Hakeem Olajuwon and the 25 Greatest Players In Houston Rockets History
The Rockets have had quite an illustrious history. From the San Diego Sports Arena to the Summit and then the Toyota Center, the Rockets have had huge moments in many decades, arenas and even countries. With two championship banners in the rafters, the Rockets have had their fair share of talented players over the years.
From the days of Elvin Hayes to today's Luis Scola and Kevin Martin, the sheer amount of talent the Rockets have had is stunning. While they are enduring a horrible stretch in a transition period, the Rockets nonetheless are a very talented franchise with a storied history.
Before getting to the picks, there have to be a few guidelines. For one, a player must play at least one full season with the Rockets before they can be considered for the list. While contributions to the Rockets are by far the most important factor in deciding a player's spot, his play on other teams during his career is taken into account.
With those in mind, read on and discover who the 25 best players in Rockets history are.
25. Mario Elie
Delivering the most memorable shot in team history, Mario Elie will forever be remembered for his "Kiss of Death."
With the game tied in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals against Phoenix with just seven seconds left, the ball was lobbed into the corner where Elie was waiting. Without hesitation, Elie rose up and hit the shot, sending the Rockets to the Western Finals before they would eventually win the championship.
Without Elie, who knows what would've happened that year.
Other than that shot, Elie was a very solid player for the Rockets for his four years with the team. Coming off the bench for most of his tenure, Elie was thrust into the starting lineup for the '95 Finals and delivered, averaging over 16 points on efficient shooting. Because he brought it when it meant the most, Elie finds a place for himself on this list.
24. Rafer Alston
With a horrible shooting touch, a propensity for bad shots, and a flair for the dramatic, something crazy was bound to happen every time Rafer Alston hit the floor, whether it be for the good or for the bad. Acquired from Toronto to solve the interminable point guard problem, Alston may have just been a Band-Aid, but he was a pretty good one at that.
Learning the game in Jamaica, Queens, "Skip to My Lou" had a distinctive style which made him a very appealing player to watch. He had a variety of dribble moves, tremendous defensive awareness, and a toughness matched by few.
His only problem was that he simply took bad shots. A mediocre shooter at best, Alston would often hoist up five-to10 three-pointers in one game because the defense left him open, even when they weren't falling. Still, when the Rockets needed him, he often showed up big. With the Rockets riding a 21-game winning streak, Alston put the Rockets on his back and carried them to a huge victory against the Lakers despite Tracy McGrady's ineffectiveness.
In the end, Alston was simply a placeholder, an aging veteran who took care of the ball and played defense. Because of his leadership and late game poise, he finds himself on this list.
23. Luis Scola
In one of the shrewdest trades in Rockets history, the Rockets stole Luis Scola from the Spurs for what would amount to cap relief and a second-round pick. Little did the Spurs know that Scola would go on to become one of the toughest European players in the league and a top flight power forward.
Always expected to be a solid player who could rebound and score a little, Scola has undergone a transformation that has made him one of the most productive players at his position. His grit, toughness, and craft all allow him to overcome his somewhat limited athleticism.
With a dangerous post game to add to his mid-range jump shot, Scola abuses opposing power forwards who underestimate him. Now, Scola is a borderline All-Star and perhaps the team's most consistent offensive threat.
For a short, 30-year-old power forward, that is fairly impressive.
22. Robert Reid
Robert Reid was a player who did not do one thing on the court that absolutely made your jaw drop, but was a consistent contributor for the Rockets for 10 years and that earns him a spot on this list.
A 6'8" forward, Reid was a poor shooter and fouled far too often, but made up for it with very good rebounding and passing skills. Perhaps his greatest contribution to the Rockets was that he helped spearhead the two championship runs that got the city of Houston truly behind the Rockets in the 1980's.
With deep runs to the NBA Finals in 1981 and 1986, Reid helped pique the interest in the Rockets as he was the a crucial cog and the second-leading scorer in 1981 behind Moses Malone.
Were it not for a dominant Boston Celtics team, Reid perhaps would have two NBA Championships added to his list of feats as well.
21. Dikembe Mutombo
After struggling through an era of centers that involved Kelvin Cato starting for a significant stretch, Dikembe Mutombo brought a stabilizing force to the Rockets as he played the twilight years of his career in a Rockets uniform.
