For this week’s roundtable, we decided to have a little fun and discuss our favorite Rockets moments of all time. From our favorite players, teams, and moments, this week’s panel has several unique perspectives and shows the variety of fandom the Rockets have had for the past fifty seasons.
This week’s panel includes Jeremy Brener (JB), Adam Sweeney (AS), Darren Yuvan (DY), first-time panelist Kelechi ‘Kelly’ Iko (KI) and our special guest, former TDS contributor on his comeback tour, Eric Spyropoulos (ES).
Continue these debates in the comments. We’d love to hear the unique perspectives of all our Rockets fans.
1. Favorite Rockets team?
JB: I might have a little recency bias, but I’m going to go with this past year’s team. As a fan born in the post-Clutch City era, I have still yet to see a championship, and the 2016-17 Rockets were the closest team that resembled a championship contender, even more than the 2014-15 team that made the Western Conference Finals. The team’s formula for winning made them so fun to watch, and although the loss is still fresh in my mind and still tastes very sour, I can’t help but remember this past year and appreciate what the team was able to accomplish.
AS: The 2009 Rockets team stands as a personal favorite, largely because they displayed great resiliency against the would-be champion Los Angeles Lakers. It was the last we saw of Yao Ming, who broke his foot in the series, and they probably would have beaten L.A. if he stayed healthy. Throw in Aaron Brooks' coming out party, the drama of Tracy McGrady, and it was a remarkable team to witness.
DY: It would have to be the '95 team. No one, myself included, expected that team to win the title. Plus, it was just an incredibly fun postseason that featured wins over the Stockton/Malone Jazz, the Barkley Sun, the famous Hakeem evisceration of David Robinson, and the wise, old Jedi master schooling a young Shaquille O'Neal. Second place would have to be the 2008 team. 22-game streak for the win! McGrady, Yao, Luis Scola, Carl Landry, Chuck Hayes and the ageless Dikembe Mutumbo. What a trip that season was.
KI: I don’t think I’m in the minority when I say my favorite Rockets team was the 09 edition. How, you ask? Let’s see: T-Mac, check. The Great Wall of China, check. No-No-No Mutombo, check. Agent 0, check. Ron Artest shooting 40 percent from deep, check. And the GOAT, Von Wafer. People forget Shane Battier played the 2 instead of the small ball power forward late in his career. This team actually a deep bench, even Kyle Lowry found minutes hard to come by.
ES: I think I'm torn between this past 2016-17 squad and the 2012-13 team. This past season was one of the most enjoyable seasons to watch because of the incredible offense the Rocket had, thanks to Mike D'Antoni, James Harden, and having actual shooters on the roster. The 2012-13 team was fun because it was really quite unexpected. Obviously trading for Harden just days before the season started is an unexpected way to start a season. But from there, it was a team of unproven, "misfit" players that just played hard and for each other. Plus, they were very competitive in the first round as the 8th seed.
2. Favorite Rockets player?
JB: Again with a new wave answer, but Pat Beverley. The dude is a monster. He went from playing second-tier ball overseas to an NBA starter based on true grit and passion. Majority of the league despises Patrick Beverley for the same reason why he’s my favorite. He’s an irritant who will find a way to knock down the coldest blooded three with ice running through the opponent’s veins. He’s fantastic and whether he’s a Rocket or not, I will ALWAYS support Bev.
AS: The obvious answer is Hakeem Olajuwon but I am going to pick James Harden because his trajectory is actually very similar to Hakeem's, given that they were both known as selfish players who couldn't come up big in the early parts of their career. Also, James Harden is a surefire Hall of Famer who will go down as one of the 5 best Rockets ever.
