Ranking the “Top 10” Houston Rockets of All-Time!

It ain’t easy, but here goes my best attempt:

#10:  Kenny “the Jet” Smith
For those of you who are too young to remember, Kenny Smith played a significant role as point guard of the Rockets’ two championship runs.  An outside shooting threat with the ability to drive made him one of the premier point guards of his time.

#9:  Calvin “Murph” Murphy
Calvin Murphy was drafted by the San Diego Rockets (before moving the franchise to Houston) as the first pick in the second round (18th overall) of the 1970 NBA Draft.  In his first season, Murphy was nominated to the NBA All-Rookie team.  A diminutive guard at 5 feet 9 inches, Murphy one of the best free-throw shooters ever, setting NBA records for most consecutive free throws made and for the highest free throw percentage in a single season (1980-1981).  Both records have since been broken. He set many other records within the Rockets organization, including that of all-time leading scorer until that record was broken in 1994 by Hakeem Olajuwon.

#8:  Steve Francis
This one entry is based on physical ability alone.  Career-wise, he doesn’t even come close to leap-frogging the two aforementioned Rockets, but dude could just plain sky.  Oh, and one of the premier point guards in the league during his time with the Rockets.

#7:  Clyde “the Glide” Drexler
On February 14, 1995, with his former team, the Portland Trailblazers, out of serious contention for a championship, Portland honored Drexler’s request to be traded to a contender and sent the Blazer great back home to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Otis Thorpe in mid-season, right before the trade deadline.  Despite finishing the regular season with a record of 47–35, which placed the Rockets 6th out of 8 playoff teams in the Western Conference, Drexler and ex-college teammate and long-time friend Hakeem Olajuwon helped propel them to an improbable second consecutive championship in 1995, sweeping the Orlando Magic.  In his third NBA Finals appearance, Drexler averaged 21.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game.

Prior to becoming a Rocket, he was selected to the U.S. Olympic basketball team in 1992, nicknamed “The Dream Team”, which won the gold medal in Barcelona.  In the 1991–92 season he finished second to Michael Jordan in MVP voting.

#6:  Ralph Sampson
This one may be hard to justify at number six, but dude could just flat out ball.  At 7'2", Sampson had tremendous ball-handling skills.  As a rookie he averaged 21.0 points and 11.1 rebounds, played in the All-Star Game, and won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award.  As a member of the Twin Towers, Sampson and Olajuwon made the playoffs for the first time in the 1984-85 season.  Sampson had his best individual campaign, averaging 22.1 points and 10.4 rebounds and earning a berth on the All-NBA Second Team.  He and Olajuwon both played in the 1985 NBA All-Star Game, and Sampson, after scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, earned the game’s MVP Award.

The next season Houston won the Midwest Division with a 51–31 record.  In the playoffs, the Rockets swept the Sacramento Kings, but faced a stiffer challenge against Alex English and the Denver Nuggets in the Conference Semi-Finals, eventually winning the series 4–2, with the sixth and deciding game going to double overtime.  Against the defending champion Lakers in the Conference Finals, the Rockets were ready to knock off their rivals who had the best of them during the season.  The Rockets lost game one, but the Rockets fought back, winning four straight to take the series four games to one.  In Game 5 of that series, Sampson provided one of the most memorable moments in NBA Playoff history.  With the score tied at 112, Olajuwon having earlier been ejected, and with only one second remaining on the clock, Sampson took an inbounds pass and launched a twisting turnaround jumper that sailed through the hoop at the buzzer, giving the Rockets a 114–112 victory and a shocking series upset.

