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Top 5 All-Time Houston Rockets
Posted By Joel Brigham On November 21, 2011 @ 12:00 pm In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
It’s Houston’s turn on the ol’ tour of greatest players for each franchise in NBA history. We’ll keep the introduction minimal this week and just get to the top five. Here they are, the top Houston Rockets ever:
#5 – Yao Ming (2002-2011)
What he did for the Rockets: Aside from the fact that he turned Houston into one of the most internationally popular teams in the league (China, in case you hadn’t heard, is an outstanding market for basketball), Yao also played some pretty solid ball over the course of his career when he was healthy. While he was voted in as a starter in all seven All-Star games he appeared in as a Rocket, it’s not that he was totally undeserving; in five of those seasons he was also named to an All-NBA team. The saddest thing is that the Era of Yao is over. It’s been a pretty good run, though.
Worth noting: Yao holds the franchise’s single-game record for field goal percentage, having shot 12-for-12 in one game back in 2009.
#4 – Elvin Hayes (1968-1972, 1981-1984)
What he did for the Rockets: Hayes started his career by leading the league in scoring (28.4 ppg) as a rookie, and he didn’t look back from there. He was a four-time All-Star while playing in Houston (all in his first stint with the team), and he certainly would’ve ended up a lot higher on this list had he not been traded to the Baltimore Bullets in 1972. He had some huge years for the Bullets, but by the time he came back to the team in the early ‘80s, his best years were behind him. Still, it was a heck of a career in which he never played fewer than 80 games a single time in 16 years. No wonder the guy’s in the Hall of Fame.
Worth noting: Hayes is the third player on this list to have attended the University of Houston. It’s odd enough having three guys on one list play for a relatively obscure school, but for it to be the school located in the same city as the professional team is a little more than coincidence. It’s not like these teams were drafting territorially or anything; Hayes himself was drafted by the San Diego Rockets, who then moved to Houston.
#3 – Calvin Murphy (1970-1983)
What he did for the Rockets: If you ever wondered how many Hall-of-Fame players are shorter than the 5’9” Murphy, who is still the franchise’s all-time leader in assists, then today is your lucky day. The answer is zero.
Murphy was only named to one NBA All-Star team, but he faced some stiff All-Star competition at the point guard position in the ‘70s. He’s one of the best free-throw shooters of all time (the sixth best ever, to be exact), and his speed was unmatched in his era. Before Olajuwon came along and pretty much shattered every record the franchise had, Murphy was even the team’s all-time best scorer. The man was a tough, quick, competitive point guard, and that’s why he’s in the Hall of Fame, not because of that one single All-Star game.
Worth noting: Before playing basketball, Murphy was a world class baton twirler. His mother and all six of his sisters also were twirlers, so he didn’t really have much of a choice but to be involved in the activity as well. We’re lucky he eventually switched to basketball, though he may have had the opportunity to become member of the Baton Twirling Hall of Fame, should such a thing exist.
#2 – Moses Malone (1976-1982)
What he did for the Rockets: In only six years in Houston—his first six years in the NBA if you don’t include those two games with Buffalo to start his career—Malone won the MVP award twice, was named to five All-Star teams, four All-NBA teams, and one All-Defensive team. The guy had crazy numbers during his career, including MVP seasons of 24.8 ppg and 17.6 rpg, and 31.1 ppg and 14.7 rpg, but those sorts of statistics would become commonplace during Malone’s career. That’s a huge reason why he’d eventually get voted into the Hall of Fame and have his #24 jersey retired by the Rockets.
Worth noting: Malone still holds the record for most offensive rebounds in a season with 587. The most Dennis Rodman ever had was 523. Ben Wallace’s best year had him hauling in 324.
#1 – Hakeem Olajuwon (1984-2001)
What he did for the Rockets: Okay, let’s do this. Olajuwon is the franchise leader in field goals made and attempted, free throws made and attempted, rebounds (offensive, defensive, and total), steals, blocks, and points. He’s among the top ten in the NBA all-time for field goals made (7th), field goals attempted (9th), offensive rebounds (8th), defensive rebounds (3rd), steals (8th), blocks (1st), and points (8th). He led the team to their only two championships in 1994 and 1995. He won an MVP trophy and 2 NBA Finals MVPs, plus he was named the Defensive Player of the Year twice. He made 12 All-Star teams, 12 All-NBA teams, and 9 All-Defensive teams. He’s an easy call for the greatest Rocket of all time. Nobody else—not even Moses Malone—is even close.
