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Why I'm a fan of the Houston Rockets: Two embarrassing stories

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I'm such a die hard Houston Rockets fan that I cried when Scott Brooks was traded and declined to take revenge against Matt Maloney at a poker table.

Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

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I'm from Houston and I love the city I'm from so there's not much mystique surrounding my fandom.

I could say it was watching hundreds of games with my old man, which is true, but we always had a more paternal bond built around the 60+ Astros games we've attended together.

Instead of doing all that though. How about I tell two embarrassing stories about my Houston Rockets life:

I cried when Scott Brooks was traded

Yes. Current Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks. I cried. Because he was traded.

I would have been 10 when it happened, which is an embarrassingly old age to cry over a backup point guard being traded, but I'm admitting it.

It was 1995 and the Houston Rockets were in the midst of a middling title defense. At the time I was enthralled with NBA Live 95 on Super Nintendo. The one with Robert Horry on the cover.

Don't remember it? Or perhaps you're a millennial? No problem. Here's 25 minutes of gameplay on YouTube.

I had spent countless hours playing an entire season of virtual basketball as the Houston Rockets and I still vividly remember my lineup:

  • Center -- Hakeem Olajuwon
  • Power Forward -- Otis Thorpe
  • Small Foward -- Robert Horry
  • Shooting Guard -- Mitch Richmond
  • Point Guard -- Scott Brooks


Before you say. "That's not the right lineup for NBA Live 1995." Let me say back, "you're wrong." The NBA Live 1995 rosters were based on the previous year and didn't reflect the in-season trade that netted Clyde Drexler.

For reasons I still don't remember I really liked Mitch Richmond back then. So I traded Kenny Smith (sorry Jet) for Richmond and put Vernon Maxwell on the bench for Brooks.

In Live '95 you couldn't change your starting lineup before the game. So each game I would do the opening tip then insert Brooks into the lineup for Cassell, who started as the team's best point guard after jettisoning Smith.

I of course played all 82 games and the playoffs and foreshadowed the Rockets second title with my own 1995 digital championship. Hakeem led the NBA in points, rebounds and blocks per game while Scott Brooks captured the season's assist crown. He was not allowed to shoot on my team. Only pass for assists, mainly to Dream.

This entire development led up to the real 1995 trade deadline. What a bust of a trade deadline. The only trade was the Rockets shipping Brooks to the Mavericks for some stuff I'm not going to Google because it will make this story even less impressive than it already is.

I came home from school one day with an instruction from my mom to go check the answering machine for a message from my father. I rewound the tape on the answering machine (so antiquated right?) to hear my dad relay the bad news. He heard on sports radio that Brooks was being traded to Dallas.

I ran to my room knelt before my felt 1994 NBA champs caricature pennant and cried.

That's what a sad, dedicated Houston Rockets fan I was.

Here's a photo of the pennant from the Internet. Say "Hi, Richard Petruska":


I failed to put Matt Maloney all in at a poker table

To be entirely accurate I failed to even sit at the same table as Matt Maloney.

During my first year of college the World Series of Poker hit it huge on ESPN when an amateur poker player named Chris Moneymaker won the world's richest poker tournament. The introduction of poker to popular culture arrived just after my childhood friends and I had consumed Doyle Brunson's "Super System" and had been spending countless late nights playing no limit hold em with a rich $10 buy in.

For the uninitiated... we really liked poker and played a lot of it.

As some time passed we found more people for our games, met some of the right (or wrong) people and started trekking down to some rented houses in Houston which had been turned into 'non-profit establishments of poker.'

Late one night as we stuck out like a couple of underage kids drinking mountain dew at a card table of grown men drinking beers. Wait, that's not actually a simile, that's what it was.

Anyway, as us undergrads sat at our card tables in walked a well attired gentleman over six feet tall.

This was in the days before we all had cell phones so my buddies and I couldn't text each other "who's that"? We all just stared at the man wearing a flashy pair of tearaway track pants wondering to ourselves "is that Matt Maloney?"

If you don't remember Matt Maloney... He was the Rockets starting point guard in the 1996 - 1997 season when the Rockets assembled Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley. Houston's intended starting point guard Brent Price blew out his knee before the season started and Maloney was thrust into the role, which he filled admirably as the Rockets went to the Western Conference Finals and lost to the Utah Jazz.

The scrappy guard would start the following season, but things went downhill for Maloney and the Rockets fast. When the point guard's rookie deal expired he signed a seven-year deal with the Rockets (!). He barely lasted a year-and-a-half before being waived.

Leaving the Rockets to carry his contract for five years without him touching the court.

Maloney played his last NBA season in 2002 - 2003, just 14 games for the Hawks. The Rockets were paying him that season, the several before it and each subsequent one until 2005. Maloney is probably in an NBA database somewhere under 'one of the reasons for length restrictions on contracts.'

So... when Maloney waltzed in to the poker room with his top of the line tearaway track pants he was out of the NBA, hadn't suited up for the Rockets for years, but was still getting paid by my hometown team. And I froze.

I can't say why I froze. It had to be a great display of respect for the job he did helming a star-heavy Rockets team four or five years earlier.

Because in retrospect I should have bellowed "it's Houston's Bobby Bonilla!"

But I didn't. Because I love my team and would never sully the good name of a man who admirably served alongside Hakeem Olajuwon.

He slid into the table next to mine. And instead of making my move by standing up and sitting down at Maloney's table to try and win back some of the Rockets poorly budgeted money I just stayed put.

In the seminal poker movie Rounders Matt Damon went toe-to-toe with two time World Series of Poker champion Johnny Chan in Atlantic City. He bullied Chan out of a hand with nothing. Win or lose he took his shot just to say he had.

Given my Damon-like chance to bully the big name in the room I froze. I failed to be agg-re-essive.

To this day I regret not taking my meager pile of fifty-something dollars to his table, forcing him to fold a hand and then responding when asked what I had, "I'm sorry Maloney, I don't remember."

Then the building would have exploded while I walked away with a suit jacket slung over my shoulder.

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