Taking on the Heat: Corona Student Plays NBA’s Mario Chalmers (With Video)

Fresh off winning the 2012 NBA Championship, Miami Heat point guard Mario Chalmers had one last tune-up match before starting his preparation for next season.

As part of the sporting equipment company Spalding’s “Arena to Driveway” contest, Chalmers visited East Elmhurst on Aug. 17 for a game of one-on-one basketball.

His opponent was 17-year-old Carlos Mayorga, a former basketball guard and recent graduate of St. John’s Prep, Astoria, and a parishioner at Our Lady of Sorrows, Corona. Spalding chose Mayorga as the contest’s winner.

During the month of June, NBA fans could post a picture of their or their neighborhood’s old basketball hoop on Spalding’s Facebook page and write a 200-word explanation of why they deserved a new one. The winner would receive a court makeover featuring the latest professional basketball equipment.

Spalding contest winner Carlos Mayorga, left, is pictured with Miami Heat guard Mario Chalmers. (Photo by Jim Mancari)
Spalding contest winner Carlos Mayorga, left, is pictured with Miami Heat guard Mario Chalmers. (Photo by Jim Mancari)

“I was on Facebook one day looking up basketball hoops with my cousin,” Mayorga said. “We saw the event, so we joined it. We waited for the last day to do it for good luck.”

Mayorga will attend St. Joseph’s College, Clinton Hill, this fall and will be trying out for the basketball team. However, it would have been difficult for an intense practice session with his old hoop.

“The old hoop was good to just play around with friends but not to take anything serious,” Mayorga said. “It was time for a new one. We wanted a real one. The other one lasted a long time, but it got old quick.”

Mayorga won an NBA-style backboard and hoop, NBA leather game basketballs, an NBA authentic ball truck and other Spalding gear, as well as the match-up against Chalmers. He and his family and friends were very excited and couldn’t wait to test out their new equipment.

“It felt way different from how the old hoop felt,” Mayorga said.

Just as he was finishing his warm-up for the big game, Chalmers arrived. Mayorga posted on Facebook that he would “truthfully play hard” against the budding NBA star. While Miami Heat players like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh get the most publicity, Chalmers averaged 10.9 pts. and 4.7 rebounds per game during the 2012 playoffs.

Carlos Mayorga's old hoop, left, and his brand new one, right. (Photos by Jim Mancari)
Carlos Mayorga’s old hoop, left, and his brand new one, right. (Photos by Jim Mancari)

“We picked Carlos because he wanted to create an environment for not only himself but for his friends and family to come and play basketball,” said Wendy Unger-Moore, director of marketing at Spalding. “We thought that was huge because it resonates with Mario. Mario is a selfless player, and we’re really excited about being here.”

Chalmers was impressed that Mayorga wanted the new basketball hoop not just for himself but rather for all his family members and friends to use. He said that Mayorga’s actions follow the ideals of the Mario Chalmers Foundation.

“My foundation is about youth initiatives and to help kids get off the streets in a positive program or in positive things around the community,” Chalmers said. “What more positive thing than presenting a kid with a basketball hoop who wants to play basketball?

“I’m sure a lot of people recognize me more now after winning the championship. It’s good to get out there and interact with people and show people that us basketball players came from those same spots.”

With his fellow Our Lady of Sorrows parishioners wearing their “O.L.S.” T-shirts, Mayorga, a Knicks fan, took an early lead and was even one point away from beating Chalmers. But Chalmers battled back late to tie the game and eventually won 8-6. In fact, Chalmers used one of Mayorga’s patented moves for the final point.

“That was fun,” Chalmers said. “Carlos has a lot of skills. I’m pretty impressed with his game. For a 17-year-old, he’s real good. There should be no problem why he shouldn’t be able to go to college and make an impact in somebody’s college program.”

Both players agreed that the new equipment could further help Mayorga improve his game. Mayorga and his friends used to go to the park to practice, but now they can work on their skills right in the driveway.

“I wish I had something like this growing up,” Chalmers said.

Very few young basketball players can say they took on an NBA player in a one-on-one game. Not only did Mayorga get the chance to face Chalmers on the new court, but he also left a lasting impression on the NBA champion.

“Something like this never happens,” Mayorga said. “I just want to thank everyone for supporting me playing basketball.”

If Mayorga could play with Chalmers, just imagine what he could do for the St. Joe’s Bears.