Top 10 Greatest Moments in Houston Rockets' History
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
With the addition of Dwight Howard in the offseason, the Houston Rockets have some big expectations for the years ahead. Before a new era of Houston Rockets basketball begins, let's take a look back on the greatest moments in franchise history.
Some moments were en route to championships, and others were historically significant. The countdown is full of playoff upsets, big shots and some simply chaotic comebacks.
Before beginning the list, Rockets fans should already have an idea of what to expect. There were some great buzzer-beaters in the playoffs, like Ralph Sampson in '86 and Eddie Johnson in '97. There were some incredible runs, like the Rockets' 22-game win streak back in 2008. And of course, there were some unforgettable moments led by Hakeem the Dream himself.
It's a long ride through all the great moments in Rockets franchise history. Consider this your official warning for the possibility of goosebumps. So be prepared, because here we go.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
There have been several great moments in Rockets' history. There are too many to just make a top 10 list, so here's a handful that just missed the cut.
Houston Drafts Akeem Olajuwon First Overall in 1984
Houston finished with a miserable record of 29-53 in the 1983-84 season. Ralph Sampson received Rookie of the Year honors despite such a lackluster season for the Rockets.
The Rockets won the coin flip giving them the first pick in the 1984 NBA draft. They selected Akeem Olajuwon, center from the University of Houston, to pair up with Sampson and create the "Twin Towers."
Many would argue that the Rockets made a mistake by taking Olajuwon over Michael Jordan, but it's hard to be upset with Olajuwon's results. He won two championships and an MVP among many other awards in his Hall of Fame career. Jordan may be the best of all time, but Olajuwon isn't too far behind, and still had a great stint with the Rockets.
I can't defend the Portland Trail Blazers, however, for taking Sam Bowie second overall, one pick ahead of Jordan.
When Yao Met Shaq in 2003
When the Rockets took Yao Ming first overall in the 2002 draft, it changed the game forever. Basketball became a global icon, with Yao leading the charge.
The entire globe was watching when 7'6" Yao took on the original big man, 7'1" Shaquille O'Neal. The matchup was intensified when Shaq made some questionable comments about Asians.
On national television, Yao and Shaq went head-to-head in an epic battle of big men. Shaq finished with 31 points and 13 boards. Yao only had 10 points, but also tacked on 10 rebounds and six blocks. The Rockets won the game in overtime against the defending champion LA Lakers.
Tracy McGrady vs. Mavericks Game 2, 2005
In Tracy McGrady's first season in Houston, the Rockets won 51 games giving them the fifth seed in the West. Houston drew a first-round matchup against its rival Dallas Mavericks.
The Rockets lost a tough series in seven games, blowing a 2-0 series lead. Houston stole the first two games in Dallas, only to drop the next three. It was an unfortunate result in the series, but McGrady played like a superstar.
McGrady's stardom was most evident in Game 2 in Dallas. The most memorable play of that game was McGrady's disgusting posterization of the professional dunking target himself, 7'6" Shawn Bradley. Even the Dallas fans couldn't help themselves from gawking at T-Mac "sucking the gravity right out of the building."
What many people don't remember is that McGrady also hit the game-winning shot in this game. Dirk Nowitzki tied things up with his signature fadeaway, but the Rockets came right back without calling a timeout. T-Mac lined it up and drained the jumper, boosting the Rockets to a 2-0 series lead.
Carl Landry with the Block on Deron Williams in the 2008 Playoffs
Coming off of two straight home losses to start the series, the Rockets had their backs against the wall.
Yao Ming was out for the year, and McGrady was at the helm. In Utah, the Rockets amazingly held a one-point lead over the Jazz in the final seconds. Deron Williams drove to the hoop, only to be rejected by Carl Landry.
Landry was only a rookie that year, and had lost a tooth earlier in the game due to a Carlos Boozer elbow to the face. He still had the composure to not only get the game-saving block, but also to regain his balance, save the ball from going out of bounds, and pass it to his teammate Luis Scola.
The Rockets lost this series in six, but it would have ended much sooner had Landry not been there for the block in Game 3.
