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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Mario Elie Compares Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan

In Part I of my interview with Mario Elie, the Golden State Warriors assistant coach talked about his long road to the NBA and his famous "Kiss of Death" shot. After Elie helped Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets win two championships he won a third title playing alongside Tim Duncan and David Robinson. What was it like playing with some of the greatest big men in the history of the game? Elie offers his perspective in Part II of my interview with him.

Friedman: "What was it like to be teammates with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler? It’s one thing to see them as opponents, but you got to know them in the locker room and also be on the court with them."

Elie: "Two amazing individuals. 'Dream' was very private, a very religious guy, but the times that I was around him he was a comedian, just a great guy, a fierce competitor and probably the best player I had the pleasure of playing with. I played with a lot of great players but he was number one. He made my game better—having two or three guys on him all night enabled me to get open shots. He was putting so much pressure on the defense. He would say, 'Mario, don’t worry about getting beat. I will be there to have your back.' That meant so much. Being a defensive guy, I would pressure guys and sometimes they would get by me, but the 'Dream' was always back there to have my back. Clyde Drexler and I are great friends; we still keep in touch. I was skeptical of the trade at first because I felt that we won a championship with Otis Thorpe and I was a little disappointed that the Rockets traded him. Clyde didn’t complain, came in and made us all believers. When 'Dream' got hurt, Clyde went on an amazing roll and carried us on his back. I said, 'Hey, this guy means business.' So it was a great relationship."

Friedman: "People forget that that was an unusual trade on the surface, even though Drexler would of course be considered a better player than Otis Thorpe. When you look at positions, you are trading your power forward for a shooting guard and then putting Robert Horry, who at that time was a skinny perimeter player, at power forward. On the surface it looked like a strange plan, but, whoever came up with that idea, it turned out brilliantly."

Elie: "It did turn out brilliantly. Also, you had Chucky Brown playing some 4 for us. We felt that Hakeem was so dominant in the middle that whoever you put beside him really didn’t matter. He and Clyde played together (in college) and you just saw that Hakeem felt like a kid again when they brought in Clyde. Both of them were so happy to be reunited. You saw the chemistry between those two. I remember a game against Utah when each of them had 40 points. That was an amazing feat to see, these two Top 50 players who I got the chance to play with performing at that level. It was great to see that."

Friedman: "You mentioned that Olajuwon is the greatest player you played with. You also played with the Spurs and Tim Duncan and David Robinson, who was obviously up there in years at that point in time but still a good player. What are your memories of playing with them? Since you do feel that Olajuwon is the greatest player you played with, compare his game to Duncan’s. Some people see a little similarity between their games. What do you think of that?"

Elie: "I love Tim. I think he may be the second best player I played with but 'Dream,' just his performance in pressure situations—when David Robinson got the '95 MVP, 'Dream' told me, 'Mario, he’s borrowing my trophy.' When I heard that I said, 'Somebody’s in trouble tonight.' That guy put on a performance—under that pressure against the MVP and we have no home court advantage—and 'Dream' just dominated that position. It reminded me of when Jordan dominated Clyde when they were comparing the two guards. They were comparing two centers and 'Dream' just totally—I don’t want to say embarrassed—but he really embarrassed him, he dominated him—(series averages of) 35 (points), 13 (rebounds), 5 assists, 4 blocks. Those are amazing numbers for a center."

Friedman: "When you were teammates with David Robinson did you ever talk about that?"

Elie: "Never talked about it. Avery Johnson is one of my best friends to this day and he’s the one who helped get me to San Antonio. I felt that they just needed some toughness. I took a lot of heat early in that year—I went on national TV and really challenged Dave and Tim about being soft. I took a lot of heat in the San Antonio and national media about that, 'Who is this guy Mario Elie, just a basic player, telling these two superstars what to do?' At the end of the year (it became clear that) I was right. I was man enough to step up to those two guys and tell them that they had to play tougher. What it got was the Spurs' first championship and people coming up to me after the season saying, 'Mario, you did the right thing. You took the heat all year, but you were right to challenge those two guys.' I’m glad I did it. Every time I go to San Antonio people still remember me and still love me down there. It was a great two years there."

