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Houston Rockets

Basketball team

About the Houston Rockets

Location of Houston

Country: USA

Location: Houston, Texas

Demography: 2,326M

Spoken language: English

NBA Championships: 1994, 1995

Team names:

  • San Diego Rockets (1967-1971)
  • Houston Rockets (1971-...)

Houston Rockets logos history

Houston Rockets logo
Houston Rockets logo
Houston Rockets logo
Houston Rockets logo
Houston Rockets logo

Houston Rockets Retired Numbers

Jersey Drexler 22
Jersey Murphy 23
Jersey Malone 24
Jersey Olajuwon 34
Jersey Tomjanovich 45

Retired Numbers : Clyde Drexler #22, Calvin Murphy #23, Moses Malone #24, Hakeem Olajuwon #34, Rudy Tomjanovich #45

Houston Rockets history

When the NBA looked to expand in 1967, they chose a Californian city with a growing population and a strong economy. San Diego was awarded an expansion franchise as Robert Breitbard paid 1.75 million dollars to join the League. The fans chose the name Rockets as San Diego used the theme "a city in motion" to boost its image as a first class city, and the Rockets' name lent itself to that effort.

From San Diego to Houston

To build the roster, the Rockets chose veteran players during an expansion draft and their first ever draft pick : Pat Riley from Kentucky, who was drafted that same year as a wide receiver by the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL. It was no surprise that the Rockets finished last in the League in their inaugural season with only 15 wins. It gave them the opportunity to draft a power forward who ended up in the Naismith Hall of Fame and the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team. 6-foot-9 Elvin Hayes twice took Houston University to the NCAA Final Four. And it did not take him long to make an impact in the NBA. As a rookie he was the first in scoring (28.4 points per game) and fourth in rebounding (17.1 boards). Although he remains the only rookie in history to lead the League in scoring, he was not named Rookie of the Year as center Wes Unseld, from Baltimore, won the trophy.

The following season he was the NBA’s leading rebounder but despite the addition of guard Calvin Murphy and forward Rudy Tomjanovich, the Rockets did not become a contender and failed to win over fans in San Diego. Owner Robert Breitbard sold the team to a group of investors from Texas and the team moved to Houston where the name Rockets fit perfectly with the city’s connection with the space industry.

The triangle offense fiasco

The franchise hired a new coach with no prior NBA experience. In the NCAA he implemented a system he had learned as a player after World War II : the triangle offense. Tex Winter later became a legend as an assistant with the Chicago Bulls, but his philosophy did not seat well with Rockets star Elvin Hayes. The two clashed, the Rockets won only 34 games and at the end of the season Hayes was traded to the Baltimore Bullets. Winter was fired soon after and some improvement was perceived with coach Johnny Egan.

Much had to do with the stellar play of Calvin Murphy.  Standing at 5-9 Murphy is the shortest player inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame and a true Rockets’ legend. Known for his quickness, defensive ability and free-throw accuracy, his number 23 was retired by the franchise where he spent his whole career. He never left the organization after his retirement in 1983, working in numerous roles, mainly as a television analyst.

During the 1976-77 season he received the help of fellow guard John Lucas, the first overall pick of the draft out of Maryland, and center Moses Malone, already a star in the ABA. With Tomjanovich scorching the nets averaging 21.6 points per game and Malone controlling the boards with 13.4 rebounds per game, the Rockets enjoyed their best season ever. With 49 wins they reached the playoffs, eliminating the Bullets before losing to the Philadelphia Sixers in the Eastern Conference Finals. It was only four years later that they joined the Western Conference, playing in the Midwest Division rather than the Central Division.

The punch to Tomjanovich's face

The team rise to the top was derailed by an incident that remains famous today. On December 9, 1977, during a game against the Lakers, Tomjanovich was knocked down by a punch from power forward Kermit Washington. The blow shattered Tomjanovich's face and inflicted life-threatening head and spinal injuries, leaving him sidelined for five months. Washington was suspended for 60 days, missing 26 games; then the longest suspension for an on-court incident in NBA history. Although Tomjanovich recovered and regained All Star status, the Rockets were no longer contenders despite Moses Malone dominance. The Chairman Of The Boards was the NBA’s MVP in 1979 averaging 24.8 points and a League best 17.6 rebounds per game.

