Monday, 11 November 2013
HOUSTON ROCKETS Feature-HOUSTON...WE HAVE A LEGACY
By TIM DAVID HARVEY
The Boston Celtics? The Los Angeles Lakers? Who comes to your mind when you think of the National Basketball Associations most storied franchises in all of the leagues classic history? The New York Knicks? The Philadelphia 76ers or the Detroit Pistons maybe? Or how about the Chicago Bulls for you golden era babies? After the double threat of Beantown and L.A., there is argument that many of these teams and one day the chasing and celebrating San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat could lay claim to the top brass of Hall Of Fame franchises. Still, let's not forget about the rest who are aiming for best. You saw Hakeem, Yao, Clyde the Glyde, Elvin Hayes, John Lucas and Calvin Murphy at the Dwight Howard press conference. Yes, that's right more than the pair of chips or the idea that this team are as 90's as the Seattle Supersonics or those large logo jerseys the Houston Rockets have always been there and thereabouts and now with Howard's end of Disneyworld and Hollywood landing him in Texas alongside the Linsanity revolution and that beard, the future of these propelled Rockets feels like the other side of the pillow. With a new big three and some more steps to take this team could be more than just atop the Texas trifecta of the seasoned but stellar San Antonio Spurs and those Mavericks in Dallas. Looking better than those new 'Motor City' Detroit Piston or 'Hollywood Nights' Laker jerseys, with a nice new/classic red away themselves, this could be the team that brings it home and creates a legacy that makes their legends and history proud.
The story of this red, white and silvers quest for gold began in the green and white of San Diego like one Ron Burgundy. Robert Breitbard was the anchorman however buying this team for $1.75 mill and entering the league's expansion draft in 1967 with their fist pick being one slick, young Patrick Riley. A coin toss a year later against the Baltimore Bullets reversed their 67 record breaking loss debut season fortunes as it brought in the Rockets fist bolstering franchise star and legend in Elvin Hayes who came from the University of Houston. Then before the Rockets themselves made a reverse Hayes and moved to Houston, the San Diego Rockets drafted franchise lifers Calvin Murphy whose smooth game slid down the corridors of the Hall of Fame and the perfect player who turned into the champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich. In H-town the pair became All-Stars for the lone states first NBA franchise that really took off in the American home of space travel. The Rockets truly belonged in Houston and as they brought in the great triangle mind of Tex Winter the future looked bright for the fall season. Still, however after Hayes was traded and then Tex was replaced in Texas it was clear this team was in need of a classic change like their uniform. The city suited them just fine, but there needed to be a new linchpin to leave his legacy. The man to part the sea of problems came in the superfly seventies, looking like Curtis Mayfield in those goggles and his name was Moses.
The big-man Malone before Karl gave Houston a special delivery as he first great center for a franchise that is currently chasing the Lakers in more ways than one when it comes to being known for having a legendary legacy of 7 footers. One of the leagues best ever and most underrated ushered in a great era for basketball Gods as the team moved to 'The Summit'. Moses almost took the Rockets to the mountain-top behind a force of big boards and dominating dunks. The big-three of Malone, Murphy and Rudy T made the All-Star and playoff rounds, but when Houston sent star John Lucas II for one of the Barry brothers in Rick, they where delivered an almost perfect 94.7% from the line. The Sinatra of Houston was still the 'Chairman Of The Boards' as Moses and his boys went four for Texas, battling with a new franchise in Dallas and then 'The Iceman' George Gervin in the classic decade making 'Battle Of Texas' with the legendary San Antonio Spurs. Murphy's 42 points in a hostile Lakers vs Boston like Game 7 gave Houston arguably it's biggest moral and literal victory to date. After beating the Kansas City Kings the Rockets couldn't capitalize over the elite Celtics franchise in the finals however, despite everyone from Mike Dunleavy to Major Jones stepping it up hugely. Moses may not have been able to lead the Rockets all the way but he started a soaring legacy that could be seen from any space in the hoops hemisphere.
The legacy became two bigs better in the eighties that wasn't just all about Magic and Bird's teams and the pre-M.J. revolution they brought to the increasingly televised league. Before San Antonio had the dynasty making twins of Tim Duncan and the admiral David Robinson, Houston had their own 'two towers' that posed under the World Trade Center and had the ability to become the Lord Of The Rings with the most all-encompassing frontcourt game since Bill Russell. The only man that could replace Moses was well, two in the form of 83/83 Rookie Of The Year Ralph Sampson and his Delilah in Hakeem Olajuwon. Hakeem may have been drafted over the greatest of all-time Michael Jordan but he was never considered a Sam Bowie, as Houston blazed Portland and everybody that tried to burn the paintwork made by their two ladder climbers. It almost looked like 'Showtime' with the alley-oops and spinning reverse jams but Chick Hearn knew that if the NBA in the eighties belonged to the Celtics, when it came to west it belonged to the Magic best Lakers coached by the first player the Rockets ever drafted. It almost seemed not meant to be. Besides even with the young Sampson and Olajuwon the Lakers still had the veteran cap and greatest scorer of all-time Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with that unguarded, unstoppable sky-hook shot that sunk everyone down the line. Still, the Rockets managed to steal the show from L.A., but yet again in the finals they couldn't leave the town of Boston without anything but their wounded pride in a valiant Finals effort and the certification from champion Celtic coach K.C. Jones who called the Rocks the new "monsters on the block".
