It wasn't too long ago that the name "Mario Chalmers" brought about all the wrong kind of emotions from Memphians. He hit "the shot". It was HIS fault (not really, but still) that the beloved Memphis Tigers did not win a national championship. He was a LeBron James crony in Miami with the Heat, and he was LeBron and the Heat's whipping boy more often than not when things did not go well.
Poor Mario Chalmers...
"Wait, no, screw him, he played for Kansas and beat Memphis. He deserves it! I could never cheer for Mario Chalmers..."
That was said a lot of good hearted folks before Chalmers was traded to Memphis. The fact that the trade sent a son of Memphis in Jarnell Stokes and an adopted son of Memphis in Beno Udrih to the Miami Heat only fueled the fire that many felt toward Mario. Grizzlies fans, perhaps even more so than most franchises, latch on to players and take them in as their own (see Randolph, Zach and Allen, Tony). It seemed unlikely that Mario Chalmers would ever achieve that.
As time has gone on, however, something funny has happened. Chalmers has not only become accepted by Grizzlies fans, he in fact is viewed as perhaps the most important upcoming free agent not named Mike Conley on the roster. In a recent GBBLive podcast Question of the Day, this was shown in multiple responses...
@GBBLive Super Mario— Denise (@volmatic) January 20, 2016
@GBBLive He is a excellent backup for Mike— Denise (@volmatic) January 20, 2016
@GBBLive Rio, followed by Barnes— JJ Baker (@jj_p_baker) January 20, 2016
There are just some of the numerous Tweets that our GBBLive podcast received in favor of a man who several months ago was at the very least disliked by a majority of Memphis Grizzlies' fans. How can the man known as "Rio" and "Super Mario", even in a forgiving city like Memphis, turn the tide so quickly?
When you have a flare for the dramatic for Memphis and not against them, it covers up past hurt feelings.
Another game where Mario Chalmers sinks the dagger and it involves a Memphis sports team...but this time it is to Memphis' benefit. Detroit and their Pistons had already been burned once this season by a miracle against the Grizzlies, and it happened again, this time in the Bluff City. Chalmers, much like Matt Barnes who hit the first miraculous shot against the Pistons, does not shy away from the moment- in fact, he embraces it. He wants the ball in his hand when the game is on the line, when it matters most. This happens in waves in Memphis with the Grizzlies and is not consistent enough from the best players on the team. Having role players who crave those opportunities is a gift.
It isn't just end of game opportunities. "Super Mario" also shows up to compete with the elites of the NBA. Players like Russell Westbrook, who put on a show with Kevin Durant out in Memphis to the tune of 40 points and 14 assists but lost the duel against Chalmers on this night, who hit 13 of 15 free throws and 4 out of 7 three point shots.
Impressive fire and emotion, but these clips go beyond that to show the strengths of Chalmers' offensive game. His ability to attack the rim and get to the charity stripe, his streaky shooting from beyond the arc (but in a good way), his understanding of space and placement on the floor. Aggressive in nature, but calculating in execution, Chalmers has shown the capacity to rise to challenges and achieve. Memphis knows a thing or two about challenges, and the connection between the team and city is never stronger than when a player, or the team at large, overachieves and rises above.
Memphis also loves Chalmers now more than literally ever because he is easily the best back-up Point Guard of this "Grit and Grind" era and perhaps even beyond. The Gilbert Arenas and Jeremy Pargo days are not so far removed from the memories of Grizz Nation that they can't appreciate what Mario brings to the roster. He offers stability to a position that, given the injury issues of Mike Conley the past few seasons, is desperately needed. Conley missed 12 games last season due to injury (not counting the playoffs) and has already missed six games this season. It is unlikely that Mike plays 75 or more games in a season the rest of his career.
This does not mean it is time to move on from Conley, who is easily the best point guard Memphis can realistically have moving forward. It does mean you'd better have a damn good back-up point guard to be there and start games so the team doesn't miss a beat. Mario Chalmers, more than any other Grizzly to date, fills that void more consistently and completely. He also (if he is ever given the opportunity more completely) is capable of making Mike Conley's life easier by playing alongside him. Whether it is by handling the ball or defending larger back court players, Mario and Mike can create various issues for various opponents as the season grinds along.
So, the Grizzlies will have a decision to make soon enough. They have multiple free agents, all of whom will have to be renounced in order for the team to have maximum cap space this Summer for a Nicolas Batum or Evan Fournier type. While this logic makes sense, as our Matt Hrdlicka and the Commercial Appeal's Chris Herrington recently argued, if that plan falls through the Grizzlies would be wise to keep Mario Chalmers in the fold. The versatility, tenacity, and peace of mind that he gives a roster in desperate need of it is well worth the investment.
Surprisingly, most of Memphis would agree at this point.