Worth noting: Olajuwon finished his career in Toronto, which is almost as bad as Michael Jordan finishing his career in Washington. We’ll just pretend like neither happened.
Rudy Tomjanovich (1970-1981)
What he did for the Rockets: Tomjanovich’s legacy in Houston goes beyond his stint as a player, which lasted eleven seasons and netted him five All-Star appearances. Of course, he’s also responsible for coaching the 1994 and 1995 championship teams, as well. As a player, he averaged 17.4 ppg and 8.1 rpg, good enough to get his #45 jersey retired by the team. As a coach, he was arguably the best in team history, nabbing the only rings the team has ever won.
Worth noting: Tomjanovich might be most famous for getting punched in the face by Kermit Washington in 1977. Some have said he was never the same after that, meaning he could’ve had an even better playing career had he not had his confidence rocked by almost getting killed on a basketball court.
Tracy McGrady (2004-2010)
What he did for the Rockets: Bitter Houston fans like to point out that McGrady never led the team out of the first round in his entire seven-year career with the Rockets, but he was a three-time All-Star and three-time All-NBA selection during that span, and was easily one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the team. Expectations for him and Yao to replicate the success of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant fell quite a bit short, but nobody can deny McGrady’s talent. He certainly had plenty of it.
Worth noting: McGrady played a huge role in Houston’s franchise-record 22-game winning streak, and nobody will ever forget the time he scored 13 points in the final 37 seconds of a game. When he wanted to, the guy was one of the best in the league. The problem, however, was that he didn’t always want to.
Clyde Drexler (1995-1998)
What he did for the Rockets: Yes, Drexler was only with the team for three seasons, but that was long enough for him to help the team win its second consecutive championship in the mid-‘90s, and he made the All-Star team in two of those three years. Houston appreciated his efforts in that brief time so much that they retired his #22 jersey. Not a lot of guys have gotten that done in the history of the league spending so little time with a team. It’s worth noting that Drexler is a Hall of Famer, but that’s due mostly to his efforts as a Blazer, though his ring in Houston certainly helped.
Worth noting: A good chunk of the area’s love for Drexler goes back to his college days, where he played with Hakeem Olajuwon at the University of Houston. Those two played together in a championship game in college, too, but they lost that one rather famously in a huge upset to NC State.
Ralph Sampson (1983-1987)
What he did for the Rockets: At 7’4”, the expectations for Sampson coming out of college were huge. He and, eventually, Hakeem Olajuwon formed the scariest frontcourt in the history of the team for the few years that they were together, and Sampson’s 4+ seasons in Houston netted him four All-Star appearances. Unfortunately, those would be the only four All-Star appearances of his career, as he would be injured halfway through his fifth season with the team and subsequently traded to Golden State.
Worth noting: Houston has had only two Rookies of the Year in team history—Sampson and Steve Francis. Interestingly enough, neither guy is in the top five.
Steve Francis (1999-2004, 2007)
What he did for the Rockets: At a time when the franchise was a little hungover in the post-Olajuwon years, Francis helped to inject some excitement back into Rockets games. After winning Rookie of the Year in 2000, he made three All-Star teams while playing for Houston and was one of the better scorers the organization has ever seen. None of that equated to any real postseason glory, but Rockets fans certainly appreciated his exciting playing style, especially following a couple of years when things weren’t particularly exciting.
Worth noting: Francis only ended up playing in Houston because he refused to play for the Vancouver Grizzlies, the team that drafted him second overall in 1999. He forced a trade that netted the Grizzlies a ton of players, but nobody anywhere near as good as Francis. It worked out well for Houston, at least.
It’s a pretty rich history, with quite a few Hall of Fame players and a couple that might get there someday (Yao, namely). Next week, we’ll look at the Indiana Pacers. In the meantime, are there any Rockets who at least deserved honorable mention? If so, drop their names in the comments.
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