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March 7, 2023 17 mins

Mario Elie takes us inside his journey to the NBA which began in New York City. Mario shares what it was like playing basketball in the streets of New York, and then he shares how he felt being traded from Portland to Houston. Mario explains why he signed with the Spurs and why he fit so well with the Spurs organization. Later, Mario reminisces on the Memorial Day miracle and the passing of the torch from David Robinson to Tim Duncan. Mario finishes up discussing the legacy of the Spurs.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Here Johnson finds Mario Elie his set shot from the
head of today as good Welcome to the Sound of
Spurs Podcast. I'm Bill Schoening, a longtime radio voice of
the Spurs. This edition brought you by self financial and
talk about big time guys. We couldn't have the Sound
of Spurs Podcast without number seventeen in your program, number

(00:22):
one in your heart. I just said that to Sean
Elliot last week. He was number thirty two, the pride
of New York City, a member of the New York
Basketball Hall of Fame. Right, and Mario Elie is with us,
and wow, great to have you a little bit later
on this evening. You're gonna hear the cheers from the
crowd here in San Antonio, so that must be a
special moment for you coming up. Absolutely got great history

(00:44):
with this great organization as a player and a coach.
I want to think RC and Pop forgetting my coaching
career started, because those were the first guys that call
me when I retired from this great game of basketball,
and they piqued my interest. And I think the Spurs
would gave me starting my coaching journey. I'll tell I
got to know you as an assistant coach in those

(01:05):
early years for me, and so you got to see
guys like Manu and Tony Parker kind of grow up.
You know what's funny, Bill, I go through my head.
There's a couple of there's three guys in the league
that I played with and I coach Tim Duncan, Cliff
Robinson God Bless him R and PN Jason kids. So
that's pretty interested in dynamic to actually play with a

(01:28):
guy and end up coaching him. And I was one
of the guys who would you know when I was
on the Spurs coaching staff, would warm up Tim, I'm
like man and he would not take it easy on me.
I try to stop him from post it up and
Tim would just kill me off the glass all day
only because he had the size advantage, not the hard avantage.
That's it. Well, let's start the journey at the beginning,

(01:48):
because you're a New Yorker through and through, and that
really is part of what makes Mario Welly a successful
basketball player. Because you did not have an easy, smooth
path to the NBA. My friend, it was tough. And
then growing up in the streets of New York, you
had to be tough to even get on the court
to play. You lose in New York City, you're not
gonna get on the court the rest of the day.

(02:09):
So that's the kind of mentality that I grew up with.
Game point would take fifty minutes because nobody would give in.
Guys were getting pushed into the fans. So a game
point in New York City a last an hour because
nobody wanted to get off the court. So that's why
I sort of get my competitive edge. Me being a
seventh round pick, me going division, to me playing in

(02:31):
Ireland in Portugal, so that sort of build up my character.
I didn't even know they had a league in Ireland,
to be honest with it. So much fun Bill, you
gotta go. And it's funny. I tweet sometimes that I
want to go back out there, and my Irish people
remember me. I get like four or five hundred retweets.
I do eventually definitely want to go back out to
Devilin had a blast out there. Well, you know, it's

(02:52):
funny because so many players we talk about the journey,
and you went overseas and you saw some things overseason.
I think for American guys to go overseas and see
a different culture, learn about different food, different language, And
you were a type of guy that liked to embrace that.
I know you speak several different languages, so that must
have been a real learning experience for you, and especially
growing up in New York Shire's Like you mentioned, New

(03:12):
York is great culture. I grew up with Spanish, White, Russian.
It was wonderful growing up with different nationale at least,
and halving different friends with different national nights. So when
I went overseas, like you mentioned, the adjustment was easy
for me, you know. And how fun is it to
play basketball, get paid and see the world at the
same time. So that was my mindset. Always had NBA

