The world in 1999 was an extremely different place than the one we live in today. Social media platforms Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter did not exist. Blockbuster and Hollywood Video rental services were the definitions of streaming. And pop-star Christina Aguilera had the biggest song of the summer with her smash hit, Genie in a Bottle, from her debut album. Above all that was going on 20 years ago, the world was preparing to make a tremendous transition from the 1900s into the new millennium, and the Houston Rockets were no different.
During the summer of 1999, the Rockets were at a crossroads. Their attempt to build a super team failed tremendously (Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, and Scottie Pippen), as the Rockets finished the lockout-shortened season with a 31-19 record and a first-round exit against the Los Angeles Lakers.
With an aging superstar in Olajuwon playing in the twilight of his career, to go along with a dysfunctional locker room due to the problems between Barkley and Pippen, the Rockets were in need of a new talent to reshape the direction of the franchise. That new talent came on August 26th, 1999, when the Rockets acquired a 6’3 point guard from the Vancouver Grizzlies by the name of Steve Francis.
At the time of the trade, Francis was the prefect player the Rockets could have added heading into the new millennium. He was arguably the top prospect coming out of the draft, but most importantly, his flashy crossover dribble, scoring technique, and phenomenal dunking ability made him the ideal point guard of a new generation.
Despite coming into the league as one of the most exciting young players, Francis did not make a great first impression prior to the Grizzlies selecting him with the second overall pick. He publicly announced his displeasure to play in Vancouver, and his diva persona forced the Grizzlies to part ways with their lottery pick two months after the draft.
However, despite the negative attention he received following his departure from Vancouver, Francis put to rest all the hate that came his way with a stellar rookie season. From the moment he stepped on the court for his NBA debut, it was clear that Stevie Franchise was the new face of Rockets basketball.
Despite the Rockets missing the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons, Francis blossomed into one of the most exciting players in the league. He led the rebuidling Rockets to a 34-48 record while averaging 18.0 points, 6.6 assists, and 5.3 rebounds across 77 games. In addition to his season average, he recorded 17 double-doubles and one triple-double to become the first Rocket to take home Rookie of the Year honors since Ralph Sampson in 1984.
Over the next four seasons, Francis star continued to rise, as he became a three-time All-Star and finished second behind Vince Carter with one of the most impressive dunk contest performances in history (2000).
Arguably the best game of his career came on January 17, 2002, when Francis led Houston to a 108-104 victory over the Lakers, where he scored a career-high of 44 points and dished out 11 assists in the overtime win.
The 2003-04 season served as the most successful year for Francis as a member of the Rockets. While playing alongside Yao Ming, he led Houston to a 45-37 record and ended a six-year postseason drought with a first-round match-up against the Lakers, in which the Rockets were eliminated in five games.
While averaging 17.1 points, 5.8 assists, and 5.5 rebounds from 1999-2004, Francis joined Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, and Grant Hill as the only players in NBA history to average at least 15 points, five assists, and five rebounds in their first five seasons.
Although the Rockets showed major improvements by the end of his fifth season, Houston traded Francis to the Orlando Magic in exchange for Tracy McGrady. As the Rockets moved forward with McGrady, Francis’ career was never the same.
After two seasons with the Magic that included a suspension for conduct detrimental to the team, he was traded to the New York Knicks where repeated injuries to his knee robbed him of this athleticism, and he later rejoined the Rockets during the 2007-08 season. He only appeared in 10 games during his second stint in Houston and was traded to the Grizzlies as a salary dump to avoid the luxury tax threshold. Later, Francis’ career came to an unpleasant end after he was waived by Memphis without playing a game.
He then struggled with substance abuse, getting arrested for a DUI in 2016, and later that year also got arrested for burglary, for which he served 50 hours of community service.
Although his career never fully actualized the high potential he came into the league with, Francis left an everlasting impact on the game. He became one of the most beloved sports figures in Houston, and he helped usher in a new generation of combo point guards currently seen in the likes of Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook.