When he reported to training camp with the Lakers last fall, guard Mario Elie quickly realized that he didn't have much chance to make the club.
"I felt there would be no way I could fit in because they had enough guards," Elie said. "I just felt I was out there to fill out a roster spot and help them get into shape."
Although Elie impressed Laker Coach Mike Dunleavy, the Lakers didn't have room for another shooting guard.
"I thought he did a terrific job in camp," Dunleavy said of Elie. "We knew he could defend at this level. He was tough and he could post up and score. The thing was, he didn't shoot the ball well enough from the outside and we had Byron Scott and Terry Teagle. He really wasn't a point guard so Tony Smith won out at that position.
"But we felt he would be in the league. I thought he had a lot of talent, and he has proven that."
After he was cut by the Lakers, Elie played for the Albany Patroons in the Continental Basketball Assn., averaging a team-high 24.4 points while awaiting another NBA opportunity.
"It's hard times down there, the living conditions, the pay and just the situation," Elie said of the CBA. "It's hard playing well and seeing other guys get picked up and you're still down there. I felt I was close, but I was just wondering who I was going to get called up by."
The 6-foot-5, 210-pound guard finally caught on with the Golden State Warriors, who signed him to a 10-day contract in February and later signed him for the rest of this season and the 1991-92 season.
And Sunday at the Forum, Elie almost came back to haunt the Lakers, scoring 21 points as the Warriors dropped the opener of their Western Conference semifinal series, 126-116.
"They know what I can do," Elie said. "But there wasn't any room for me with Teagle and Scott. But I just wanted to let them know I can play."
Although Laker public-address announcer Lawrence Tanter mispronounced Elie's name during pregame introductions, he got plenty of practice pronouncing it--EHL-lee--during the game as Elie sank nine of 10 shots.
"I was happy with my performance, but I really wasn't happy because I felt we could have played better," Elie said. "I'd rather take the win any day."
After averaging 7.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 30 regular-season games with the Warriors, Elie has blossomed in the playoffs, averaging 10.8 points in five postseason games. He has made 34 consecutive free throws, 16 of them in the playoffs.
He moved into the starting lineup after the Warriors lost the first game of their first-round series against San Antonio and averaged 8.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists as the Warriors won the next three games, ousting the Spurs.
"He does a lot of the dirty work for us," Chris Mullin said of Elie. "He plays good defense and he's a good all-around player. He's been great."
Elie, 27, who speaks four languages--English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French--got to practice them during a basketball career that has taken him around the world the past six years.
Selected by the Milwaukee Bucks in the seventh round of the 1985 NBA draft out of Division II American International College in Springfield, Mass., Elie lasted only two weeks in training camp.
"I felt I wasn't really ready when I first got out of school," Elie said. "I needed to work on my skills."
He honed them in Portugal, Argentina and Ireland before joining the Patroons this season.
"I've been everywhere, and I've played everywhere," Elie said. "It's getting old because I've been over this 100 times. I followed the NBA on TV overseas. I'd watch a couple of my friends playing on TV, and it was frustrating, but life goes on."
Now, though, Elie's friends can watch him playing on TV.
Mullin, who sat out the first game of the series with a knee injury, hopes to play in Game 2 Wednesday.
"If I can play, I'm going to play," Mullin said. "I could have put on my uniform (Sunday) and walked around, but that would have hurt the team."
The Lakers expect to see Mullin.
"I expect him to play Wednesday night," Dunleavy said. "I expected him to play (Sunday). But I'll tell you what, if he sat out the game he has an injury. Chris and I grew up in the same neighborhood and I know him. There's no question in my mind that there's nothing more that he wants to do than play."