DY: Definitely Hakeem Olajuwon. In fact, he's probably my favorite athlete ever, in any sport (Bo Jackson a close second). I grew up in Pittsburgh in the 1980s, and as we all know, the city has never had an NBA franchise. So as a basketball lover, I had to find a player and a team that I wanted to follow. It certainly wasn't going to be the Cavs or the 76ers. I was 10 years old and watched the the entirety of the 1986 postseason at my neighbor's house, who was several years older than me, and a huge Boston Celtics fan. I immediately fell in love with Hakeem's sublime blend of skill, power, and grace, even though my neighbor enjoyed the Finals significantly more than I did. Anyway, I was hooked on Hakeem from that point forward, and still to this day, I've not seen a more dominant defensive force anywhere in basketball than Dream in his prime, nor have I seen a more complete player at the center position. I love me some James Harden, but until he brings in a title (or two), it's Olajuwon all the way.
KI: T-Mac. Just had to look at my wall to make sure his jersey was still hanging up there. I love everything about this man, and his time as a Rocket was the best time of my life. The 13 in 35 seconds cemented his place in Rockets history and that was just one of the great things he did while his knees and back allowed him. Sometimes I wonder if Harden had T-Mac and Yao as teammates. Then I weep, and weep some more.
ES: James Harden is up there for me, but not just because he's the easy pick. I really enjoy/respect Harden's personality and demeanor and I find it pretty relatable personally. I also will always have fond memories of Omer Asik as a result of his 2013-13 season. Yes, Asik did publicly criticize the team and essentially give up the next season, but that 2013-13 season he had was incredible. The man averaged a double-double and played 30+ minutes per game after being relatively unknown when signed. Finally, Patrick Beverley will always be near the top of my list. That man is my spirit animal.
3. Favorite Rockets game watched?
JB: I hate that my options are limited given that I’ve only followed the Rockets for a dozen years, but these past 12 years have many games to choose from. I will always remember the time when the Rockets came back to beat the Clippers in Game 6. That game was nothing short of a miracle. Josh Smith turned into superhuman, Terrence freakin’ Jones was knocking down threes, and Grandpa Jason Terry was running the offense. Whenever I am having a bad day, I always go on YouTube and watch highlights from that game, and I feel better afterwards. It’s a great coping mechanism and I highly recommend all sports fans to do the same. Everyone has these moments where their team is on top of the world. For me, that game was that moment.
AS: Game 1 of the 1995 NBA Finals versus the Orlando Magic marks the pinnacle of the "Heart of the Champion" Rockets championship teams, and you'd be hard pressed to find a game that was such a roller coaster. Nick Anderson's free throw meltdown, Kenny Smith's killer 3, and Hakeem's tip-in are burned into my gamer mind.
DY: It would have to be 13 in 35. I was living in Manhattan and was watching the game in an uptown sports bar with a couple buddies of mine. We were more than a few pints deep when Tracy McGrady pulled off his miracle, and a combination of the game, the company, the atmosphere and the brews made 13 in 35 a moment that will always stick in my memory. Best part? There were also Spurs fans in the house.
KI: The favorite game I ever watched is the only Rockets game I know that I will never forget the final score. April 23, 2004. 102-91 Rockets over the Lakers. This was a superteam before the super teams. Kobe-Shaq-Malone-Payton-Fox on one team are you kidding me? Yea we lost in 5, but we got one off em. Random fact: I talked to Cutting Mobley at the neighborhood pool like 11 years ago and this game was definitely discussed.
ES: I would say the Game 6 against the Clippers, but for about three quarters that game was more punishment than enjoyment. Don't worry, that game will be saved for a later question. I'm going to go with an unconventional answer. I found Game 5 in the 2013 First Round against the Thunder to be really enjoyable. The Rockets had barely survived the sweep the game before, and then Harden came out and said "this series is heading back to Houston.” Harden had 31 points (including 7-9 on threes), but it was my man Asik that truly won the game. The Thunder went to "Hack-Asik" and he hit 13-18 from the line. For the game he had 21 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 blocks. It was just another great win for a young team that played for each other.