Never averaging more than four points per game for the Rockets, Mutombo did not bring much to the offensive side to the ball, but rather did most of his work defensively. With his trademark finger wag after a block, Mutombo energized the Toyota Center time after time as he sent back nearly three shots before 40 minutes as a Rocket.
Was Mutombo one of the 25 most accomplished Rockets when he was with the team? Perhaps not, but his veteran influence and incredible off-the-court charities push him onto the list. Given his track record as the second most accomplished shot-blocker ever, he's not a bad inclusion.
20. Chuck Hayes
When scouting undrafted players, Daryl Morey has always preached to look for one elite skill a particular player has. Just this year, the Rockets signed Ish Smith, the pint-sized point guard out of Wake Forest, who lacked any semblance of a jump shot but was extremely quick and passed well.
In the case of Chuck Hayes, the Rockets saw an impressive defender who was capable of stopping nearly any post player in college because of his stocky frame. Unsure of his ability to defend on the next level because of his 6'6" frame and scared away by his lack of offensive talent, Hayes went undrafted and was forced to catch on on a 10 day contract.
After impressing in his first years in the league, Hayes eventually earned a multi-year contract and a starting role on the team. With Yao Ming perpetually out of the lineup, Hayes' ability to defend opposing post players despite his short stature has been crucial to Rockets success.
With his contract up after this year, there have been some questions about Hayes' future. If history is any indication, he will be suiting up in a Rockets jersey once again next year.
19. Shane Battier
Acquired in a draft-day trade for Rudy Gay in 2006 that continues to be debated, Shane Battier has been a leader on the court for the Rockets since the day he first played for the Rockets. While he doesn't contribute in the traditional sense (points, rebounds, assists) as much as some players have, his ability to affect the game in ways not reflected in the box score has been well chronicled.
The absolutely perfect role player, Battier plays among the best defense in the league, scores without the need to have the ball in his hands, and puts his passes right where his teammates need them. While playing alongside Yao Ming, entering the ball was no small task as teams attempted to deny him shots, but he was the team's best at doing so.
Now, on a team struggling on defense, Battier remains the one of the last semblances of a top defensive team earlier in the millennium. He routinely locks down opposing team's best wing players, and has managed to hold onto a starting spot despite middling numbers.
At the end of the year, his contract with the team expires. With the team potentially going into rebuilding mode, they may choose to part ways. If so, the Rockets would be losing one of the best unselfish defenders the team has ever had.
18. Mike Newlin
A long-time Rocket, Mike Newlin is one of the forgotten players of the era before Hakeem Olajuwon. Players like Newlin, Allen Leavell, and other players from the 1970's are often forgotten because of the lack of tremendous success for the Rockets, but Newlin was a truly remarkable player.
A 6'4" guard, Newlin was a very good shooter, a fearless player, and always the first player to dive on the court for a loose ball. While he wasn't the most athletic player in the gym, he was remarkably heady and always played with heart.
It is a shame that the Rockets did not enjoy the same kind of popularity they did in the 90's because if they had, more people would be able to appreciate how truly impressive Newlin was as a key cog for the Rockets.
17. Cuttino Mobley
One of the best draft picks in Rockets history, Cuttino Mobley paired with Steve Francis to form one of the more exciting backcourts the Rockets have ever seen. While the Rockets struggled in his tenure, he still is remembered fondly as he was one of the more likable characters the Rockets had.
Relying on a deadly three-point stroke and an underrated post game, Mobley became a volume scorer quickly despite being picked in the second-round of the 1998 draft. Looking back, Mobley represents the rebuilding effort of the franchise in the early 2000's as they looked to build around a core of him, Yao, and Steve Francis.
However, once Tracy McGrady became available, the Rockets had no qualms about giving him up. He would go on to have a solid, if unspectacular career in Orlando, Sacramento, and Los Angeles before having to retire because of a heart condition.
16. Sam Cassell
A crucial bench cog for the two Rockets' championship teams in his first two years, Sam Cassell saw success quickly in the NBA. Coming out of Florida State, Cassell was drafted to succeed Kenny "The Jet" Smith at the point guard position for the Rockets, and came on quickly, earning over 20 minutes per game on each of the two championship teams.