The Rocket monster really came alive outside the pacific rim of Laker machine like domination in the 90's where Hakeem and Houston really came into their evolved own. In a decade that was dominated by the Michael Jordan and his six time winning Chicago Bulls, Houston still managed to get two of the other four behind the man that was drafted two spots above Mike. It was all a dream, that you could read in SLAM or Dime magazine as Olajuwon's Sega Genesis video game like play and soccer skills gave him the fancy footwork in the paint that could dream shake anybody out of their groove. Even with Ewing and Mourning against him he was the leagues notorious B.I.G in the key. You remember that picture of 'Keem holding the young, smiling Shaquille O'Neal in his arms like a new born 7 foot, 300 pound baby? Well that move by the dubbed 'most dominant ever' was as wrong as the time he slapped Michael Jordan on the behind after dominating him for a half (Mike saw that as vulnerability and turned the tables and dominant tides in the second half) as Olajuwon owned the rising rookie and his commercially successful first guard partner in everybody's Chris Rock favorite Penny Hardaway as they swept their way to the Finals and 1995 championship, (the first ever for a sixth seed). They first met Larry O'Brien a year before in their golden era led by new coach and former player Rudy T who has been the ultimate Rocket man for a quarter century. A cult 90's era that saw an NBA nucleus of notoriety. A core that featured the dribbled walk behind the talk of Kenny Smith, the ever dependable and underrated role legends Vernon Maxwell, Mario Elie, Tracy Murray and Otis Thorpe, the point guards point guard in Sam Cassell and the original clutch of Robert Horry before L.A. or San Antonio. Horry shot and dunked the light s out while Cassell sold everybody on his point making play, but yet again it was the prime-time of Hakeem that made this team as fresh as their pinstripe, planet logo jerseys as the Rockets rocked everyone, with their snarling, shark, cartoon eyes on the prize shooting Rocket graphic.
Another son of Houston arrived via a few gap years away from the university as Clyde Drexler glided away from Portland and gave the Rockets it's next dynamic double dose of anti-Jordan. The guy that lived in Mike's Nike Jumpman, silhouette shadow like all the swingmen for his whole, classic career may have been born in the wrong time, but not the right season as he finally earned the ring that was always a Jordan shrug away from him as a Trailblazer. This veteran double-act had an expiration on it like those very 90's feeling fashion jerseys however. Still, before the duet was sung out, they where joined by one more collaborator for another and one of the best big-threes of all-time as the mound of Charles Barkley rounded out his career in H-town after taking his rebounds away from the Phoenix Suns. Joining his future analyst partner in Kenny 'The Jet' Smith, Bark helped his team bite away at the West, with explosive TNT combos's across the floor and bench. It took Cassell, Horry, Mark Bryant and Chucky Brown to get him but Sir Charles arose with the thrust-powered Rockets and made a holy trinity sent from the basketball Gods that only needed more time to be as elite as their player resumes. After Drexler's dunks retired with the hanging up, called time on his spring loaded sneakers, M.J's partner in champagne crime Scottie Pippen was brought in after the Jordan retired Chicago fallout. It was certainly a different time in the golden era dawning 90's as the elite, ageing stars showed signs of their last paychecks. Barkley and Pippen didn't always see eye to eye or name to name as Bark once as number 34 once refereed to Pip only as 'number 33' and after Pippen made his trade for Portland, time was called on Chuck's career due to injury.