He carried on with his impressive numbers as the Rockets, under new coach Del Harris, qualified for the playoffs in the final game of the 1980-81 season with a 40-42 record. Yet, they upset the Lakers in the first round then topped San Antonio and Kansas City to become the second team in history to reach the Finals despite a losing record, where they eventually fell to the Celtics 4-2.

Ralph Sampson, Hakeem Olajuwon: The twin towers

Malone, again named MVP in 1982, was traded to the Philadelphia Sixers. The move proved to be catastrophic in the short term as the Rockets had the worst record in the League but positive in the long run as Houston chose first in the 1983 and 1984 drafts. The franchise decided to draft two centers who quickly became the Twin Towers. 7-4 Ralph Sampson teamed up with 7-0 Hakeem Olajuwon. It took only two seasons together to bring the Rockets back to the Finals.

With Bill Fitch on the sidelines and John Lucas back as a point guard, the team topped the 50 win barrier for the first time, won its division, dominated the Kings and Nuggets before facing the defending champions Los Angeles Lakers. After losing Game 1, the Rockets won the next four games including a decisive last win in L.A. on a buzzer beating turnaround jumpshot from Sampson. Despite his size, Sampson had moved to the power forward position to make room for Olajuwon. His speed and mobility was unprecedented and his teammate John Lucas insisted "he will revolutionize the game." Yet, Houston was no match for the Celtics and Larry Bird in the Finals, losing 4-2. Boston coach K. C. Jones called the Rockets "the new monsters on the block" feeling they had a bright future. But his vision never came true. Injuries to key players, including Sampson, and suspension for drug abuse derailed their road to success.

Hakeem The Dream

It was the return of Rudy Tomjanovich, this time on the bench, that brought the franchise back to the top. As Michael Jordan retired in 1993, following a three-peat, Hakeem Olajuwon was without a doubt the best player in the world. At 31 he was at the pinnacle of his career. He played 41 minutes per game in 1993/94 averaging 27.3 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 3.7 blocks. He became the only player in NBA history to win the MVP, the Championship, the Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season. He was also the first foreign-born player to win the league's MVP award. The Rockets won the championship in a gruesome seven game series against the New York Knicks, with neither team able to score more than 93 points.

The Rockets initially struggled in the first half of the 1994–95 season and decided to send power-forward Otis Thorpe to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for Olajuwon's former college teammate Clyde Drexler. With only 47 wins, the Rockets entered the playoffs as the sixth seed in the Western Conference. But they cruised through the playoffs earning the nickname "Clutch City" and sweeping the Orlando Magic in the Finals. The Rockets they became the first team in NBA history to win the championship as a sixth seed, and the first to beat four 50-win teams in a single postseason. The result led to Tomjanovich’s famous quote : "Don't ever underestimate the heart of a champion!"

Costly injuries to Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady

After years of rebuilding, fans firmly believed they had another opportunity to dream when the franchise welcomed another center with the first pick of the 2002 draft. 7-6 Yao Ming was an attraction because of his size, shooting touch and the fact that a country of more than 1 billion followed his every move. When he was joined by Tracy McGrady in 2004, the franchise had the one-two punch to bring them a championship. But these two incredible talents battled through injuries. Of the 463 regular season games for which they were teammates, Yao missed 146 and McGrady 160. Together, they never won a playoffs series.

Once again Houston was forced to rebuild. And this time the franchise put his faith into the hands of a guard. In 2013, the reigning sixth man of the year, James Harden arrived from Oklahoma City. Out of the shadow of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the lefty and his trademark beard became one of the most prolific scorer in NBA history. Around him and with Mike D’Antoni taking charge in 2016, the Rockets changed the game relying on isolation plays for Harden and a flurry of three-pointers. Quite ironic for a franchise where centers ruled the hardwood.