Former NBA player returns to New Orleans as established beach volleyball pro More

Former NBA player Chase Budinger returned to New Orleans feeling much better about his body than the last time he visited the city as a professional athlete.

Being on the sand can have that kind of impact. Budinger, who played seven NBA seasons with four teams, underwent two knee surgeries, suffered a sports hernia and several ankle sprains during his eight-year professional basketball career that included a season in Spain.

Now five seasons into a pro beach volleyball career, the healthy 6-foot-7 Budinger won his first match Friday at the New Orleans Open at Coconut Beach Volleyball Complex in Kenner. Budinger and playing partner Troy Field, the No. 1 4 seeded duo in the 16-team, double-elimination tournament, defeated No. 4 13 Dave Palm and Roberto Rodriguez 21-13, 21-15.

The pair played amid windy conditions and on a surface that Budinger described as being “jumpy.” The sand at Coconut Beach is a bit denser than where Budinger trains in Hermosa Beach, California — meaning his feet here don’t sink as deep as they do on the oceanfront whenever he tries to jump.

The opening win assured Budinger and Field a spot in the Saturday evening slate of matches — no matter the result of the late Friday match against No. 5 Billy Allen and Jeremy Casebeer. Consolation matches and quarterfinals are Saturday. The semifinals and championship are Sunday.

Budinger, 34, has three career AVP tournament wins. He won twice last season with former playing partner Casey Patterson, a 42-year-old with 17 career AVP wins.

“The body has felt way better than it did toward the end of my basketball career,” said Budinger, who averaged nearly 20 minutes and eight points over 407 career regular season games with the Rockets, Timberwolves, Pacers and Suns.

Nowadays, Budinger enjoys the more relaxed lifestyle than when he played in the NBA. Instead of traveling around the country nine months of the year, Budinger rides a bike three blocks each way from home so he can get to the beach for training.

His travel is limited to weekend tournaments. Three weeks ago, Budinger and Field placed second at the Austin Open. Last week, the pair played in Kusadasi, Turkey, and lost in the round of 16

“The life of a beach volleyball player is great,” said Budinger, whose NBA earnings amounted to roughly $18 million, per Spotrac. “You get to be outdoors, be on the beach. You travel to a lot of great places around the world. See places you would not normally see.”

Before the NBA, Budinger played basketball for three seasons at the University of Arizona. The Pistons selected him 44th overall in the second round of the NBA draft and traded him to the Rockets.

Budinger excelled at both sports while at La Costa Canyon High School in San Diego County, California. He was a McDonald’s All-American in basketball and a national prep player of the year for indoor volleyball. His prep volleyball team won three consecutive state championships.

This season is a unique one for Budinger. For the first time, Budinger is older than his playing partner. Field, 28, joined Budinger for the first time in 2021 and the pair placed second at an international event in Rwanda.

“I’m trying to be the best blocker I can be,” Budinger said. “And my partner, he’s super quick and fast. It’s tough for teams to shoot and find open sand because he’s always able to run and put a hand on every ball.”

Together, they hope to stick around through Sunday. For Budinger, any day he gets to play on the sand is a good one.

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