While he looks like an alien, his game was anything but ugly. He was an impressive passer, even at the young age of 23 when he debuted for the Rockets, took care of the ball, and showed the poise of someone far older than him.
After leaving the Rockets, Cassell would go on to make a name for himself as one of the better journeyman point guards in the league. He would win one more championship with the Celtics in 2008 and call it a career.
For a player so important to both championship teams the Rockets have ever had, it's impossible to leave Cassell off this list.
15. Vernon Maxwell
Vernon Maxwell was quite possibly the most interesting Rocket to ever step on the floor. Somewhat of a loose cannon, Maxwell was capable of going off for a huge game any night but was equally likely to disappear the whole game. Still, as one of the lead guards for the Rockets championship teams in the 90's, he is one of the greatest Rockets ever.
A tremendous shooter, "Mad Max" always seemed to make the big shot when it came to him. More importantly, players did not want to play against Maxwell as he was extremely intimidating.
Did his craziness sometimes blow up in the Rockets' faces? Perhaps, but the results speak for themselves. With Maxwell on the wing, the Rockets won their only two championships, and did so largely because of him.
14. Robert Horry
Robert Horry was one of the most frustrating players to ever put on a Rockets jersey. For what seemed to be hours upon hours, Horry could float through a game seemingly uncaring, infuriating those who were watching. However, when the chips were down, Horry came through.
Earning the name "Big Shot Rob" for his propensity to hit huge shots, Horry made a living in the NBA by knocking down shots when the stakes were highest and playing tremendous defense on big men and small forwards alike. Some claimed that he was a cheap player, and while he toed the line between tough and dirty from time-to-time, he was a player everybody wanted on their side.
In two of his most memorable moments with the Rockets, Horry hit clutch baskets against the Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs in the NBA and Western Conference Finals, cementing himself as a fan favorite for years. While he would eventually join two of the Rockets' feared rivals, the Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers, Horry will always be remembered for his crucial contributions in the two championship banners the Rockets have hanging in the rafters.
13. Kenny Smith
The starting point guard on the 1994 and 1995 championship teams, Kenny Smith had a winning attitude that helped propel the Rockets to those finals victories.
On a team with Vernon Maxwell, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Clyde Drexler, Smith didn't have a huge responsibility, but still managed to score in double digits and take care of the ball. While those other guys get the credit (Drexler and Olajuwon especially) for the 1995 championship, Smith played almost as big a role for his smart play.
Much like Maxwell, Smith was an extremely clutch player who made shot after shot as the clock ran down. Was he the best player on the championship teams? Perhaps not, but he was very important nonetheless.
12. Steve Francis
Stevie Franchise was a player that made you want to turn on your television or buy tickets to the game. He was extremely athletic, highly skilled, and uber-creative.
Did Francis look for his shot too much?
Did Francis turn the ball over too often?
Did the team improve after Francis left?
The answers to all these questions are yes, but it does not diminish the fact that Francis was a tremendous player for the Rockets in the early 2000's. Playing alongside Yao, Francis looked to be the running mate that every great big man must have, but in the end fell short because of these glaring weaknesses. On a team with little to cheer for other than a dynamic backcourt, Francis was a very important player.
11. Otis Thorpe
Otis Thorpe may be listed as a 6'9" forward/center, but surprisingly many of his greatest moments came with him dribbling or passing the ball. A skillful worker on the fast break, Thorpe often ran the point in transition or threw beautiful outlet passes the length of the court to men streaking to the basket, qualities not typically exhibited by players his size.
An absolute monster inside, Thorpe was the kind of player that nobody wanted to mess with. He was extremely muscular, rebounded efficiently and defended well in the post.
With his blue collar work ethic, Thorpe quickly developed into a fan favorite in Houston. He made one All-Star team in 1992 and won the Championship in 1994, only helping to cement his reputation as one of the favorite players in Houston.
In 1995, the Rockets decided to make a move for Clyde Drexler, trading Thorpe away, and he would end his career playing for eight teams in seven years.
10. Yao Ming
Yao Ming's career may be one of the most heart-breaking in sports history. So full of promise, Yao's career could've have been rated much higher had he avoided the horrible injury bug that plagued him his entire career.
