The last time a pinstripe No. 3 jersey took to the floor for the Houston Rockets, the uniform belonged to Steve Francis. Eighteen years ago — which marked the final time the Rockets wore the iconic jersey — Francis was entrusted with the daunting task of leading the franchise out of the Hakeem Olajuwon era into the post-championship rebuilding epoch.
It’s a transition only Francis could relate to inside the Toyota Center, while watching Christian Wood and Kevin Porter Jr. lead the Rockets to a 118-116 victory over the Orlando Magic, en route to their fifth straight victory Friday night. A win streak that has since reached six games following another noble performance by Wood om Sunday.
“I’m honored to be back here, especially with the transition. I went through a similar transition when I was here in Houston. The one thing about it, it’s not going to happen overnight — but I’m definitely happy that I am here.” — Francis
Francis was in attendance to take part in the Rockets’ Flashback series — where the organization honored their former All-Star point guard.
Nicknamed the Franchise, Francis was preceded by Olajuwon and succeeded by Tracy McGrady as the face of the Rockets organization. Houston only qualified for the post-season once during his five-year tenure (2004). But most of Francis’ time with the Rockets was an on-court intensive course of learning basketball on an NBA level as a young guard — similar to Porter and Jalen Green today.
At age 22, Francis arrived in Houston following a trade from the then-Vancouver Grizzlies. He said during his rookie season in 2000, Coach Rudy Tomjanovich’s most significant schooling was to allow him to learn from his mistakes while on the floor of the Compaq Center.
Tomjanovich’s most prominent teachings were the premature point guard obligations he bestowed on Francis during his rookie campaign. And after winning Rookie of the Year that same season, Francis accredited Tomjanovich for installing the foundation that led to a 10-year NBA career.
“As a point guard, everyone has to be happy, and that is the biggest lesson I learned during my rookie season. I learned that I had to be the coach out on the court. I also learned that it is important to play defense. Try to go out there and get some steals and other important defensive tactics.” — Francis
It was a suitable moment for the Rockets to honor Francis in a game against the Magic, 17 years after Houston shipped their high-flying combo guard to Orlando in exchange for McGrady. But what made the night even more distinctive was the City Edition Remix uniform the Rockets wore during the win, which is heavily inspired by pinstripe jerseys associated with Francis’s era.
Francis said watching the Rockets reintroduce the pinstripe jerseys in 2021 makes him feel a bit old. Yet, he cannot help but reminisce about the days he spent as a Houston Rocket.
“I definitely remember as a rookie how happy I was just to put that uniform on — to be able to go up to the slam dunk contest and all those things and represent Houston with it. It definitely brings back memories.” — Francis