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Dreamland Review+Remembering the 1994 Rockets

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I loved this team. Of course, I was five. I loved the Pink Power Ranger back then, too.
I loved this team. Of course, I was five. I loved the Pink Power Ranger back then, too.

We interrupt the Chris Bosh/draft/Jerome Solomon is a dumbass talk for something a little different.

I've been reading Robert Falkoff's Dreamland: The Inside Story of the '93 - '94 Houston Rockets Championship Season. I always get so bored during the offseason, so this year I decided to buy a bunch of basketball books and try to get through them before I head back to school in July.

Falkoff wrote for the Houston Post during the 90s, and was the paper's Rockets beat writer. The "book" is more of a running journal describing games, people, and aspects of NBA life. Falkoff had a pretty decent relationship with Rudy T. (he co-wrote Rudy's "autobiography"), along with several of the players.

It's great for nostalgia. Falkoff goes in depth a lot during the record-tying 15-0 start, and really gets some great insight from coaches, players, and front office people. During the playoffs, you can sense Falkoff's trepidation after the Rockets blew two big leads in Games 1 and 2 against Phoenix (at home!). You can almost feel him fist pumping when the Rockets defeated the Jazz in the Western Conference Finals (Haha, suck it Utah!).

I've got my problems with the book, to be sure. For example, Kenny Smith quotes are in the book on almost every other page, whereas Otis Thorpe and Vernon Maxwell seem to be nonexistent. I know Kenny is (and was) highly quotable. It's that quality that makes him a strong part of the TNT posse. He's insightful and isn't afraid to step on anyone's toes. That being said, Horry, Maxwell, and Thorpe were all huge parts of that team. The following year, Maxwell would be released by the team, Thorpe would be traded, and Horry would be gone two seasons later. It would have been nice to hear more from these guys.

However, my biggest issue with the journal is that Falkoff obviously wrote it after the season ended. Honestly, it seems like he'll be talking about how great the team is, and you can tell he just wants to say, "and that's why they won the NBA title." He is always supportive of the team, which we all know is very unusual for a media member. The guy knows how the season turned out, and it ruins the book in some places.

As I head to the jump, there are a few things that I really enjoyed about the book. I was five during the championship run, so I don't remember much of the season at all. Falkoff does a great job with some aspects, and that's what I really want to talk about. They are:

1. Les Alexander

2. Rudy T

3. The Trade that Wasn't

4. Similarities between this team and next year's

1. Les Alexander

Alexander purchased the Rockets on July 30, 1993. Less than a year later, he was hoisting an NBA championship trophy, but a lot of work went into that. Alexander made headlines when he fired his GM almost as soon as he bought the team. Steve Patterson had been a decent GM, and had become good friends with Rudy. However, Alexander wasn't thrilled with the business side of the Rockets and insisted on a change. Unfortunately, the Rockets only hired a team president to oversee the day-to-day running of the team financially and spent almost the entire year searching for someone to take on the responsibility of handling personnel issues.  

I really gained a lot of respect for Alexander (or "Cool Hand Les") throughout the book. He was devoted to that team the way Mark Cuban is to the Mavs, but he wasn't the type to interfere with the team on basketball-related issues. The man knew (knows) his place and allowed the more seasoned minds to make team decisions. It's why Alexander is one of the best owners in all of sports.

2. Rudy T

With no real GM, the onus of those responsibilities fell to Rudy. That wasn't a big deal, since being the coach of an NBA team isn't too stressful. It always sounds fun to me: you get to sit courtside, yell at superstars, and draw on a cool whiteboard during timeouts. Who wouldn't want that life?

The Rockets started 15-0 and 22-1. They went a respectable 36-23 the rest of the way. Remember, however, that there was a serious lack of parity in the NBA in those years. There were only about five or six decent to really good teams per conference in the NBA in those years. Of those, only two or three really had a shot at the title. Every other team was pretty much crap.

Back to Rudy. He was very similar to Adelman, with a little less offensive focus and more of a defensive tone. Rudy was a player's coach, but he still had to deal with a lot of the same issues Mike Brown faced this year in Cleveland. Rudy had great depth at every position (except center), and had to juggle those minutes all season long. Usually, injuries take a toll on a team and help solve those issues. But outside of Carl Herrera's dislocated shoulder close to the end of the season, the Rockets remained relatively healthy all year.

The starting lineup of Kenny Smith, Vernon Maxwell, Robert Horry, Otis Thorpe, and Hakeem made up all but 15 of the team's games. During the middle of the season, however, Mario Elie was getting more minutes than Horry, and Falkoff really tries to show us Horry's frustration. Smith's minutes were always in jeopardy because of what a revelation Sam Cassell was. Rudy also liked to use Scotty Brooks as his point guard in the fourth quarter. Herrera and Matt Bullard were always pushing for minutes, too. With all these players vying for minutes, Rudy has his hands full keeping everyone happy.

The problem was almost solved when...

3. The Trade that Wasn't

Oh man this was so close to happening. I'm sure Dave was busting nuts over this thing. The Rockets actually sent Horry and Bullard to Detroit for Sean Elliott. To Bill Worrell's everlasting credit, when he talked to Falkoff, he flat-out hated the trade. The Rockets had hit a slump and were desperate to shake things up. Horry was pissed about his minutes. It's a pretty logical step, but Elliott's kidney issue nixed the trade. The players had already flown to their respective cities, so that must have been awkward. Horry took it in stride, and went on a tear to end the season. Clearly, Horry figured that having a stable spot was more important than minutes.

Falkoff was so close to the action here that he was able to get quotes from people all over the league. After the trade fell through, teams tried to take advantage of the Rockets because they thought there would be awkward feelings between the front office and Horry. The Clippers dangled an aging Danny Manning, and the Kings tried to trade Lionel Simmons (WHO???) for Horry. Thankfully, the Rockets (aka Rudy and Alexander) didn't give in and trade Horry for pennies on the dollar.

By the way, no one really gave a shit about Matt Bullard back then.

4. Similarities

This is no Cowboys=Rockets, but the similarities exist between this championship team and next season's. Going into the season, most believed the Rockets were one piece from a championship contender. That piece ended up being Mario Elie, a very under-the-radar (yet great) role player.

The current incarnation of the Rockets are deemed similarly, at least here. We know with Yao, they're a team to be reckoned with. However, an underrated guy like Elie could help the team. If there's on GM who can find diamonds in the rough, it's our resident boy genius. 

Those Rockets built around their big man. These Rockets are the same.

They had a tough-as-nails power forward who wasn't afraid to do the dirty work (Thorpe). Ditto for Scola.

They had a shooter who could win them games and who lived for clutch moments (Maxwell). Ditto for AB.

They had a bulldog point guard on the bench (Cassell). We have the Bulldog himself.

Both teams had shooters off the bench (Elie and Bullard vs. Battier and Chase).

I'm not saying that Yao is Hakeem's equal. I'm not saying Thorpe is the same as Scola, or any of the other players are the same. So please, no "Scola is way better on offense than Thorpe was" crap. Yes, I know and agree. But the qualities are similar, as is their value to the team.

 

Well, this was supposed to be a review of the book. I pretty much failed at that. Lesson: Don't get me started on those championship teams. I can go for hours.

On a similar note, how awesome would it be to lock a Jazz fan in a room and get to talk to them about how great those Rockets championship teams were? I mean if they couldn't talk. Unfortunately for us all, God gave Jazz fans mouths to brag about nothing at all and fingers to type about how great Boozer is. 

Back to the book again. There's no need to really buy it unless you want to relive that season. Falkoff's insight into the front office and Rudy is fantastic. His insight into basketball, however, is not.