Offensively, Yao was nearly unstoppable when he was hitting his shots. With a tremendous shooting touch coupled with outrageous size, Yao could simply rise up over any defender he wanted. The only way to stop him was to deny him the ball by fronting him, a tactic that became more effective as his injuries limited his mobility.
Defensively, he was equally impressive in the right situation. With his huge size, Yao was an effective shot blocker who was among the best in the league when under the rim.
In the end, it was his biggest strength that was his downfall. The human body is simply not designed to handle a load his size and his feet could not handle all the pressure. Even if he is completely done after this year, Yao will still be remembered for bringing the NBA to the world's largest country and doing so with world-class composure.
9. Tracy McGrady
Perhaps the most polarizing figure in Rockets' history, Tracy McGrady will forever be remembered for both the good moments and the bad. While he may have angered some fans with his me-first attitude, there is no doubt that McGrady was one of the team's most dominant players ever when healthy.
The number of incredible moments are too many to count. From leading the Rockets to a 22-game winning streak in a season where many considered him an MVP candidate to 13 points in 33 seconds, McGrady certainly had a flair for the dramatic.
Despite these incredible moments, he is only 10th on the list because of his obvious negatives. While he often thought he was invincible in clutch time, he was anything but sturdy. Often out for weeks on end for minor injuries, McGrady was never a consistent enough producer to be considered a top five player for the Rockets.
It is important to remember the bright moments with McGrady, and he certainly brought many.
8. Charles Barkley
Charles Barkley has less than a stellar reputation in Houston as a person and a basketball player. After a hugely successful career, Barkley came to Houston and was a grand disappointment.
Still, for his complete body of work as a basketball player and his play with the Rockets, he is still comfortably a top 10 player in Rockets history. Consistently averaging a double-double and flashing some impressive dunks, Barkley was still incredibly productive despite his reputation.
So why is he not in the top five?
To put it simply, he failed in his objective when he came to the Rockets—he didn't bring a championship to Houston. Never a particularly fit player, Barkley gained even more weight and appeared disinterested at times during his tenure.
His time may be one of the most disappointing in team history, but he still is one of the greatest Rockets of all-time.
7. Rudy Tomjanovich
Whether as a coach or as a player, Rudy Tomjanovich has always been a willing contributor to the Rockets franchise, able to do whatever it takes to help them win.
Drafted along with Calvin Murphy in the 1970 NBA Draft, the two would go on to be a tandem that played their entire careers together in Houston, leading the Rockets to their first winning season among many accomplishments, and was always a fan favorite.
With one of the best offensive games this team has ever seen, Tomjanovich would go on to be the third- leading scorer in team history and managed to bring down over eight rebounds a game as well.
Unfortunately, with one swing of a fist, Tomjanovich's career was, for all intents and purposes, over when Kermit Washington caused catastrophic facial injuries to him in an on-court confrontation. While he would return, his game took on a fairly steep decline after the incident and he retired a Rocket in 1981.
6. Ralph Sampson
Perhaps the biggest power forward in league history, Ralph Sampson was expected to revolutionize the game of basketball at 7'4" playing alongside Hakeem Olajuwon. While the "Twin Towers" were effective, they never became the impenetrable force that some anticipated because of Sampson's injury issues.
In a lot of ways, Sampson's career path mirrors that of Yao Ming. A huge body, Sampson was quick to dominate but after years of pressure on his legs and back, he began to break down. After three relatively healthy years, Sampson was plagued by injuries, never playing a full season again.
Still, in those first four years as a Rocket, Sampson accomplished a tremendous amount. Pairing with Hakeem Olajuwon, Sampson led the Rockets to the 1986 NBA Finals, won the 1984 Rookie of the Year, made four All-Star games, and even won the All-Star MVP in 1985.
Much like Yao's career, Sampson's is marked by what ifs. If only he could have stayed healthy, how dominant could the Rockets have been in the late 80's and into the 90's? Unfortunately, those are only hypothetical thoughts because of the power of injury.
5. Clyde Drexler
A member of the famous Phi Slamma Jama basketball fraternity at University of Houston, Clyde Drexler's connection with the city of Houston began early, as he propelled the Cougars to the Final Four and national championship game before being defeated by UNC.
