Houston Rockets: Key Players, Coaches, and NBA History
Houston Rockets History and Highlights.
Founding and Early Years
The team was established in 1967 as the San Diego Rockets and joined the NBA as an expansion team. Four years later, the team relocated to Houston.
The Rockets got the chance to select first overall in the 1968 NBA Draft, where they selected power forward Elvin Hayes, who would lead the team to its first playoff appearance in his rookie season.
Moses Malone Leads Rockets to Western Conference
The Rockets failed to have a winning season for almost a decade until the 1976-77 season when they traded for All-Star center Moses Malone. Malone went on to win the MVP award twice while playing with the Rockets and led Houston to the Western Conference Finals in his first year with the team.
First NBA Finals
Still led by Malone, the Houston Rockets reached their first NBA Finals in 1981, becoming only the second team in NBA history to do so while having a losing record in the regular season. They would lose in six games to the Boston Celtics, with Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and future Rockets head coach Kevin McHale.
The Twin Towers
In the 1984 NBA draft, the Rockets had a chance to select first and picked center Hakeem Olajuwon, who would become the cornerstone of the most successful period in franchise history and one of the best centers ever.
Olajuwon was paired with a 7-4 center Ralph Sampson, forming one of the tallest front courts in the NBA. Nicknamed the “Twin Towers”, they led the team to the 1986 NBA Finals when they lost to the Boston Celtics again.
Houston continued to reach the playoffs throughout the 1980s. However, they couldn’t advance beyond the first round for several years following a second-round defeat by the Seattle Supersonics in 1987.
Rudy Tomjanovich took over as head coach midway through the 1991-92 season, which proved to be the key move in the team’s success in the following seasons.
First NBA Championship
Led by Olajuwon, the Houston Rockets dominated the 1993-94 season, setting a then-franchise record of 58 wins, and went to the 1994 NBA Finals, the third NBA Finals appearance in franchise history. They faced the New York Knicks, led by another dominant center Patrick Ewing. The Knicks had a 3-2 lead in the series, but Houston managed to win in back-to-back games and secure their first NBA championship.
Going into the following season, Houston acquired Clyde Drexler from the Portland Trail Blazers, who played at the University of Houston alongside Olajuwon. The Rockets finished the regular season as the sixth seed in the Western Conference but managed to go all the way and defeated the Orlando Magic in the finals in four games.
The following season, Houston added Charles Barkley and later Scottie Pippen, but they could not get back to the NBA Finals.
The Rockets had a couple of good teams at the beginning of the 2000s. First, the Houston Rockets had a promising young front-court duo with Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley, but they decided to trade Francis to Orlando for Tracy McGrady.
After drafting Yao Ming with the first pick in the 2002 NBA Draft, the Rockets had one of the best duos in basketball. Anyway, with McGrady and Yao, the Rockets never advanced past the first Playoff round.
The Modern Era
James Harden was the team’s new star when the Rockets signed him as a free agent in 2012. Harden became the NBA’s leading scorer and won the MVP in 2018, but the Western Conference Finals was the Rockets’ best result with him as the leading player.
Harden left the Rockets in 2021, and the team had the worst record in the West in the 2021-22 season.