MIAMI – Heat president Pat Riley was recounting the stressful days of free agency, and how GM Andy Elisburg was tasked, as usual, with fitting in three contract of at least $50 million under the salary cap.
“His numbers crunching, his mind and his ability to go through. … from the draft through free agency, he was the star of this whole thing,” Riley said after the Heat signed James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk to contracts totaling $162 million and still were able to bring back Wayne Ellington for $6 million.
“He’s the best in the business and I could never do this without him. You guys know Andy. That’s why he’s very respected by the NBA and when Andy calls in and checks numbers and stuff, they know exactly what he’s talking about.”
Elisburg, who turns 50 Thursday, will be honored Sunday when he is inducted into the St. Thomas University Bobcat Sports Hall of Fame. He worked his way up from an intern in the Heat’s public relations department to the senior vice president of basketball operations/GM.
Elisburg, who served as the student manager of the St. Thomas men’s basketball team, joined the Heat during their inaugural season of 1988 while a student at St. Thomas. He was hired as a full-time employee less than a year later, two days after graduating from the sports administration program. Since, he’s seen it all including five trips to the NBA Finals and three world championships.
“It’s an incredible honor,” Elisburg said. “You come to a school, you’re not sure what (your time there) is going to turn into. … and to be recognized that way. It’s something you never really think about.”
Elisburg’s ability to absorb the details of the complicated Collective Bargaining Agreements and become a salary cap whisperer has allowed him to quickly advance. During his speech last month for his induction into the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Sports Hall of Champions, Riley called Elisburg the “brains of the (Heat) operation.”
And nobody knows that better than coach Erik Spoelstra, who says he has a special bond with Elisburg because both “started at the bottom” and shared many late nights together when Spoelstra was running the video department.
“Anything that goes on in this building Andy is in the know and he’s basically running everything behind the scenes. Everybody in this organization knows that,” Spoelstra said. “There used to be nights at the old Miami Arena where we were the only two people there deep into the morning. He was taking care of everything, I was just trying to keep my head above water for coach.
“I think he’s an awesome example for young people who want to get in the business but to do it very methodically and do it pure of heart. … great things can happen.”
Elisburg was honored in 2004 by his alma mater with the school’s first Leader for Life Award. He helped launch the St. Thomas University athletic department’s TOTAL program, a success program designed to assist student-athletes academically while monitoring their goals and progress.
Elisburg hopes he becomes an example that you can achieve at the highest level in sports without being an accomplished athlete.
“What you’re doing is you’re setting the stage for future students who come to see what the opportunities are,” he said. “That to me is where the greatest honor is.
“For those who helped me get to where I got to and for the next generation looking to get into the world of sports, what are the opportunities in sports other than playing. Or if I’m playing at some point in time that playing career is going to end. There’s a world beyond that.”