antonio Hester. 

Zamboanga assistant coach Joseph Romarate bared that the team was looking for two new imports after the second ABL leg in Batam, Indonesia where the Valientes dropped their last three games. Ryan Smith came down with an injury while Will Deng proved to be ineffective. Asked for a recommendation, Hester called on Chalmers who happened to be his good friend.  

The Zamboanga ownership thought it was a shot in the dark getting someone of Chalmers’ stature, but they asked Hester to still give it a try. Imagine the surprise for the Southern-based team when they found out from Hester that not only was Chalmers available, he was interested to visit the Philippines and Malaysia for the first time, and more importantly, willing to sign up with the team.

Valientes head coach Bobidick delos Santos shared his experience working with Chalmers. “I felt honored to be given the opportunity to coach him. But I admit I was hesitant and had my reservations because of who he is and his status in basketball.”

“In our first training with him in Malaysia, I observed right from the opening minutes that he was actually approachable and coachable. From then on, I became more relaxed coaching him,” Delos Santos said. 

Chalmers suited up in five games for the Valientes and averaged 15.8 points, 5 assists, and 2.4 steals. The general feedback from the Valientes is that Chalmers got along easily with his teammates and never for once acted like a big shot. 

The Valientes’ campaign in the ABL ended last week when they missed out on the last semifinal ticket after dropping their final match versus the Singapore Slingers. 

But Chalmers will remain with the team as he is set to see action for the Valientes in the VisMin Cup Invitational Championship, which will run from February 21 to 25 in Zamboanga City. It will be the first time ever for the citizens of the city to witness a two-time NBA champion strutting his wares on the hardcourt live and in person. –

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