Yao Ming Comes Back from Injury to Upset the Lakers in 2009
The Rockets won their first playoff series in over a decade against the Blazers. They stole home-court advantage with a big win in Game 1 and never looked back, finishing off Portland in six. McGrady was out with an injury, but this was Yao Ming's team. The Rockets would go as far as Yao could carry them.
In the Western semis, the Rockets ran into the Los Angeles Lakers, the No. 1 seed out West and the heavy favorites in the series.
The Rockets looked to do the same thing they did in the Portland series and steal the opener on the road. The Rockets appeared to be on their way of doing just that until the Great Wall of Houston went down holding his knee.
Yao and Kobe bumped knees, sending Yao to the locker room, or so it seemed. Yao refused to leave the game, and came right back out from the tunnel to check in. Yao responded with a long jumper, outside of his typical range, sealing a road victory for the Rockets.
Yao went down for good after Game 3 and missed the entire following season. The Rockets played admirably for the rest of the Laker series, including some big plays and a couple of wins, only to fall short in Game 7 in L.A.
Houston Rockets Tie the Three-Point Record in 2013
That Magic team had Dwight Howard in the center, so maybe the Rockets can come close to breaking the record again this year. The Warriors were intentionally fouling the Rockets near the end of the game so that they could not break the record.
Nine different Rockets made a triple that night. It was raining threes in the Toyota Center, and it looks to be that way for a while.
10. Johnson at the Buzzer
Johnson's three at the buzzer tied the series at two games apiece.
In the 1997 Western Conference Finals against Utah, the Rockets found themselves down two games to one. In Game 4, they were tied with the Jazz with just seconds left in the game.
Everyone thought the ball was going to either Hakeem Olajuwon or Clyde Drexler, but role player Eddie Johnson was the guy who stepped up. Johnson signed with the Rockets earlier that season as a free agent when he was waived by the Nuggets.
Johnson was near the end of his career, but he was able to contribute to the Rockets that season, especially from behind the arc.
In Game 3, Johnson was the hero, scoring 31 points off the bench in a Rockets win. In Game 4, he was the hero again, this time delivering the buzzer-beater for the win.
The Rockets lost this series 4-2, when John Stockton hit a game-winner the same way that Johnson did for the final knockout punch. The Rockets fell in a downward spiral after this series, not winning another one until 2009 against Portland.
9. Hakeem Blocks Starks to Force Game 7
Starks' three-pointer could have won the series, but Olajuwon's block sent the series to seven games.
In the 1994 NBA Finals, the Rockets came back to Houston down three games to two. Before the Rockets could win the Finals, they first had to focus on winning Game 6.
In the closing seconds, the Knicks had the ball down two. The coach of the Knicks, Pat Riley, put the ball in his star guard John Starks' hands. Starks went for the win instead of the tie with a three-point shot. The world will never know if that shot would have gone in, giving the Knicks the championship win, because Hakeem Olajuwon came out of nowhere to block it.
The rebound got bounced around until time expired, giving the Rockets the win and forcing a Game 7. As many of you Rockets fans know, the Rockets went on to win the Finals that year.
There's more to come from this series later on in the countdown.
8. T-Mac's 13 Points in 35 Seconds
San Antonio thought the game was over, but T-Mac had other ideas.
In a regular-season matchup against a division rival, Tracy McGrady put on a performance for the ages. The game was all but over until T-Mac stole the show.
The Rockets were down 10 with about a minute left in the game, then McGrady flipped the switch. He couldn't miss a thing, chucking up threes left and right. He made shots falling away over Bruce Bowen, a well-respected defender. He also drew a four-point play on Tim Duncan.
What's amazing about this comeback is that the Spurs did not miss a single free-throw attempt when the Rockets intentionally fouled. The Rockets just had to make threes in order to narrow the deficit.
On the final play of the game, down two, the Rockets trapped Devin Brown on the inbounds play, not fouling right away. Brown tried to dribble out of the trap, slipping in the corner and coughing up the ball. T-Mac scooped up the ball and went the other way, with no doubt on his mind that he was going for the win.
