The Houston Rockets recently honored the remarkable career of Rudy Tomjanovich from his time as a player to his championship career as head coach. Rudy T. was the second overall pick in the 1970 NBA Draft by the then-San Diego Rockets (a year later, they would relocate to Houston). Tomjanovich would make five All-Star games with the Rockets before the tragic incident that happened on December 9th, 1977.
During a game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Kermit Washington suckered punch Tomjanovich as he ran to stop a fight. This would sideline Tomjanovich for five months, and even though he would go on to make the All-Star game the following year, the punch would shorten what could have been a Hall of Fame career as a player.
In 1981, Tomjanovich retired from the NBA and became a scout for two years before becoming an assistant coach for the Rockets. He would serve until he took over mid-season for Don Chaney after being fired during the 1992 season. The rest they say is history, as Rudy T. would lead the Rockets to back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995.
It's always a good time to relive the glory days of the Houston Rockets and Rudy T., so we decided to ask one of his former players Matt Bullard about his time with the Hall of Fame Coach.
Rockets legend Matt Bullard recalls his time with Rudy T.
I asked Rockets legend Matt Bullard, who played for Rudy T. from 1992-1994 and again in 1996-2001:
What was the first practice like when Rudy T took over for Don Chaney?
We were told by GM Steve Patterson that our poor play got a good man, Don Chaney, fired. So we knew we had to be better for Rudy. We had all worked with Rudy on our individual skills and all had a close relationship with him so it was like we were now playing for our friend. And we didn’t want to let our friend down.
When you were down 0-2 and down at the half in Game 3 to Phoenix, what did Rudy T say in the locker room at halftime ( I know you probably can't say word for word)? I ask because Rudy T always seemed to be in control no matter what.
Can’t remember what he said, but he never lost hope or was down. He wanted us to keep fighting, keep our heads up and stick together.
What is something about Rudy T that you feel he doesn't get enough credit for or something many may not know about him?
Rudy knew what it was like to be a player, and his coaching reflected that. He never put himself above the players, he was more like one of our teammates. We didn't want to let our teammates down. We felt bad when we let him down with poor play. He really cared about us and we really cared about playing our best for him.
How do you think he helped you personally in your development as a basketball player?
I had a great HS coach, Jim O’Dea, who prepared me for college. I had a great college coach, Dr. Tom Davis, who prepared me for NBA. But it was Rudy who prepared me for a long NBA career by teaching me how to play to my strengths and avoid my weaknesses. He also taught all of us about how to be good men and good teammates. We were able to take many different strong personalities and become a close knit team with hearts of champions.
Rudy Tomjanovich is loved not only by the fans but, as you see, his former players and the entire league. The ultimate players coach was one of the first coaches to implement the three-point line into their offensive system. Rudy T. never let his ego get in the way of what was best for his team, and that's why so many players wanted to play for the Rockets in the ‘90s. He is the greatest coach in Houston sports history and will always be remembered as the head coach who brought the city of Houston its first-ever championship!
He absolutely had the Heart of a Champion.