The Houston Rockets are an American professional basketball team located in Houston, Texas. The Rockets compete in the National Basketball Association (NBA) as a member of this league’s Western Conference Southwest Division. The team plays its home games at the Toyota Center, located in downtown Houston. The Rockets have won two NBA championships and four Western Conference names. The team was established in 1967 as the San Diego Rockets, a growth team originally based in San Diego. In 1971, the Rockets transferred to Houston.
The Rockets won only 15 games in their debut season for a franchise in 1967. From the 1968 NBA draft, the Rockets were given the first overall pick and selected power forward Elvin Hayes, who would direct the team to its first playoff appearance in his rookie season. The Rockets did not complete a season with a winning record for almost a decade before the 1976–77 year, even when they exchanged for All-Star center Moses Malone. Malone went on to win the NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) award twice while playing with the Rockets and led Houston into the Eastern Conference Finals in his first year with the team. During the 1980–81 year, the Rockets finished the regular season with a 40–42 record. Despite their losing record, they qualified for the playoffs. Led by Malone, the Rockets stunned the entire league by making their first NBA Finals appearance in 1981, becoming only the second team in NBA history to make the NBA Finals with a losing record. They would drop in six games to the 62–20 Boston Celtics, led by Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and potential Rockets’ head coach Kevin McHale. As of 2019, the 1980–81 Celtics would be the last team since the 1954–55 Minneapolis Lakers to make it all the way into the NBA Finals with a losing record.
In the 1984 NBA draft, after again using the first overall selection, the Rockets drafted center Hakeem Olajuwon, who’d become the cornerstone of the very prosperous period in franchise history. Paired with 7 ft 4 inches (2.24 m) Ralph Sampson, they formed one of the greatest front courts in the NBA. Nicknamed the”Twin Towers”, they headed the group into the 1986 NBA Finals–the next NBA Finals appearance in franchise history–in which Houston was defeated by Larry Bird and the 67-win Boston Celtics. The Celtics continued to reach the playoffs during the 1980s, but failed to progress beyond the first round for many years after a second round defeat to the Seattle SuperSonics at 1987. Rudy Tomjanovich took over as head coach midway through the 1991–92 season, ushering in the most successful period in franchise history. Led by Olajuwon, the Rockets dominated the 1993–94 season, setting a franchise record 58 wins and went to the 1994 NBA Finals–the next NBA Finals appearance in franchise history–and won the franchise’s first championship against Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks. During the following season, reinforced by another All-Star, Clyde Drexler, the Rockets–in their fourth NBA Finals appearance in franchise history–repeated as champions with a four-game sweep of the Orlando Magic, who had been led by a young Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway. Houston, which finished the season with a 47–35 album and has been seeded sixth in the Western Conference during the 1995 playoffs, became the lowest-seeded group in NBA history to win the title.
The Rockets acquired all-star forward Charles Barkley in 1996, but the presence of three of the NBA’s 50 greatest players of all time (Olajuwon, Drexler, and Barkley) was not enough to propel Houston past the Western Conference Finals. Every one of the aging trio had left the group by 2001. The Rockets of the early 2000s, headed by superstars Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, followed the trend of constant routine season respectability followed by playoff underachievement as both players struggled with injuries. Following Yao’s early retirement in 2011, the Rockets entered a period of rebuilding, completely dismantling and retooling their roster. The purchase of franchise player James Harden in 2012 has established the Rockets back to championship contention in the mid-2010s.
Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, and James Harden happen to be called the NBA’s Most Valuable Player while playing for the Rockets, for a total of four MVP awards. The Rockets, under general director Daryl Morey, are noteworthy for popularizing the use of advanced statistical analytics (similar to sabermetrics in baseball) in player acquisitions and kind of play.
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