(03:35):
in the back of my mind, Bill, but I wanted
to see the world, make some money and ask some fun, right.
And you also came back and played in the CBA,
which I guess is kind of equivalent to what the
G League is now. What was the CBA like back then?
It was very tough. It was the salaries with god awful.
We get twenty five bucks a day to eat. I
remember me and my couple of teammates and Grand Rapids

(03:57):
Michigan stealing tips off the barb Evans. I'm like we
were Paul back then, Bill, but we were driven. We
had a lot of good players, John Starks, Anthony Mason,
God bless him. We were sort of the top guys
coming out to CBA, and we all used to talk
all the time when we get up to the NBA,
we're not coming back down. And the CBA had some
coaches back there were George Carl, I believe coached. I

(04:18):
think Phil Jackson might have been a coach in that league.
I was blessed because my second year in the CBA,
George Carl is my head coach and Terry Stotts was
the assistant, So I basically had two NBA head coaches
all my staff. Those guys saw something to me and
everything just happened to me that year when those guys
were on the staff. Let's fast forward a little, but

(04:39):
I think the first team to actually give you a
look was Philadelphia, right, Yes, great experience playing with the
great Charles Barkley. He was a little pissed at Philly
at that time. He wanted out, but I remember meeting
him in Phoenix. That was my sort of first game
playing the Sons. Kevin Johnson, Tom Chambers, we got butch

(05:00):
with Bill. I remember putting on getting out there for
scrub time. But the thing I did remember was Barkley
just punishing Chime Chambers. Having forty five that night. I said, this, dude,
here's the real deal. And he's my size. Yeah, exactly right,
he's not much taller than six five. Is just a
terrific player, but even better huming bit. Yeah, but you've
eventually caught on with the Houston Rockets. I've gotten to

(05:22):
know Rudy t through the years. He's the same kind
of guy as you. Right, He's a tough guy's a
Detroit guy. So did you guys hit it off right away? Absolutely?
And it's funny how I got there. I was playing
with the Blazers at the time, and Rudy said him
and the coaching staff had a night off on the
road one time and we're watching some NBA basketball and
the Blazers won, and he's like, this kid, number seventeen,

(05:45):
I think he could fit well. And are you know
because Clyde was hurt a lot that year that the
one yards with the Blazers, so I was getting a
lot of playing time off the bench, and now I
was very productive. You know, got a chance to play
with my buddy Rod Strickland, fellow New Yorker, so he
was always looking for me when we played together. So
Rudy said, man, this guy would be great. And I
remember that that summer Sean's I went to Santa Bay

(06:08):
aery to see a couple of friends. Driving back, my
phone rings Mary, you've been traded. I'm like, man, where
they said that Uston, I'm like, man, I'm gonna play
with the key Malajuan. You're talking about who pack packed
so quick shots. I was out of parlor that maybe
a day to a half. I was dog down to
forty five Houston, Texas. I've heard it said Mario that
you were the missing piece of that puzzle because they're

(06:30):
trying to put a championship team together. And uh, you know,
you might not have been leading scorer, but you brought
the energy, the defensive intensity, the junkyard dog mentality. You
got that nick name, of course, but did you feel
like you're a feeling a void in that department? It
was It was funny you say that, Sean, because I
went to training camp when I got traded down there.
I remember playing with the Blazers going up to Seattle

(06:53):
to see that game seven Houston and m in Seattle.
They lost in overtime. I'm like, man, this team they go,
especially with the way the Lajahan was playing at the time,
I said, this team's gonna be special. And to get
that call, and you know myself, Sam Caselle, Vernon, Maxwell,
Kenney Smith and Scottie Brooks, that's a pretty damn good

(07:14):
tandem of guards right there, especially with the big fella
underneath oldest thar, Robert Ry. So we felt really good
about that team and how lucky I am to get
traded then win two championships immediately, and of course your
value as a part of the championship team was seen
by the Spurs who are also looking for that missing spark,
that missing energy, and you immediately caught on here. It

