Many folks forget the Houston Rockets began as the San Diego Rockets as part of the NBA’s growth explosion of the late 1960s. Who are their 25 best players?
The Houston Rockets trace their roots to a short stint as the San Diego Rockets, an expansion team that began play in 1967-68 along with the Seattle SuperSonics.
Robert Breitbard purchased the rights to the franchise for $1.75 million and “Rockets” was chosen as the name to represent San Diego’s theme at the time as “a city in motion.”
That, and a local manufacturing plant developing the Atlas missile.
It was San Diego’s first professional basketball team.
The city would later host an ABA franchise that was called at various times the Conquistadors and Sails that folded early in the 1975-76 season as well as the San Diego Clippers from 1978-84 before that franchise went north to Los Angeles.
In 1971, Breitbart—discouraged by poor results and even poorer attendance—sold the team to Texas Sports Investments, headed by Wayne Duddleston and Billy Goldberg for $5.6 million and it was moved to Houston, the NBA’s first foray into Texas.
Houston had a short-lived ABA franchise, the Houston Mavericks, that played in the first two seasons (1967-68 and 1968-69) of that circuit before moving to Carolina.
The Rockets were sold in 1979 to George Maloof (yes, the father of the future owners of the Sacramento Kings) for $9 million and 24-year-old son Gavin took over the club after his father died in 1980.
Charlie Thomas bought the team for $11 million in 1982, retaining it until it was sold to Leslie Alexander—the current owner—for $85 million in 1993.
Houston has reached the NBA Finals four times.
The first of those was a historic underdog run through the Western Conference in 1981, with the Rockets being the last team to reach the Finals after finishing the regular season with a losing record (40-42). That Rockets team lost to the Boston Celtics in six games.
In 1986, the Rockets were back in the Finals, again losing to Boston in six.
The franchise’s only two championships came back-to-back in 1994 and 1995, culminated by a seven-game triumph over the New York Knicks in the 1994 NBA Finals and a sweep of the Orlando Magic the following year.
Overall, the Rockets are 2,052-1918, a .517 winning percentage that is 10th among the 30 active franchises.
While never posting a 60-win season, the Rockets have won at least 50 games 11 times, with a franchise-record 58-24 mark in 1993-94 leading the way.
There have been two 60-loss seasons. The Rockets were 14-68 in 1982-83 and 15-67 in their expansion 1967-68 campaign.
The club has 30 playoff appearances in 49 seasons, 29 of them in the 45 years they’ve been in Houston. The Rockets have gone to the postseason seven consecutive years on two different occasions (1985-91 and 1993-99).
The longest playoff drought was five years (1970-74) bridging the San Diego and Houston eras.
In 2015-16, the Rockets were 41-41 and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Golden State Warriors.
The franchise has had eight general managers in its 49 seasons. Ray Patterson held the job the longest, from February 1972 through September 1989. Carroll Dawson was GM from August 1996 through May 2007. Current general manager Daryl Morey took the position in May 2007.
Patterson is the only Rockets’ executive to win the NBA’s Executive of the Year award, taking the honor in 1976-77.
There have been 13 coaches of the Rockets, with Rudy Tomjanovich the winningest, posting a 503-397 regular-season record and a 51-39 mark in the playoffs from 1992-2003. Bill Fitch was 216-194 and 21-18 in the playoffs from 1983-88.
Houston has had two Coach of the Year winners, Tom Nissalke in 1976-77 and Don Chaney in 1990-91.
Space City Scoop
Kevin McHale was fired 11 games into last season, with assistant J.B. Bickerstaff finishing the season as interim coach, going 37-34 in the regular season and 1-4 in the playoffs.
Mike D’Antoni was hired as the franchise’s 14th coach on May 26, 2016.
The franchise has had the No. 1 overall pick in the draft five times, but just once in the lottery era. In the 2002 NBA Draft, they chose Yao Ming from China’s Shanghai Sharks with the top pick.
The Rockets’ other first overall picks have included Houston’s Elvin Hayes in 1968, John Lucas of Maryland in 1976 and their back-to-back No. 1 overall selections of Virginia’s Ralph Sampson in 1983 and Hakeem Olajuwon of Houston in 1984.
The Rockets have chosen second once, third once and fifth once, never having the fourth pick.
Here are the 25 best players in the history of the San Diego/Houston Rockets. Players had to have appeared in 150 games and averaged a minimum of 20 minutes per game for the team to qualify for this list.
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