Magic assistant coach Mario Elie loves being back in the game
BY JOSH ROBBINS, ORLANDO SENTINEL
If you sat inside the Amway Center practice gym Tuesday afternoon with your eyes closed, you still would've known Mario Elie was working there.
His deep voice reverberated from one end of the gym to the other as he served as the Orlando Magic's head coach for their summer-league game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
"Three seconds!" Elie bellowed when a Grizzlies big man loitered in the paint. "Threeee! Threeee!"
"Timeout! Timeout! Timeout!" he yelled with 15.4 seconds left in the first overtime.
Elie couldn't hide his happiness when the exhibition ended. The Magic lost 73-71 in double-overtime, but he beamed from ear-to-ear afterward as he praised Aaron Gordon and complimented the players for their ball movement.
Elie, 51, is best-known to basketball fans for winning two NBA titles with the Houston Rockets and one NBA title with the San Antonio Spurs. But for people who work within the basketball community, he's respected most for the road he took before he started his 11-year NBA career. After he attended a Division II school, he played in Ireland, Portugal, Argentina, the USBL and the CBA for several years before he finally made his regular-season NBA debut in Dec. 1990.
"I've been doing this all my life," Elie said. "I can't be a lawyer or a doctor. Basketball is in my blood. I love everything about the game. I played overseas. I played in all the farm teams. And now I made it to the NBA. I appreciate it. That's why when I took the floor in the NBA I didn't take it for granted. I played hard every night."
That passion explains why he can't stop raving about how happy he is to be a member of Scott Skiles' Magic coaching staff.
After he worked nine seasons as an assistant coach for four different teams, he spent the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons away from the game. The time off allowed him to spend more time with his wife, award-winning Houston television news anchor Gina Gaston, and their triplets, Gaston, Glenn and Lauren. Although he savored the family time, he never quite got over being away from basketball.
Elie played for Skiles during the 2000-01 season in Phoenix, and Skiles admired Elie's workmanlike approach and grit on the court. So when the Magic hired Skiles in May, Skiles thought Elie was a natural fit.
Like Elie, the other assistant coaches — Adrian Griffin, Monte Mathis and Conner Henry — paid their dues as players and coaches.
"They're overachievers," Skiles said.
Magic fans may remember Elie from his central role in the Rockets' sweep over the Magic during the 1995 NBA Finals. He started all four games and averaged 16.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists as the Rockets repeated as league champs.
"He was a very passionate teammate," said Sam Cassell, who played alongside Elie with the Rockets and now is a Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach. "He was a no-nonsense guy. He voiced his opinion. No matter if you had 10 years in the league or one year in the league, he expected you to do your job when you were out there."
That will be part of Elie's role as a Magic assistant coach: Skiles and his staff hope to transform Orlando's young players into overachievers.
"This is what I love to do," Elie said. "I've been part of the NBA as a player and coach for over 20 years. I love everything about basketball. I love watching film. I love working with kids. I love getting in the coaches' offices arguing, going back-and-forth. Coach Skiles allows you to be a coach. He gives you a voice on the floor, and I really like that about him."
On Tuesday, Elie employed his voice again.
And he loved every minute of it.