Friedman: "Is the difference between Olajuwon and Duncan the athleticism? They both have great footwork but Olajuwon was a soccer goalie, so he had great athleticism and the way that he would get steals added another dimension that Duncan perhaps does not have."

Elie: "Exactly. I just think that 'Dream' was more athletic, had a better game on the box and was a better shot blocker. Tim is a great defender. He gets his arms up and he blocks a couple shots, but 'Dream' was an amazing shot blocker. Like you said, he had great hands. He was always hitting the ball away from guys."

Friedman: "He would steal the ball from guards."

Elie: "Exactly. He would pick guys’ pockets. He had a great feel for the game and is just an amazing individual."

Friedman: "Duncan blocks shots but it seems to me that when you compare him to other players that he is not a great leaper, not athletic compared to NBA players. How is he able to block so many shots?"

Elie: "Timing. Tim is a very intelligent player. He and Hakeem both have very high basketball IQs. Tim is a very smart individual and he understands how to play defense. Popovich, to me, is one of the best defensive coaches in the NBA right now and he puts his bigs in the right position to make blocks like that. If I got beat, you had two seven footers to get by. First you had David and if David didn’t get you, then Tim would or if Tim didn’t get you then David would. Pop did a good job of having us funnel penetration to those big guys and then they would get a lot of blocks."

Friedman: "It amazes me that Duncan always blocks more shots than Garnett, who seems to be so much more athletic."

Elie: "Yeah. Garnett to me is more of a scorer type, a scorer and a great rebounder, but Tim to me is an all-around great player. He plays defense, he rebounds, he can go down to the post; if he gets doubled he is going to make the right decision. It’s good to watch those two go at it. Garnett gets so up to play against Tim. I remember talking to Sam Mitchell, who said to Garnett that if he wanted to get to the top that he had to go through the other 21 in San Antonio."

Friedman: "Their personalities are so different."

Elie: "Exactly."

Friedman: "Garnett is in your face and fiery and Duncan is just laid back."

Elie: "Garnett is screaming and cussing at Tim and what does Tim do? Just smile, look at him and laugh. That’s what I love about Tim. Nothing fazes him. Tim doesn’t get fazed by anything. His mental toughness—that’s one thing that I liked about both Hakeem and Tim. They play through pain, play through injury, and don’t make any excuses."

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:00 AM



At Tuesday, August 22, 2006 3:05:00 PM, Blogger illest said...

I loved Moncrief. He could do it all. But a player who used to kill Moncrief was Micheal Ray Richardson, who used to battle with Magic and kill Isiah. People dont talk about him because of the drugs be should have been one of the top guards ever. If you ever interview Jordan, or Magic, or Isiah or Larry or anyone from the late 70s early 80s ask them that.

I mentioned Richardson because Im surprised Elie didnt mentioned him since Elie grew up in New york when Richardson played for the Knicks.

At Wednesday, August 23, 2006 5:55:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I know that Magic and Isiah have both said that Micheal Ray was one of the toughest guards that they faced. "Sugar" led the Nets to a first round upset of the defending champion Philadelphia 76ers in 1984, not long before he became the first NBA player to receive a lifetime ban for drug abuse. He then played pro ball in Europe until he was into his 40s. TNT did a great movie about him a few years ago and they still rerun it periodically; I think that it was called "Whatever Happened to Micheal Ray?"

You are right that "Sugar" would have been a natural basketball hero for Elie, but I don't think that he chose poorly in selecting Magic and Moncrief.

At Friday, August 25, 2006 12:01:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

True indeed David he chose well. I just thought living in New York he would of mentioned Sugar.

He was definitely my favorite player growing up.


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