Mario Elie – Ireland’s First Basketball Player

Few people know the story of Mario Elie in Ireland, and that is a great shame. In fact, I did my thesis on American sports played in Ireland, and Elie made up a solid portion of the ten thousand word effort. Of course he was not the first Irish man to play in the NBA, hell he is not even Irish. But to me he is one of our own.

Born in New York City in 1963, his explosive early career curtailed somewhat, which culminated in him being selected 160th out of 162 people in the 1985 draft. Some of argued he should have been drafted far higher than this however. Elie opted instead to play in Europe, and although he is more well known for playing with the Portuguese side Ovarense Aerosoles, he did spend one season playing for Killester in Ireland. Killester is arguably Ireland’s biggest team, but that is irrelevant, having an eventual three time NBA winner playing at the beginning of his career on these shores was special. I was not even born, but I have interviewed the people who watched him play in the flesh. One gentleman, Kieran Shannon, has only just recently returned from Brooklyn where he was interviewing Elie for an as yet untitled documentary about basketball in Ireland. He also grew up watching him play and this turned him on to basketball. He was also in the stands that day in 1995 when the Rockets, whom Elie played for, defeated one Shaquille O’Neal and the Orlando Magic to win the NBA title.

Part of the charm that is Mario Elie is the fact that he won three NBA titles, two with the Rockets in 94 & 95, and again with the Spurs in 99. Of course he was never the focal point of any of these teams, Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan respectively would have been, but to know that a champion had begun playing on this small island is exciting. Basketball had it’s moment in the spotlight in the late 80’s and early 90’s, but with the introduction of the one American per team rule, it quickly stagnated. Very few people play the sport anymore in Ireland, and even less care about it. It is however a tight knit community.

 

 

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