The Hero/Grim Reaper
To understand the story of how the shot became so legendary and iconic, we first must begin with the main protagonist. The Houston Rockets of the 1990s had a collection of talent that might either be star players for teams not in contention or role players that probably wouldn’t play more than two minutes per game.
But aside from Hakeem Olajuwon and eventually, Clyde Drexler, Houston’s players were full of guys that made this team laughable to the public, dangerous to the stronger teams including one up north in Illinois, and lovable to us who lived through years of suffering for championships. But they also provided the nation with some grit and resilient players.
Perhaps no key player best defined the role of grit and resilient more than Mr. Mario Elie. The man named for an Italian opera singer and would share some similar traits to that of a future iconic Nintendo plumber, grew up in a hot spot where basketball was played beyond a garden: New York City, New York.
Elie would have a similar story to Michael Jordan when as a freshman in high school, he was cut from the freshman basketball team. Hard work later earned Elie a spot on the junior varsity team the next season playing alongside future NBA Hall of Famer Chris Mullin.
Unable to get offers from Division I schools, Elie wound up playing his collegiate career at American International College, located in the same neighborhood at the site of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. When he left college, he was the all-time leading scorer there until his record was broken five years later. Drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1985, he was cut from the team during training camp.
What followed would be a career of playing in basketball arenas, not NBA-affiliated. Stints in Ireland, Argentina, and Portugal played into his time in minor basketball leagues with the Miami Tropics of the United States Basketball League (USBL) and the Albany Patroons of the CBA. NBA teams took notice and in December 1990, he signed a ten-day contract to join the Philadelphia 76ers. Two months later, he was picked up by the Golden State Warriors, where he would reunite with high school buddy Chris Mullin, who by now was part of the Run TMC trio with Mitch Richmond and Tim Hardaway.
Following a season and a half, he moved to Portland playing alongside another future Hall-of-Famer in Clyde Drexler. Then, in 1993, he was traded to Houston, where he would become an icon in more ways than one. It was a perfect trade for the Houston Rockets as Elie would be instrumental for them in the magical season of 1994. His tendency to get into it with his teammates and the referees gave him the nickname “Junkyard Dog,” A good name, but one that would be replaced by something more touching.
With Elie on board, the Houston Rockets would have the best season to date. Reaching the NBA Finals to where they would bring Houston their first-ever championship in any professional sport. Some have said that the championship was won because a certain someone was absent. But if the Junkyard Dog was blocking the championship from being a fluke, the naysayers would run an hide with fright.
1994 was a great season for the team. But 1995 would be better. However, I’m getting ahead of myself. So we now know about the man behind the moment. Yet, that’s only part one of this story. It’s time to break down the opposition that would fall victim to their clutches.