With the Houston Rockets 2022-23 season still over a month away, we at The Dream Shake thought it would be a good time to revisit the team that brought Houston its first championship. I spoke with former players of that championship team, a member of the Rockets organization in 1994 ( if you listen to Rockets games on the radio, you will know him instantly), and die-hard, longtime fans to get their unique perspective of that playoff championship run.
It will be a four-part series chronicling Houston’s incredible run to the NBA title. From Choke City to the OJ Simpson chase, we will relive some of the best moments of the 1994 playoff season. In the first part of the series, I talk to Mario Elie, Mr. Kiss of Death himself, to get his thoughts on that championship run.
First, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions about the 1994 championship run! After your team knocked out the Trailblazers 3-1, how confident was the team going into the Phoenix series with home-court advantage?
Our confidence was high the whole season. We knew they were going to battle, but we felt we were better than them.
You lose Game 1 after having an 18-point lead, and now you are up in Game 2 by 20 at home. Did it enter your mind at all during that game that there was a chance it could happen again?
We knew we out played the Suns, but we choked both games at home. Vernon Maxwell’s Game 3 performance saved our season.
And then once we tied it, we felt like we were going to win the series.
When the infamous “Choke City” headline appeared in the Chronicle, what was the mood like around the team going into Game 3 at Phoenix?
Please, the mood for Game 3 was great. We had a team with high confidence. Also, we had guys who were mentally tough.
You are down 14 in the first quarter of Game 3 and eight at the half. What was said in the locker room, and what was it like watching Vernon Maxwell put together one of the best halves in playoff history?
Nothing was really said, we knew our season was on the line. Max being Max, he got HOT that third quarter. Once Max gets cooking, nobody, I said nobody could stop him. The 31-point second half was an amazing performance. Vernon Maxwell is an underrated player. Our emotional leader came through.
Game 7 at home, were there any type of fiery speeches before the game, or at that point, did everyone know what needed to be done?
We knew what needed to be done. Sam Cassell came to the forefront. We had different guys stepping through out the playoffs along with Dream being the best player on the floor on a nightly basis
Going into the NBA Finals vs. the New York Knicks, a lot of the talk was about how physical the Knicks were. Did that bother the team that the media made it seem the Rockets were not just as physical and hard-nosed of a team as the Knicks?
Talk is cheap. I heard Derek Harper said we were soft. Far from that. Let the game do the talking. I remember being down 3-2 going back to Houston after Game 5 and Oakley/Mason celebrating like they won the ‘chip. But it takes four games to win a title, not three.
Every NBA Finals game is huge, but going into Game 3 tied 1-1 and knowing the Knicks had three straight games at home, did you consider Game 3 a must-win and the most important of the three road games?
We knew we had to win a game or two in New York. It happened to be Game 3. Again, we are a team. Dream is our leader, but we had guys step up throughout the playoffs. Sam Cassell’s big three in Game 3 was huge.
I wanted to ask you, of course, about Game 5. It is the second quarter of a tight game at the time, and news starts to break that OJ Simpson is on the run. What was the reaction around the team, especially in the huddle, as more and more people started to find out what was going on?
The Juice was loose. Crazy night, spilt screen. Finals one side, OJ the other side.
Game 6 is coming down to the wire, and John Starks made almost every shot he took in that game. When he goes up for the potential game-winner, what is going through your mind at that time?
Starks was cooking that night. We knew it was going to be a Starks/Ewing pick-and-roll. Rudy wanted to switch it. We did switch. Dream sort of loses his balance, Starks comes off, has a good look at a three until the best defensive player ever regroups and blocks Starks. We win, and off to Game 7.
Knowing at the time you had the best player in the world on your team for Game 7, how much confidence did that give the team?
Please, we were not losing Game 7 at home. Dream’s been great all year. Not a surprise he finished off a great season. Most important, we all order limos for after the dub.
Final question. Following the Game 7 win and bringing Houston its first championship, how great of a feeling was it for you to go to the parade and the championship party at the Astrodome and have thousands of people there to support you?
When you are a professional athlete, you play to be the best. We were the best team in the world in 1994, celebrating with the best fans in the world. We partied all summer long.
I want to thank Mario Elie for giving fans an inside look at that 1994 championship run. For me, it was the most fun I have ever had watching Rockets basketball, and it is always great talking with former players who helped bring the first championship to the city of Houston.
Make sure to check out my next article in this four-part series where I talk with another member of that 1994 championship team!