Houston Rockets: Remembering the Olajuwon-Barkley-Drexler/Pippen 'Super Squads'

Mike B.Correspondent IMarch 8, 2011

7 May 1997:  Center Hakeem Olajuwon, forward Clyde Drexler (left) and forward Charles Barkley of the Houston Rockets stands on the court during a playoff game against the Seattle Supersonics at the Summit in Houston, Texas.  The Supersonics won the game 1
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Ever since All-Stars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh joined forces in Miami last summer, fans have been fantasizing about other NBA "Super Teams" forming in the near future.

Next year, it's possible the league could witness a trio of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard in Los Angeles and Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul in New York.   

The Houston Rockets put together quite a super team in 1996 when they acquired Charles Barkley from the Phoenix Suns to play alongside fellow future first-ballot Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.

Rockets management hoped that Barkley's toughness and hunger to win a ring could help the team capture their third title in four years.

Drexler was 34 and both Barkley and Olajuwon were 33 at the time, however, the talented trio still had a bit left in their tanks.

In their first season together, 1996-97, each star put up All-Star numbers as usual. Olajuwon averaged 23.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game, Barkley contributed 19.2 ppg and 13.5 rpg and Drexler chipped in with 18 ppg, 6 rpg and a team-best 5.7 assists per game.  

The "Big Three" were surrounded by a supporting cast that included Mario Elie, who was a member of the Rockets' back-to-back championship teams, undrafted rookie Matt Maloney, Kevin Willis and Eddie Johnson.

Houston would finish the season with a 57-25 record, tied for fourth-best in the league. And in the playoffs, after getting past Minnesota in the first round and Seattle in the semifinals, the Rockets fell to the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Finals as John Stockton drilled a game-winning three-pointer in Game 6.

The 1997-98 season proved to be a season full of injuries for the Rockets. Despite the injuries, Olajuwon, Barkley and Drexler led the team to a 41-41 record and a trip back to the postseason. However, the Rockets were once again eliminated by the Jazz, this time in the first round.  

Drexler retired following the season, but that didn't mean that the Rockets' super-team experiment had come to an end.

The Rockets acquired six-time NBA champion Scottie Pippen from the Chicago Bulls in a sign-and-trade deal, providing the team with yet another future Hall of Famer. The 33-year-old Pippen joined Barkley (34) and Olajuwon (35) to form a solid, but aging frontline in Houston.  

Other new faces in town included rookies Michael Dickerson, Cuttino Mobley and NCAA tournament hero Bryce Drew.

Led by the new Big Three, the Rockets finished the strike-shortened 1999 campaign with a 31-19 record.

While Olajuwon earned a spot on the All-NBA Third Team, Barkley pulled down 12.2 rebounds per game (second in the league), and Pippen earned All-Defensive First Team honors for the eighth consecutive season.

Unfortunately, though, the star-studded trio couldn't deliver the team a title, as they were defeated by the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs.

Pippen would be traded to Portland in the offseason after only one season in Houston, Barkley retired the following year and in 2001, Olajuwon was dealt to Toronto, where he would play the final season of his career.

The "Super Team" era in Houston was over.

The Olajuwon-Barkley-Drexler and Olajuwon-Barkley-Pippen trios were old men (in NBA years) when they teamed up with the Rockets, but they still brought a bit of excitement to the league.


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