It almost looked insulting for the legacy of a team that was so close to dynasty status, but after Steve Francis spurned the Canadian cold Vancouver Grizzlies, the winds of draft change brought in the next great player for this formidably strong through anything franchise. Especially after Hakeem Olajuwon made his way up North to Toronto for an exciting Raptor season for the country it was truly the forced beginning of a new era as change had come. An ice shivering 28-54 season marked the first year after the 20 years of Hakeem and his two decade dream. Those about to sleep on Houston however need to look further East. Even though the dunking dynamo of the dubbed Steve 'Franchise' (and his underrated cat and backcourt partner Cuttino Mobley) brought enough energy, excitement and entertainment to give this baller a 'Cribs' worthy home including a deluxe everything and the kitchen sink, the foundations of this franchises true future laid past the great wall of China. With the next great draft and a LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony color and uniform changing re-brand to suit the red and white and typography of the next big things homeland, the Rockets drafted the 7, 6 Yao Ming. The only man who could truly hope to stand taller than Shaquille O'Neal, this man looked tall enough to be launched into space. He propelled the Rockets as far as his brief but brilliant career could take him. Despite critics writing him off his strong but slight, injury-prone frame rounded into a body of work that saw a soft touch to go with a strong will that gave the giant Shaquille one of his only real threats and the Rockets team it's next great franchise star and the one of a two punch.
As Francis court tricks where offered to Magic, Tracy McGrady made his way from Orlando and what could have been with Grant Hill for an on paper, perfect partnership with Yao in the Shaq and Kobe, big, small dominated new millennium. Yao and Mac really gave Houston new hope and their threat came with promising play, but injuries and time yet again drained the sand out of an unlucky franchise who in another life would be the best. Despite Yao's next generation of center in a dying age of big men and Tracy's Mac play and his epic 13 points in 35 seconds in another battle for Texas with the Spurs, the Rockets couldn't click as well as their taking off predictions. Houston had a problem...a postseason one and when it came to the playoffs they where Apollo 13, unlucky and lost. McGrady's first-round curse continued as his slumped head and no words tears in an infamous press conference showed both his immeasurable hurt and his heart all in one lack of a soundbite. The somewhat curiously nicknamed 'Rush Hour' duo, looked and sounded as thrilling as Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker but wouldn't have their own three-peat trilogy. The kicks this unlucky as underrated team took weren't funny. Even in their brand new Toyota Center arena, behind new coach Jeff van Gundy, the team couldn't motor on behind the legendary New York teachings of JVG. Even with a Rick Adelman coaching change and the defensive specialist help of another giant great Dikembe Mutombo (whose career resurgence in Houston, earns his place in Rocket big-man legend lore) and the Metta World Peace formerly known as Ron Artest, Houston couldn't top another Kobe led Lakes dominated decade. Even with Yao's heart and dedication trying to walk back on-court after a career ending ankle break. The years after the Ming dynasty and the latest era elusive time saw rebuilding and the talented likes of Kevin Martin, Trevor Ariza, Carl Landry, Luther Head, Aaron Brooks and today's Chandler Parsons take competitive shape in the problem solving Houston that's always been consistent and dependable like their own one-time veteran leader Shane Battier.
Still, today is a new day led by the hair of James Harden's chinny, chin, chin. With a game and beard that nobody saw coming the Oklahoma City Thunder's big-three loss is truly the Houston Rockets franchise game. Even with the biggest thing to hit New York since Godzilla and the monster free-agent signing of the past two years, this is Harden's team. Fear the beard and the scoring prowess of one of the leagues best that is taking fans, opponents, coaches, All-Star votes, scouts and cheerleaders by storm but still is somewhat underrated. Who knows how high this mans ceiling or how long this mans beard can possibly grow. After taking over New York and the world like the Avengers, the Linsanity of Jeremy Lin is still something to marvel at as the point guard gives Houston it's next great major player in the Asian market since the heartbreaking continent boundary breaking loss of Yao. Now with the dunks and blocks (even if-albeit outstretched-they cant clutch at Steve Blake winning shots in a nightmare L.A. reunion which this Lakers fan has to boast about for a second) of Dwight Howard coming into play, Houston hopes this Rocket big-three will be the third bowl of porridge and orbit around the world longer than previous expeditions for their time in the sun. Who knows how great Harden could be in this LeBron/Kobe/Durant power scoring, dominating league, who knows if Jeremy Lin can bring more basketball buzz to his game than the mecca New York hype and who knows if Howard will recover from the style over substance years in Orlando and Los Angeles or have another 'Dwightmare'? One things for sure this is a Houston Rocket team of stars worthy of its underrated, storied history, from big-men to guards and all-round all-stars and role players over the decades chapters. As Howard looks to lead the big-man legend and legacy of his new team to the potential of the franchise and NBA's promised land who knows what could happen for this out of the world franchise that has recovered from it's gravity induced, grounding, spaced out years to a new altitude and atmosphere looking for new trajectory and latitude. Who knows the next time Olajuwon, Ming, Drexler, Hayes, Lucas and Murphy and more surround a smiling Dwight Howard, he might just be holding a Larry O'Brien championship trophy as well as a number 12 jersey. Right now the supports have come off, the ice has fallen to the launch pad as the future of this franchises past promise is in his hands. The Houston Rocket is cleared for lift off.