After being passed up by the Rockets twice in the draft, Drexler helped propel the Portland Trailblazers to two NBA finals before being traded to the Rockets for Otis Thorpe, another Rocket great.
Once with Houston, the Rockets instantly improved, and he and Olajuwon would lead the Rockets to an improbable NBA Finals victory, garnering the second championship in as many years for Houston.
One of only three NBA players to ever reach the milestone of 20,000 points, 6,000 rebounds, and 6,000 assists, "The Glide's" versatility and diversity in his game makes him not only a Rocket great but also an all-time great.
4. Calvin Murphy
One of greatest small guards to ever play in the NBA, Calvin Murphy led the Rockets to the 1981 NBA Championship among a cast of many impressive accomplishments.
At just 5'9," Murphy was forced to play against larger competitors every night as the smallest player in the league, but used his quickness and defensive instincts to overcome his small stature.
Playing exclusively with the Rockets in his 13-year career, Murphy was one of the best free-throw shooters of his time and held the Rockets' all-time scoring record before a man named Hakeem took over the top spot. Additionally, following his retirement from the game of basketball, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993, cementing his legacy as a great Rocket.
Recently, Murphy has continued his connection with the organization, most notably as an analyst on television and as a host of a now-defunct radio show. Truly a lover of the game of basketball, Murphy is above and beyond the greatest point guard to play in a Rockets' uniform.
3. Elvin Hayes
Elvin Hayes started playing for the Rockets so long ago that they hadn't even landed in Houston yet. Joining the San Diego Rockets in their second season, Hayes managed to make his mark on the team quickly.
Leading the league in scoring as a rookie with 28.4 points and 17.1 rebounds, Hayes exhibited offensive skills not typically seen in a player his age. For his first four years in the league as a Rocket, Hayes simply dominated.
With a deadly turnaround jump shot and tenacious rebounding, Hayes was almost unparalleled at his position at the time. Hayes left the team for Baltimore, but later returned, finishing out his career with three unmemorable years in the early 80's.
The team's first star, Hayes will forever be remembered for his sweet turnaround move and bringing the Rockets to respectability.
2. Moses Malone
While Moses Malone did not have the same tenure as a Rocket as others on this list, his five-year stretch as a Rocket will be remembered as one of the greatest in team history, as he had two MVP's, led the Rockets to one NBA Finals, and was in the All-Star Game four times.
Joining the Rockets as a man-child with a fully grown body at the age of 21, Malone instantly made his mark on the Rockets as one of the best rebounding and scoring big men in the league. With a ferocious drive to succeed, Malone fought hard on the boards, leading the league in rebounding three out of his five years in Houston, and also managed to consistently score above 20 points per game, maxing out at 31.1 his final season with the Rockets.
Becoming the third player to be traded in NBA history in the season following an MVP season, Malone would go on to dominate with the 76ers as he had done with the Rockets. If the Rockets hadn't been forced to trade him because of their money issues, perhaps he would have challenged the next man on the list for the top spot.
1. Hakeem Olajuwon
What can be said about the most dominant player the Rockets have ever had and one of the greatest players in NBA history that hasn't already been said? Hakeem Olajuwon, the first pick in the 1984 NBA Draft, led the Rockets to their only two championships while shattering nearly ever record along the way.
With extreme quickness and athleticism combining with impressive length, Olajuwon was a physical specimen who other centers could rarely stay with. Those who were big enough were not quick enough to guard him, and those who were quick enough rarely had the strength to defend him.
When Olajuwon was making his shots, there was absolutely no defense. During his illustrious career, he introduced the "Dream Shake," one of the league's most devastating moves ever. However, while the Dream Shake was his most well-known move, it was his variety of moves that allowed him to be so successful on the offensive end, and, to quote Pete Newell, he had the "The best footwork [...] ever seen from a big man."
Defensively, he was just as much of a terror. The combination of speed and power that allowed him to be so dominant offensively was the same kind of advantage defensively. To this day, Olajuwon leads the league in blocked shots, and there isn't anybody even close to him. He was as good of a defender as the league has ever seen.
While there will be many more incredibly gifted Rockets over the years, it is extremely unlikely that there will ever be one quite as special as Hakeem Olajuwon.