7. Olajuwon Embarrasses the New MVP Robinson
Olajuwon saw David Robinson receive the MVP award which lit a fire under him.
After winning the regular-season MVP in 1994, Hakeem Olajuwon was forced to watch his award be given to someone else just one year later. David Robinson won the MVP as the Spurs finished with the best record in the league.
Olajuwon was not happy watching Robinson take away his award. He responded by showing the Admiral why he won the award the year before.
Olajuwon put on a clinic, making Robinson look silly left and right. Hakeem had him "just bamboozled."
The Rockets won the first two games in San Antonio and took the series in six games, reaching the Finals for the second straight season. Robinson may have won the regular-season MVP, but Olajuwon won his second straight Finals MVP.
6. Rockets' 22-Game Win Streak
The Rockets' 22-game win streak is the third-longest in NBA history, only behind the Lakers and the Heat.
In the 2007-08 season, the Rockets were only four games over .500 and barely relevant in the playoff race. Then they won 22 straight games, launching them into first place with the 22nd and final win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
The streak started with a win over Golden State, and carried on for over a month and a half. The Rockets did not lose a single game in the month of February and a large portion of March.
Yao Ming went down after the twelfth win, but Dikembe Mutombo took his place and kept the streak alive. Tracy McGrady stepped up his game big time, and other role players such as Rafer Alston, Carl Landry and Bobby Jackson were key contributors.
There were a handful of noteworthy wins throughout the streak, including a Steve Novak game-winner against the Kings for the sixth win, and many other wins against playoff-caliber teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers and Dallas Mavericks.
The final win was against the mighty L.A. Lakers, and the Rockets took care of business to capture the first seed in the West. Eventually the team would come back down to earth, finishing the year as the fourth seed and losing to Utah in the first round of the playoffs.
Only two other teams have had longer winning streaks. The 1971-72 Lakers won 33 straight games led by Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain (strangely, that same year was when the Rockets moved from San Diego and relocated to Houston). The only other winning streak longer than 22 games was the Miami Heat's 27-game streak, which occurred this past season with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade running the show.
5. Game 1 Houston vs. Orlando in the 1995 Finals
Olajuwon gave the Rockets a thrilling OT win in Orlando (start video at 6:10).
The Rockets had an unlikely journey on the way to their second consecutive title. Houston finished sixth in the West, but a few upsets later they found themselves back in the NBA Finals, up against the Orlando Magic.
The Rockets traded mid-season for Clyde Drexler, but they still had their work cut out for them with Shaquille O'Neal, Penny Hardaway, Dennis Scott and others on this dynamic Magic team.
Game 1 was one for the ages.
It was a back-and-forth game, but the Magic found themselves on top in the final minute. With less than ten seconds remaining, the Magic had a three-point lead. The Rockets had to intentionally foul, sending Nick "the brick" Anderson to the line.
Anderson missed both free throws, answering the Rockets' prayers. However, he got his own rebound, and the Rockets sent him right back to the line.
I know what you're thinking. There's no way he misses four in a row.
Magic fans may want to just skip ahead to the next slide.
Anderson missed the next two foul shots, and the Rockets secured the rebound this time. In need of a three, Rockets guard Kenny Smith ducked under Hardaway's block attempt and got off a desperation shot, nailing his seventh triple of the game. His record amount of threes in a Finals game (at the time) sent the game into overtime.
OT was just as entertaining as regulation, also winding down to the final seconds. Drexler drove in for the layup, but didn't get the bounce. Then Olajuwon came to the rescue, guiding the ball back into the hoop with the tip-in putting the Rockets ahead for good.
The Rockets stole Game 1 and went on to sweep the series versus the Magic.
4. Ralph Sampson's Circus Shot Sends the Rockets to the Finals
Sampson's shot led the Rockets to victory against a great Lakers team that included Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy.
When NBA fans think about basketball in the 1980s, they think about the Celtics and the Lakers. Magic vs. Bird. The Lakers and/or Celtics appeared in the Finals every single season during that decade.