4. Favorite Rockets game attended?
JB: I can’t remember many Rockets games I’ve seen in person that truly fascinated me, except for one. It might be the only overtime game I’ve ever attended, but Houston was playing Portland in 2014 in the regular season. The game was around Spring Break and the Rockets came back from down double digits to win the game in overtime. Harden was Bearding out, Dwight Howard had a solid game going, and my namesake Jeremy Lin poured in 26 from off the bench. Great basketball, better finish from my Rockets.
AS: I'll return to the scene of the crime in 2009, where I got to see Aaron Brooks destroy the Lakers. The Toyota Center was dejected before the game, which was the first since the announcement that Yao would be out for the remainder of the playoffs. Brooks turned that beat around in what is now known as the Mother's Day Massacre, and his dapper look in the post-game presser (a red jacket and bowtie) was the cherry on top.
DY: It was just after the New Year in 2008, and I was still living in NYC. Yao Ming was in the midst of one of his finest seasons, and he and the Rockets were coming into Madison Square Garden to battle the Knicks. I managed to grab a pair of tickets for me and friend, and living so far away from Houston, it was one of just a handful of times I got to see Yao play live. He was absolutely dominant, going for 36 and 11, and looked like a completely unstoppable force of nature that night.. a man among the men. The coolest part? The Knicks were bad that year, so the Garden was literally two-thirds Rockets fans. Yao's global popularity combined with New York's international population had MSG painted a sea of red. Yao responded with a signature performance, and I was there at center court, 100-level.
KI: Favorite game I attended was one against the Sloan-coached Jazz. Back when D-Will was actually an NBA starting All-Star caliber guard. Damn have times changed. Creeped my way down the seats till i got really close. Like I can see the plays being called close. Calvin Murphy was at the game, and he signed my aunt’s hat that day, so that was real cool.
ES: I've only attended two Rockets games (being a New Yorker), so I'll go with the game they actually won. It was this season, and was a comfortable 137-112 win over the Nets in Brooklyn. The team was firing on all cylinders that game offensively, and it was just a really entertaining and fun game.
5. Favorite Rockets moment?
JB: 13 in 35 made me a basketball fan. I was six years old when it happened, but when you are a kid, you see basketball players as superheroes who can do no wrong. Some people never grow out of that stage, but watching T-Mac strut his stuff against the Spurs was incredible. It made me want to play basketball and it engulfed me into the sport. I never recognized the magnitude of the situation until years later, and I think it is safe to say that what Tracy McGrady did on that night will never be repeated.
AS: Being a Rockets fan has brought way too many ups and downs for me to pick one moment, so let's give a shout-out to the experience of being part of the ride. San Antonio Spurs fans will cluck about how unique their team is, especially when they play the disrespect card, but name another team who won a title and had to beg Sports Illustrated to give us a front cover about it? The Rockets are best when they are the underdog, and that goes for all Houston teams. Expectations don't suit us well but nobody plays better with their backs against the wall. Never underestimate the heart of a champion.
DY: Definitely the back-to-back titles. They happened during my junior and senior years of high school, and there's no cooler thing at ages 17 and 18 than having your favorite team not just win one title, but two. Epic bragging rights still to this day. I'm obviously still talking about it!
KI: Sheeeesh, I had to do a March Madness style elimination technique to find this one. It came down to Game 6 versus the Clippers and Yao’s behind the back versus the Blazers in the ‘09 playoffs. Ultimately, I went with Game 6. My heart was literally in my mouth the whole game, and when Blake Griffin did that 360 layup to put them up by 17 everyone around me left the room. I called my friends up when we got it down to 14 and said we had one more run in us. It wasn’t going to go down like this. And lo and behold, Smoove and the Headband Band brought us all the way back and then some. I cried real tears that night, tears of sweet, sweet joy.
ES: Alright, this one is definitely the fourth quarter of Game 6 against the Clippers for me. I still watch the highlights from the comeback a couple of times a month just to try and re-feel those magical feelings. The fact that it came against the Clippers of all teams (and in LA) truly made the moment that much sweeter. Corey Brewer, Josh Smith, and Jason Terry led a 2015 comeback against a team with a "Big 3" and "legendary" coach. Just incredible.