This past Saturday night was the silver anniversary of one the biggest moments (if not the biggest) in franchise history, as the Houston Rockets clinched their first NBA Championship on June 22, 1994 with a 90-84 victory over the New York Knicks.
This was the culmination of a dominant season that led to a knockdown, drag-out seven-game series against the Knicks that might have been the most grueling I’ve ever witnessed. These teams were ranked first (Knicks) and second (Rockets) in the NBA in team defense and also featured two of the best centers to ever play the game in Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing.
It was quintessential 1990s ball, in which neither team broke the 100-point barrier in any game of the series and each and every possession was life or death.
Despite the battle of titanic centers, the seventh and final game wasn’t clinched until one of my all-time favorite Rockets stepped up in the greatest moment of need:
Mad Max finished with 21 points and two huge triples to complement Hakeem’s steady play in the post, and Max was Houston’s second-leading scorer for the entire series with 13.4 points per game.
Of course, Olajuwon finished the series averaging 26.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.6 steals and 3.9 blocks per game on 50 percent shooting, and after snagging the Finals MVP, still to this day remains the only player in NBA history to win the regular season MVP, Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season.
The win was validation for me. I was 17 years old and going to high school in a small town in Western Pennsylvania. Being that we had no local NBA basketball team (and I certainly wasn’t going to root for Cleveland or Philly), I had picked the Rockets as my team back in the ‘80s due to my Hakeem fandom, and I took a lot of flak locally for it.
Everyone loved the Lakers and the Celtics, then the Pistons, and then, of course, Michael and the Bulls, (bandwagoning was common for the team-less area), and I was the only person in my entire school who liked the Rockets and also the only one who stood by his team through thick and thin and didn’t change with the times of the era (and here I am 25 years later, still stanning for the Rockets).
Even though school was out for the summer by the time Game 7 finished, I finally had bragging rights with all of my buddies that I saw over the summer. And let’s face it, owning bragging rights was 50 percent of 17-year-old life (at least it was for my crew in 1994). Little did I know at the time that I’d have bragging rights through another season, but that’s a conversation for another day (next year’s 25th anniversary).
Anyway, I’d also like to apologize for being two days late on this post. But in perhaps my most Rockets-fan moment ever, I sustained an accidental finger to the eyeball and had a cut on my actual eye, a la James Harden. It was thankfully the white and the eyelid and not the cornea, but I was banned from computer and TV usage for 72 hours until the blood drained out. In case you want the evidence:
Always and forever a Rockets fan. Even in injury.