Relaxation, libations and celebrations are the cornerstones of any good retirement. 

But former NBA player Chase Budinger wouldn't know. After he hung up his basketball sneakers in 2017, the small forward traded in the wooden floors of the gym for the sun-soaked sands of beach volleyball, embarking on a journey from raw talent to elite volleyballer. His retirement plan was simple: make it to the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. 

In June 2024, nearly seven years into his NBA retirement, Budinger and his partner Miles Evans qualified for the U.S. Olympic beach volleyball team. 

Multi-sport athlete and recruit

California native Budinger grew up in an athletic household. The youngest of three children, Budinger was often shuttled to his brother Duncan and his sister Brittanie's volleyball matches. It was at those matches as a spectator that Budinger was bit by the volleyball bug and decided to pick up the game himself.  

"Just growing up  watching my brother and sister play was probably my biggest aspiration of why I loved volleyball," Budinger said. "I had to go to all their tournaments, had to go out to all of their college events and everything, and that's really what got me into volleyball at a young age."

Budinger's volleyball career blossomed. He led his high school team to three state titles and was named Volleyball Magazine's 2005 Player of the Year. He was a top volleyball recruit for colleges. 

Except Budinger's impressive balling wasn't just limited to volleyball. Budinger excelled in basketball as a small forward and, in 2006, was named co-MVP of the McDonald's All-America team with fellow Olympian Kevin Durant. Despite his volleyball prowess, Budinger's future aspirations were all about the net—the basketball net. 

"So that's when I just decided to stick with basketball, put all my marbles into one basket, and see how far basketball could take me," Budinger said. 

Budinger ultimately signed with the University of Arizona and played for the Wildcats for three seasons before entering the NBA draft. In 2009, the Detroit Pistons selected Budinger in the second round. 

After being drafted by the Pistons, Budinger was immediately traded to the Houston Rockets. Budinger competed in the NBA for seven seasons, and played with the Rockets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Indiana Pacers and Phoenix Suns, for a total of 407 games. He averaged 7.9 points per game.

chase budinger shoots a basketball
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Chase Budinger shoots against the Houston Rockets in the second half at Toyota Center in 2015.
USA Today

During his off-seasons, Budinger swapped his basketball shots for beach volleyball serves, a perennial ignition of his other athletic passion.  

"I played a lot of beach volleyball in the offseason where I live in Hermosa Beach…I thought it was really good cross-training, and it was great for the body to be in the sand and not be, you know, pounding my body on the hardwood each and every day in the offseason."

Retirement to rookie

In 2017, Budinger retired from basketball. By that point, Budinger's brother and sister already had pro volleyball careers, so Budinger decided it was his turn to go pro. 

"I would say it [going pro in volleyball] was always something in the back of my head that, if my body would allow me to, I wanted to try to pursue," said Budinger.

Budinger quickly started training on the sand, and with his new career, he had new ambitions.

My mindset coming into beach volleyball was to make the Olympics. I love to dream big. I love to have high goals and why not have the highest goal that you can in beach volleyball?

Budinger partnered with Olympic veteran Sean Rosenthal for his first season on the sand. Nicknamed "Superman" for his high leaping ability, Rosenthal had already competed in two Olympics when he and Budinger paired up and was able to pass his beach volleyball knowledge to Budinger.

"I was learning from him [Rosenthal] my very first year and kind of just picking his brain each and every day… I was like a deer in headlights coming out, just so raw. I needed some guidance, and he definitely gave me a lot," Budinger said. 

Budinger and Rosenthal played together for the 2018 season, and since then, Budinger has tapped more Olympic talent on the beach volleyball court. He partnered with 2016 Rio Olympic Games athletes Casey Patterson in 2019 and Chaim Schalk in 2020. With every new duo Budinger debuted with, he took their experience and advice to sharpen his game in the sand. 

"My next partner Casey Patterson definitely taught me how to be the best partner I can because at times I was really stubborn and hard-headed. He taught me how to nourish your partnership and how to get the best out of them."

Paris perfect

In 2023, Budinger teamed up with Miles Evans. Evans was a standout player at UC Santa Barbara in 2012 and 2013 before going pro. When Evans and Budinger paired up, they had the same goal of qualifying for the Olympics. 

"From our very first meeting, we wanted to start this journey together," Budinger said. "We decided to put everything into this. Let's work as hard as we can. Let's find the right coach. Let's take this two-year period and see what could happen. He was all in for it. And we just started working from day one."

Budinger's transition from dunks to digs offered the duo a new perspective on the tandem's practice principles. Budinger implemented the consistent rigors of an NBA player's training into his and Evan's regimen. The usual three to four practices per week for most beach volleyball teams were extended to five to six days per week for Budinger and Evans. 

"I think I tried to do the best job I could have of kind of showing my partner of hey, this is what it takes to be professional at the highest level like, we got to get in the gym," Budinger said. "We go to practice, and when we practice, we got to go as hard as we can. And then after practice, we got to do our recovery. And then, after recovery, it's time to sit down and watch some film. And then again, do it all over again the next day. So I'm just implementing my work ethic and bringing that over to beach volleyball."

By November 2023, after strong finishes in tournaments in China, Brazil and Thailand, Budinger and Evans were ranked fourth among American teams. In May, the pair were the second ranked American men's team. The spring of 2024 saw the race to Paris heat up, and Budinger and Evans found themselves in a tight contention in rankings with fellow American team Theo Brunner and Trevor Crabb. In June, Brunner and Crabb lost in the first round of the last qualifying tournament in the Czech Republic and could not win enough points to pass Budinger and Evans in the rankings. Budinger's and Evan's tickets to Paris were officially punched in early June. 

chase budinger attacks the ball
Chase Budinger serves in a match against Angel Dache and Brian Tillman during the AVP Manhattan Beach Open at Manhattan Beach Pier in 2019.
USA Today

Looking forward to the Games

In Paris, Budinger will become the only person to play a regular-season game in the NBA and Olympic beach volleyball, a feat that wouldn't have been possible if he hadn't dreamed big.

When asked what he misses most about playing professional basketball, Budinger immediately responds with the camaraderie shared with his teammates. 

"I miss the locker room," Budinger said. "You know, just being around the guys, the locker room, the chit chat. Just the brotherhood that you get from basketball."

While they no longer share a locker room, Budinger's former team and league mates have made quite the hoop-la about his qualification for the Paris Olympics. 

"A bunch of guys have reached out and kind of just said their congratulations and how they're proud," Budinger said. "Even some guys I haven't heard from in a long time have reached out. So it's really cool to hear from them, you know.  It kind of just gives me an extra motivation to go out there and to work as hard as I can and to give my best effort and to show that, you know, I'm here to try to win a medal for the USA."

Between his matches under the shade of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Budinger hopes to connect with his former colleagues and catch an Olympic basketball game. 

"I would love to see other sports. I've always been a huge, huge fan of the Olympics. I would love to go see Team USA basketball. You know, seeing some of those guys that I grew up playing with and playing against. It'd be really cool to watch them live, hopefully."

Budinger's extensive athletic career has seen him wear many different jerseys, but this summer in Paris, wearing the USA jersey will be a dream come true. 

It's incredible. Just the hard work and dedication we've had over the last few years to finally be representing the USA at the Olympics is going to be just an unreal feeling. And I'm just really excited about it.