It’s time for the SB Nation GOAT nominations, and we have several categories to go over for your Houston Rockets, who have a long, rich history to consider when making these nominations. So without further ado, here are your Rockets GOATS.
Greatest Team of All-Time
There’s been a lot of really good Rockets teams over the years, as the franchise has 34 playoff teams in it’s 54 years in existence and is in the top 10 all-time in winning percentage, which makes this is a difficult nomination. However, there are three real contenders for the crown: the 1994 Rockets, the 1995 Rockets, and the 2018 Rockets.
The 1994 team was Hakeem Olajuwon’s coup de grace season, in which he won MVP, Finals MVP, and Defensive Player of the Year. He teamed up with Clyde Drexler to win the title again in 1995, and then the 2018 squad, featuring James Harden and Chris Paul, finished a franchise-best 65-17 and lost to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.
Thankfully, our TDS readers have already spoken on this topic, when they voted the 1995 squad as the franchise team GOAT in the bracket we ran last spring.
The 1995 team finished the year just 47-35, as they battled injuries, what Kenny Smith called “fat cat-itis”, and chemistry issues incorporating Drexler after the famous trade and lessening playing time for the fiery Vernon Maxwell.
However, once the playoffs started, the true character of this team came out, as they defeated the 60-win John Stockton-Karl Malone Utah Jazz in the first round after falling behind 2-1. They then bounced the Charles Barkley-led 59-win Phoenix Suns in a second straight year of an epic seven-game series in the Western Conference Semifinals before ousting new MVP David Robinson and the 62-win San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals in what has since become a legendary performance by Olajuwon. They put the cherry on the sundae by sweeping the Shaquille O’Neal-Penny Hardaway 57-win Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals, becoming the only team to win the title out of the sixth seed and defeated four teams with 57 wins or more in what might have been the most impressive and clutch title run of all-time for any team. Long live Clutch City.
Honorable Mention: 2018 Rockets, 1994 Rockets
Greatest Player of All-Time
The Rockets have a rich history of superstar players, and in particular superstar big men, but one stands heads above the others, and that is Hakeem Olajuwon. The star center is not only one of the greatest middle men to play the game, he’s a top 10 player of all-time at any position and is the greatest all-around player that I’ve ever watched play the game.
He was a force and an innovator offensively, devising a scheme of moves and countermoves known as The Dream Shake (where have I heard that name before?) that was nearly impossible to stop. Shaquille O’Neal had this to say about trying to battle Olajuwon’s patented series of spins and ball fakes:
“He’s got about five moves, then four countermoves. That gives him 20 moves.”
He also had a silky smooth jumper that he could hit from just about anywhere, and he developed into a game-changing passer out of the post. He was an offensive phenomenon still being emulated but never duplicated today.
And that wasn’t even the best part of his game. As unstoppable as he was offensively, he was even better defensively, and it’s not hyperbole to say that he’s the most dominant defensive force that the modern game has ever seen.
His 3,830 blocks are the most in NBA history. His 2,162 steals rank as number 10 all-time. He was seventh in steals when he retired. The next closest true center on the steals list is David Robinson. At number 62.
He was twice named Defensive Player of The Year, led the league in defensive win shares four times, three times led the league in blocked shots, and won two rebounding titles. He was named five times First Team All Defense and four times Second Team All Defense.
He could guard all five positions in an era when that was rarer than today because positions were more defined and less fluid. And he’s the owner of the single greatest defensive season ever, in my opinion.
In 1990, he led the league with 14 rebounds per game, also led the league with 4.6 blocked shots per game, while also leading the league in defensive win shares and defensive box plus-minus. He also averaged 2.1 steals per night. Do you realize how ridiculous those numbers are? And to think, he didn’t even win Defensive Player of the Year that season (Dennis Rodman).
Hakeem finished up his career as the architect of two NBA Championships, and he averaged 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.1 blocks, and 1.7 steals per game to go along with 12 All-Star appearances and nine All-NBA nods. He’s without a doubt the franchise GOAT.
Honorable Mention: James Harden, Moses Malone
Greatest Coach of All-Time
The greatest coach in Rockets history was just given a long-overdue honor. Rudy Tomjanovich gave an epic induction speech two weeks ago to finally take his place among the game’s greats. Leading Houston to the franchise’s only two titles has him as the clear selection for the team’s GOAT.
Rudy T and Olajuwon were a perfect marriage of player and coach, the right combination at the right time, and neither guy gets to the heights they achieved without the other. That said, Rudy was adept at managing people and personalities, and his down-to-earth demeanor combined with an old school attitude was just what those Rockets teams needed to take them from good to great. He was a true player’s coach.
He finished his Rockets career with a 503-397 (.559) regular season record and was also 51-39 (.567) for his career in the postseason. But it’s those two rings that will always shine brightest, even though he doesn’t own the franchise’s best winning percentage. That coach appears in our honorable mention.
Honorable Mentions: Mike D’Antoni, Bill Fitch
Greatest Moment of All-Time
This is a tough one. There’s been a lot of amazing Rockets moments, from Hakeem dominating David Robinson, to James Harden’s game winning three over Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, to Tracy McGrady’s 13 in 33 seconds, and Yao Ming limping out of the locker room to lead the Rockets to a playoff victory over Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers.
But the one moment that has to be the top is the winning of the NBA Championship in 1994. The reason for the significance is because not only was it a first for the franchise and Rockets fans, it was a first for the city of Houston in any major sport. Its meaning to the city cannot be overstated. It transcends just basketball or the franchise, which is pretty much the definition of GOAT.
Honorable Mention: Kiss of Death, Ralph Sampson game winner vs. Lakers
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