(07:37):
was great because me and Avery was friends, so I
was sort of a free agent. Then leave Houston, you know,
on a good note. So I know I was looking
to go somewhere else and start over, and Avery said,
wod you come down here with us? So it was
between San Antonio, I think in Minnesota at the time,
So I chose the Spurs and like what I saw
training camp, it was a lockout season. So I remember

(08:00):
coming in and Jaren Jackson was to start in two guard.
Now I told Avery, I said, give me three weeks,
that's gonna be my job. And I think we started
off six to nine and Papa Face came in and
like there's a change in the starting line that we're
gonna start Mario. We went fourteen and one after that,
win the championship, Shans. You know, the rest is history.
We're down at the riverwalk just going crazy. Pop is

(08:23):
just going nuts on the riverwalks. So just fun times,
just fun times. Yeah, Avery is the type of guy.
I've seen so many interviews with him. I did an
interview with him the night of the fiftieth anniversary over
the Alamo Dome, and he's always positive, he's always upbeat,
and I guess as a point guard and one of
the leaders of the team, that's good to have. But
did you kind of counter him a little bit in
the locker room? Absolutely, because he was just the nicest

(08:46):
guy and shaking everybody's hand and coombay y'all. I'm like, dude,
he's the enemy. You got time to fellowship in the summertime,
Sean's I got him so locked in Sean. When time
we were in the finals, Avery would take his chair
and sit by himself in the shower. He would not
talk to nobody. He was so focused, and I'm like, yes,

(09:07):
I want him over. I want him over. And that's
what we needed from him. We needed that toughness and
edge from him at the point guard position. And now
I remember the Portland's series, the disrespect Damon stardom had
said about Avery that san Antonio would never win a
championship with him at the point guard, and sew what
happens in the Western Conference. Avery Johnson dominates Damon stardomyer

(09:31):
and we bring the brooms al Shawn's and send him home.
You're part of the Memorial Day miracle, Elliot fire. What

(09:56):
do you remember about that play? Because the thing that
freaks me out the most, Mario, is how well Rashid
Wallace defended that shot by Sean. I just tell Sean
I was Joe Montana, he was Jerry Rice. It's the
funny you say that, Seance, because I had to put
a little more mustard because I see that Stacy all
have been ready to play. He's like, okay, they're going

(10:17):
to the corner. So I guess somebody did a good job,
but just getting a piece of him, I had to
throw a little extra mustard on that path. I'm surprised
Sean caught it, Stacy missed it. I'm like, whoa first
mind avoided then here because Rashid Wallace, like you said,
if Sean Elliott is six five that shot is blocked,

(10:38):
it's because Sean Elliott is six to eight on his
tippy toes, that shot don't get blocked. And to come
back and win that game being down twenty, we sort
of broke that back after that game and went on
and swept him. Yeah, certain games in championship seasons defining
what is going to happen down the line, and I
guess that might have been it for you guys. Yes, definitely.

(10:59):
Look at that Blazer team, Rashid Wallace, Via Sabonis, Brian Grant,
Walt Williams, Jimmy Jackson, Greg Anthony, Greg Grant, JR. Ryder,
I mean, Jimmy Jackson, It's like maybe ten first round
picks on that team, but we handled them. I mean
we just had a great system. We had great camarade

(11:21):
with that Spurs team. We knew where our bread was
brothers with the two big boys and me and Avery,
we just didn't didn't have to mess it up, and
then we had an elite three man and Sean Elliott,
did you have an idea that the Spurs had kind
of built the foundation for what was going to happen
down the line. Of course, Mono Antoni hadn't come yet
in ninety nine, and there's no way to kind of

(11:41):
project that. But as far as Tim, obviously he was
just getting started. You know, it was great about being
here in ninety nine. Shaans was seeing the pass of
the torch from David Robinson to Tim Duncan. It was
wonderful to see they've been the man for San Antonio,
for Evan and you can hold this bull back. Dave said, hey,

