A Brief NBA History Lesson for Houston Rockets Owner Leslie Alexander

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A Brief NBA History Lesson for Houston Rockets Owner Leslie Alexander
Bob Levey/Getty Images
Houston Rockets owner Les Alexander

Hey there, Leslie Alexander!

Wait, can I call you Les? How often do you have to deal with stupid "Les is more" puns? Can I workshop a few with you right now?

You're right, this is neither the time nor the place. Listen, you've done an admirable job of running the Houston Rockets since you bought the franchise in July 1993. You got to watch Hakeem Olajuwon and company take home NBA titles in each of your first two seasons at the helm.

Not bad, though I suppose it stinks that you've only won four playoff series since then, with just one in the last decade-and-a-half.

But not to worry. You might have yourself another nifty run of championships now that you've managed to lure Dwight Howard away from the Los Angeles Lakers.

Kudos to you on that, by the way. I'm sure this pairing of a dominant big man (Howard) and a scoring machine on the wing (James Harden) will work out better than the last one your front office put together...

Cut to Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady sitting together in China, weeping over what might have been.

Feng Li/Getty Images

But let's get one thing straight. Your team's lineage of big men, while impressive, is NOT the best in NBA history, as you recently suggested to Chris Tomasson of FOX Sports Florida:

"It’s better than anybody's," Alexander said Houston’s big-man tradition. "From Ralph Sampson to Hakeem Olajuwon, Moses Malone, Elvin Hayes, Yao Ming and Dikembe Mutombo."

Don't get me wrong, it's an eyebrow-raising list. Four of those guys (Sampson, Olajuwon, Malone and Hayes) are already in the Hall of Fame. The other two might soon join them. 

But even on names alone, the Rockets' tradition pales in comparison to that of the Lakers. Dwight's now-former team has been carried through its storied history by four all-time greats—George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal—and another (Pau Gasol) who might be the best pivot to ever come out of Europe, depending on how you classify Dirk Nowitzki.

Beyond name recognition, the true value of a gifted big manin a game controlled by themis measured by on-court success, both individually and team-wide.

The best centers of all time sport resumes replete with MVPs, All-NBA selections, playoff appearances and championship rings. 

 

On that note, here's a breakdown of what the Rockets' centers accomplished in their careers on the whole and with Houston:

  Playoffs w/ HOU Finals w/ HOU Titles w/ HOU MVPs w/ HOU All-NBA w/ HOU
Sampson 4 3 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 1
Olajuwon 15 14 3 3 2 2 1 1 12 12
Malone 12 5 2 1 1 0 3 2 8 4
Hayes 10 2* 3 0 1 0 0 0 6 0
Yao 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Mutombo 13 4 1 0 0 0 0 0 3 0
Total 58 32 10 5 4 2 4 3 30 17

*Elvin Hayes made one appearance in the playoffs with the San Diego Rockets in 1969 and one with the Houston Rockets in 1982.*

 

And here's how the Lakers' contingent fared:

  Playoffs w/ LAL Finals w/ LAL Titles w/ LAL MVPs w/ LAL All-NBA w/ LAL
Mikan** 6 6 5 5 5 5 0 0 5 5
Chamberlain 13 5 5 3 2 1 4 0 10 1
Abdul-Jabbar 18 13 10 7 6 5 6 2 15 9
O'Neal 17 8 6 4 4 3 1 1 14 8
Gasol 9 6 3 3 2 2 0 0 3 3
Total
63 38 29 22 19 16 11 3 47 26

*George Mikan played for the Lakers when they were based in Minneapolis.*

 

Clearly, the Lakers' line of giants has been the more successful of the two. L.A.'s out-achieved Houston in every category—overall and with the team in question—except for MVPs won with the team in question.

And even that lone tie isn't entirely reflective of the realities at play.

The NBA didn't start handing out yearly MVPs until the 1955-56 season, which doubled as George Mikan's last go-round. Had the league started honoring its top talent in such a way earlier on, it seems likely that Mikanthe NBA's first "superstar" and a five-time champion to bootwould've wound up with an MVP or two to his credit.

In every other category, though, the Lakers beat the Rockets easily and without caveats.

In fact, if you consider only the NBA Finals appearances (seven), titles (three), MVPs (seven) and All-NBA selections (21) earned by these five Lakers greats outside of their time in purple and gold, they still overshadow the accomplishments of Houston's group.

Which team has the better line of NBA centers?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Still, I understand where you're coming from, Les.

In all likelihood, you weren't firing subtle shots at the Lakers as much as you were trying to pump up your own team and your own fans. You want people to get excited about Daryl Morey's latest coup and the exciting possibilities that Dwight Howard brings to your team.

In that sense, your hyperbole is forgivable and perhaps even understandable.

That is, until this nugget entered the ether courtesy of Tomasson:

Alexander was asked if getting Howard from the Lakers could end up moving Houston ahead of them when it comes to having the all-time greatest centers.
 
"I definitely do think that," he said.

In your defense, adding Dwight does extend the Rockets’ list of noteworthy bigs from six to sevenahead of the Lakers’ count of five…unless you include Andrew Bynum and/or Howard for LA, in which case the Lakers wind up with six or seven great centers of their own.

And who knows? Maybe Howard will spark a basketball renaissance in Space City. Maybe Dwight will lead Harden and the Rockets to multiple championships. Maybe he'll do a better job of passing the torch thereafter than Kobe Bryant would’ve to him, as reported by ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein.

Even then, it’d be some time before Houston’s tradition measured up to L.A.’s

USA TODAY Sports

I applaud your enthusiasm, Les. I can only wish that Lakers ownership was as jazzed about its roster as you are about yours or that the Lakers brass had a roster to be so jazzed about.

Or that any of us knew who was actually running the show in L.A., for that matter.

But in the words of a wise man by the name of Curtis Jackson, if you're going to come at the Lakers, you'd better come correct.

Lest you incur a finger wag from one of your own.

 

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