However, the Rockets won the West in two of those seasons. In 1981 and 1986, the Rockets made their first Finals appearances in franchise history, falling in both to Bird and the Celtics.
In 1986, no one expected this young Rockets team to beat the great Lakers. The Lakers were a powerhouse with a plethora of future Hall of Famers, among them Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy.
The Rockets had back-to-back first overall picks just two seasons earlier, selecting the Twin Towers Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon.
In this fifth and final game in L.A. during the Western Conference Finals, Olajuwon had been ejected from the game. The Lakers had a chance for the win, but Scott missed the jumper. Houston collected the rebound and called timeout with only one second remaining.
That was all they needed.
The inbounds pass went to Sampson, who threw the ball over his head toward the rim. Houston got the lucky bounce, and the rest was history. The L.A. fans were stunned, but it didn't matter because the Houston Rockets were going back to the NBA Finals.
3. The Kiss of Death
Elie's dagger three put the Rockets ahead on the road in Game 7 (start video at 3:35).
The Phoenix Suns almost got in the way of the Rockets winning both of their championships. In both the 1994 and 1995 playoffs, the Suns had the Rockets on the ropes, holding a comfortable 3-1 series lead.
Both times, Charles Barkley and crew coughed up the lead and were sent home early. Barkley infamously told the Rockets to bring their golf clubs to Phoenix because they had no chance of winning the series. I bet he regrets that one now.
In the 1995 season, Phoenix finished way ahead of the Rockets in the standings, but the Rockets knew they could still pull off the upset. They won Games 5 and 6 in the series, setting up a finale back in the desert.
Game 7 went down to the wire. The Rockets had an opportunity to take the last shot, but Mario Elie didn't think that was necessary. The Suns were playing a half-court press, and the Rockets took advantage. From half court, Robert Horry found Elie wide open in the corner, and he hit the go-ahead three.
The entire Rockets bench jumped on Elie with jubilee while he stared right at the Phoenix bench and blew them a kiss. The "kiss of death" was the dagger that lifted the Rockets over the Suns and into the Western Conference Finals against San Antonio.
2. Clutch City Wins Back-to-Back Championships
The Rockets swept the Magic to win their second consecutive NBA championship (start video at 7:08).
What's better than winning the NBA Finals? Winning it twice.
Shaquille O'Neal and the Orlando Magic didn't have what it took to dethrone the defending champs. Hakeem Olajuwon and the Rockets won their second title together in 1995 as the Rockets swept the Magic in the Finals.
After the game, coach Rudy Tomjanovich gave his famous "Heart of a Champion" speech. The back-to-back championships proved to the world that the Rockets were not a fluke. The Rockets did not play well during the 1995 regular season, but once they made the playoffs, they returned to championship form.
They upset three dominant teams in a row to reach the Finals, taking down Utah, Phoenix and finally San Antonio. At that point, the Rockets knew they could beat anyone, and the Magic were next on that list.
Olajuwon won his second consecutive Finals MVP, out-dueling Shaq in the paint. Kenny Smith also had a big series, helping the Rockets steal Game 1 in Orlando before winning it all.
1. The Houston Rockets Win Their First NBA Title
The Rockets won Game 7 to bring the first ever title to the city of Houston (start video at 2:40).
Coming into Game 7 against the Knicks, the city of Houston had never won a championship. The Rockets gave the city its first championship in a major sport with a win over the Knicks in the NBA Finals.
To this day, the Rockets' two championships are the only significant titles in Houston's history. The Houston Comets won four WNBA titles and the Houston Dynamo have won a couple of MLS titles, but there aren't any World Series or Super Bowl rings in Houston. And there's definitely no Stanley Cup.
The Rockets' Finals win was huge for the city. Houston fans finally had a team take them to the Promised Land.
Hakeem Olajuwon was the Finals MVP, winning the matchup against Patrick Ewing. Olajuwon led the charge, but there were several impact players during the series. Among them, rookies Robert Horry and Sam Cassell stepped up on the national stage and helped the Rockets secure their first championship.