Houston Rockets: 5 Greatest Moments of Ralph Sampson's Career

Ethan Grant@DowntownEGAnalyst IApril 11, 2012

Houston Rockets: 5 Greatest Moments of Ralph Sampson's Career

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    Ralph Sampson will be entering the Hall of Fame as a member of the 2012 class, joining standouts Reggie Miller and Don Nelson at the forefront of this year's enshrinement.

    The 7'4" center/power forward is generally regarded as one of the greatest players whose career was cut short due to injury. He was the 1983-84 NBA Rookie of the Year, before the team drafted Hakeem Olajuwon and formed one of the fiercest frontcourts in the game to date.

    After a promising first five seasons with the Houston Rockets that included an NBA Finals appearance and a solid basketball resume, he was shipped to Golden State, after which he would never play more than 61 games again.

    Still, his time in college and contributions to the game were enough to get him inducted into a place where only the greatest lie. Here are the five greatest moments during his time with the Rockets, as we prepare to induct this basketball legend with the best of the best.

5. 1985 NBA All-Star Game

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    Sampson, in the Rockets red warm-up uniform to the left, was in his second season in the NBA when he took home All-Star MVP game honors in 1985.

    Both he and Olajuwon were on the team, but it was Sampson who did the damage, scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds en route to a 140-129 win for his West squad.

    All-Star Game MVP awards are looked down upon in today's NBA, since many players use the weekend as time for rest or to clown around with other players across the spectrum. But in the 80's, these games were intense, nothing like the pick-up game, no-defense playing style we see today.

    As a 24-year-old, he put on a show with players named Magic Johnson and George Gervin on his team, while lining up across from Larry Bird and Moses Malone on the other. An MVP award can't be taken too lightly in his career accomplishments.

4. Vs. Denver Nuggets, Feb. 27, 1986

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    Without Hakeem Olajuwon in the lineup and the Rockets needing to keep pace with the rest of the Western Conference, Sampson put on one of his greatest statistical performances.

    Scoring 31 points, grabbing 22 rebounds, handing out five assists and shooting 50 percent in a win over the Denver Nuggets is not something to take lightly. His nine turnovers were certainly a blemish, but this is the kind of game that Kevin Love is becoming so well-known for today.

    Houston was able to beat Denver, a fellow playoff contender, and win without Olajuwon. It just goes to show the kind of offensive firepower Houston had with both 7-footers.

    They actually made the decision to convert the 7'4" Sampson to power forward, and keep Olajuwon as their center, prior to the 1984 NBA Draft.

    It paid dividends during the seasons that both were with the team, culminating in the 1986 NBA Finals. This was a great game for Sampson, and another reminder of the kind of dynasty that the city of Houston must feel robbed of due to injuries and inconsistency before Sampson left town.

3. Fight with Jerry Sichting

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    It's hard to think that a fight would be considered one of the greatest moments of a player's career. Maybe that's how far Sampson has fallen; this is the same guy who was the cornerstone of a franchise and averaged a double-double his first three years in the league.

    But it's undoubtedly a turning point in his career, especially considering that after the 1986 NBA Finals, he was never really the same player.

    If you're a psychology specialist, you might point to the fight with Boston Celtics guard Jerry Sichting, when a frustrated Sampson punched a guy he was a good foot taller than.

    Despite your view on whether this event is a top moment in his career, it is undoubtedly something he will be remembered for. This fight ignited the Rockets to a win to force a Game 6 of the Finals, which Houston would go on to lose.

    Instead of keeping his cool, Sampson turned this simple exchange into a spring board for his eventual trade to Golden State, breaking up the Twin Towers he and Olajuwon had created in Houston and proving that violence is usually the easiest answer, but not usually the smartest.

2. Hall of Fame Nomination

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    The Hall of Fame is usually the culmination of a player's achievements. I'm not taking anything away from Sampson's inclusion in that list, but that should tell you how highly his No. 1 moment is in the minds of those alive to see it.

    In a class that includes Reggie Miller and Don Nelson, Sampson very well could have been inducted long before now. He was considered one of the best in the game in the early 80s and during his college days as a Virginia Cavalier, and he had the potential to anchor his Houston squad well into the 90s.

    However, fate would not allow that to be, and he became another player whose talent and ability passed him by due to injury and bad luck. It should be very telling, now that Sampson is enter the Hall of Fame, how good of a player he was in his prime.

    With a small sample size, the committee was able to deduce that he deserved recognition for his time in the NBA. Imagine his induction had he been a life-long Rocket who had won multiple championships.

    Alas, it wasn't meant to be, which is why, along with this next moment, that the Hall of Fame comes in a close second.

1. Game Winner vs. Lakers, Western Conference Finals, 1986

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    With less than a second to play, Ralph Sampson caught the inbound, turned and fired a prayer towards the rim that hit the iron four times before falling home and sending the Houston Rockets to the 1986 NBA Finals.

    That play has been ranked No. 11 by NBA.com's "The 60 Greatest Playoff Moments," and the entire series is considered one of the greatest playoff upsets in NBA history. He did it without Hakeem Olajuwon, to boot, who had been ejected earlier in the game.

    It's a moment that Rockets faithful will remember for the remainder of their lives. After losing four of five to the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the regular season, a team that boasted Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Rockets were able to win the series in five games, culminated by Sampson's miracle shot.

    Unfortunately, they had to face an equally stacked Boston Celtics team, that had some guy named Larry Bird in charge. Houston, who had the makings of being the feel-good story of 1986, were handed the series loss in six games, returning to the Finals again in the 90s not on the back of Sampson, but Olajuwon.

    Still, Sampson carved his place in Rockets and NBA history with this shot. He is a Hall-of-Famer, had some bad luck with injuries and still managed to etch a successful NBA career by most standards. Houston fans are proud to remember his time with the club.


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