In the NBA Finals the Rockets faced the Boston Celtics.  Boston sportswriters were not happy about not getting revenge against the Lakers who had beaten the Celtics in the Finals the year before, but the matchup was interesting with the young front court challenging the old guard of the Celtics.  During the season at the Boston Garden, the Rockets were playing the Celtics well until Sampson suffered a jarring fall on his back.  At the start of the Finals, Sampson quickly found himself in foul trouble early in Game 1 as Boston easily went up 2-0 going back to Houston.  The Rockets won a close Game 3 under the leadership of Sampson.  Game 4 also went down to the wire with the Celtics pulling it out on late Larry Bird 3-pointer heroics and untimely turnovers by Rockets guard Mitch Wiggins.  In a similarly close Game 5 in Houston, (under the 2–3–2 format) Sampson succumbed to taunting by the much smaller and less important Boston’s 6-foot-1 backup guard Jerry Sichting resulting in Sampson taking a swing and earning an ejection from the game.  Strangely, this fired up the Rockets, who won Game 5 by 15 points without Ralph thanks to the inspired play of Olajuwon, Jim Petersen, and Robert “Bobby Jo” Reid.  Game 6 went back to Boston with Sampson finding himself again in foul trouble and of little effect against the older and wiser Celtic front court of Bird, McHale and Parish.  After the series, Boston coach KC Jones called the Rockets, “the new monsters on the block” with the future looking very bright for the Rockets.  During the six-game championship series loss against the Celtics, Sampson averaged 14.8 points on .438 shooting, 9.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.

#5:  Robert “Big Shot” Horry
I’m going to make this short and sweet: there’s a reason they nicknamed him “Big Shot” Bob.  And there’s a reason “Big Shot” Bob has been presented with seven — count ’em se-ven — NBA Championship rings.  Dude was just money when his team needed it most.  (And a hell of a nice guy, too, who still makes Houston his home.)  And there’s a reason we chose the picture of him in a Lakers jersey to the left.  Dude may have gotten his lift-off in Houston, but it wasn’t until his championship runs with the San Antonio Spurs and Lakers did he become a star.  I know, I know … Horry couldn’t jump like Jordan, or pass like Magic but … did you read the second sentence?

#4:  Tracy McGrady
Of course, this is just my list, but this dude — in my opinion — is definitely deserving of a top five spot with his overall superstar talents.  And yes, make no doubt, he was a superstar.  Multiple back injuries and one stubborn coach, Rick Adelman, kept Tracy from achieving his potential of greatness.

#3:  Yao Ming
What can you say?  Some are going to want to call him the greatest Rocket ever and others are going to say he doesn’t even belong in the Top 10.  But a true observer knows his place should be among the top three.  At 310 pounds and standing 7'6", Yao was selected by the Houston Rockets as the first overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft.  Yao was selected to start for the Western Conference in the NBA All-Star Game eight times, and was named to the All-NBA Team five times.  He reached the NBA Playoffs four times, and the Rockets won a first-round series in the 2009 postseason, their first playoff series victory since 1997.  However, Yao missed 250 regular-season games due to foot and ankle injuries in his final six seasons.

He is one of China’s best-known athletes, with sponsorships with several major companies.  His rookie year in the NBA was the subject of a documentary film, The Year of the Yao, and he co-wrote, along with NBA analyst Ric Bucher, an autobiography titled Yao: A Life in Two Worlds.

After missing only two games out of 246 in his first three years of NBA play, Yao endured an extended period on the inactive list in his fourth season after developing osteomyelitis in the big toe on his left foot, and surgery was performed on the toe on December 18, 2005.  Despite missing 21 games while recovering, Yao again had the most fan votes to start the 2006 NBA All-Star Game.

In 25 games after the All-Star break, Yao averaged 25.7 points and 11.6 rebounds per game, while shooting 53.7% from the field and 87.8% at the free-throw line.  His final averages in 57 games were 22.3 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.  It was the first time that he ended the season with the much celebrated “20/10” average.

#2:  Moses Malone: “The Chairman of the Boards”
Let’s just say that when you make it to the cover of Sports Illustrated and THEY give you a nickname, then you must be one of the best of all-time on your team.  If you’ve ever seen him play, then this pick is a no-brainer.  For those of you too young to have seen this dude “get after it” — think how J.J. Watt would play if he played center in the NBA.  Whenever a shot went up, Moses was going after it.  And when he and teammate Calvin Murphy were on, the game was affectionately called “The M&M Show”.

#1:  Hakeem “the Dream” Olajuwon: “Hail to the Champ”
Uhhhhh, does this one need explaining?  I didn’t think so.  Thanks for reading.

Honorable mentions:  Rudy T, Otis Thorpe & James Harden (sorry, but it’s too soon to add you now, oh bearded one)


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