(12:01):
you gotta be the number one guy now. And I
remember against Utchah we played the Jazzz and it was
kar Malone and Duncan, and Duncan dominated him. And from
that time that torch was passed. I said, this is
the guy, This is the number one guy. And David
Davids was Robin say, whatever you need for me, big fella,
I'm gonna be there and support you. And it was

(12:23):
fun as a defender Sean, because Sean's when a guy
would go buy me. I said, good luck, because you
got two seven footers in the paint waiting for you.
It was, it was. It was great to play with
those guys. You could you could be aggressive at that point, right, yeah,
I was all over. Guys. Guys would hate me. Guard me.
I said, good luck, because if if fifty don't get you,

(12:43):
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(13:25):
A long time assistant coach in the NBA. One of
the guys that you coached. Was Bruce Bowen And of
course he was a part of the championship teams in three,
oh five and seven. And did he remind you of
yourself a little bit at least in his mindset defensively? Absolutely,
you always need that one guy sounds as edgy, that's
going to sacrifice to the team's guard, who's going to

(13:48):
guard their best player, who's going to compete at the
lead level? And now was Bruce bowd He was the
ultimate competitor. Great footwork was always in tip top condition.
I remember coach Bruce and he will only take two
weeks off in the summer and he'll get right back
in the gym. And there's a reason he was able
to defend guys at in lead level for eighty two

(14:08):
game season. It was a reason he was a forty
percent corner three point shooter. It was just worth ethic
and he always need a guy like that on your
team that you don't run plays for, but seems to
come up at big moments. At the end of every
one of these podcasts, we asked the guests to kind
of reflect on the Spurs because this is the fiftieth anniversary.
You'll see it everywhere you're going in the arena. And

(14:32):
it's a unique franchise because it started the Old ABA
and then it was one of four teams to go
into the NBA. But when you think of the legacy
of the Spurs, Mario having been part of it, what
would you say the legacy this organization is well, as
a young man growing up, Seans, I gotta tell you
I'm the biggest, biggest George Gervan fan. That wasn't my
first first poster as a young man growing up. Once

(14:54):
I started liking basketball. My man with his legs crossed
with the two que balls. When I see him, I
tell him that all the time. Great, great Spur. Then
you go Doctor Ka, the Whopper, James Silas. Then you
go recent Spurs, Elliott, you know, Robinson, Duncan, Genobli Parker.

(15:17):
I mean, just great lineage here, especially as far as
the big man. How lucky is pop to get to
have David Robinson and Tim Duncan and maybe get this
big boy and then this upcoming drafting victor. But just
when I put on a silver, silver and black, it's
just class. Got a chance to play with the Hall

(15:40):
of Fame coach and coach with the Hall of Fame coach,
just a great coach, but even better human men than
Greg Popovitch. Really learned a lot about the game of
basketball and life being part of this organization, and still
know communicate with Spurs people to this day. So I'm
just happy these guys asked me to come by here
for a fifty if I know, I was only here
two years, but it was too great fun years and

(16:03):
to being part of being the bringing the first championship
here meant a lie to me. I remember that night,
like yesterday, I wore my uniform that night, Shanes, I
did not take my uniform all night. I remember getting
back to the hotel at nine am. The next morning.
I think our bus was at ten, so I speed.
I got an hour to spare, But just seeing the

(16:24):
joy and Pop, Dave and Sean embracing all they've been
through with the Spurs. I remember our battles when I
was with the Rockets and us beating them. I thought
that sixty five win team should have won it that year,
the championship, but they ran into a butt so unfortunately.
But now, I mean five championships later, I mean you

(16:48):
gotta say dynasty for sure. This franchise is definitely part
of the NBA dynasty. Well, you're part of the legacy
as well. Mario, thanks very much for joining us. We
appreciate it and best of luck in your future. Thank you, buddy,
Thank you. That's Mario. Ellie. This is the Sautith Furst Podcast.
I'm Bill Schulding. So long, everybody,
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