The Houston Rockets are an American professional basketball team located in Houston, Texas. The Rockets compete at the National Basketball Association (NBA) as part of the 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 has been established in 1967 as the San Diego Rockets, an expansion team originally based in San Diego. Back in 1971, the Rockets transferred to Houston.
The Rockets won only 15 games in their debut season for a franchise in 1967. In the 1968 NBA draft, the Rockets were given the first overall choice and chosen power forward Elvin Hayes, who would lead the team to its first playoff appearance in his rookie season. The Rockets didn’t finish a season with a winning record for almost a decade until the 1976–77 year, even when they exchanged for All-Star heart Moses Malone. Malone went on to win the NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) award double while playing the Rockets and headed Houston to the Eastern Conference Finals in his first year with the group. Throughout the 1980–81 year, the Rockets ended the regular season with a 40–42 record. Regardless of 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’d lose in six matches to the 62–20 Boston Celtics, led by Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and future Rockets’ head coach Kevin McHale. As of 2019, the 1980–81 Rockets are the last group as the 1954–55 Minneapolis Lakers to make it all the way into the NBA Finals with a losing record.
At the 1984 NBA draft, once again with the first overall selection, the Rockets drafted center Hakeem Olajuwon, who would become the cornerstone of the most 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 led the team to the 1986 NBA Finals–the second NBA Finals appearance in franchise history–where Houston was defeated by Larry Bird and the 67-win Boston Celtics. The Rockets continued to achieve the playoffs throughout the 1980s, but failed to advance beyond the first round for many years after another 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 prosperous period in franchise history. Directed by Olajuwon, the Rockets dominated the 1993–94 season, setting a franchise record 58 wins and moved to the 1994 NBA Finals–the third NBA Finals appearance in franchise history–also won the franchise’s first championship against Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks. During the following season, bolstered by another All-Star, Clyde Drexler, the Rockets–in their NBA Finals appearance in franchise history–repeated as champions with a four-game sweep of the Orlando Magic, who were led by a young Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway. Houston, which finished the season with a 47–35 record and has been sixth in the Western Conference during the 1995 playoffs, became the lowest-seeded team in NBA history to win the title.
The Rockets acquired all-star forward Charles Barkley in 1996, but the existence of three of the NBA’s 50 greatest players of all time (Olajuwon, Drexler, and Barkley) wasn’t enough to propel Houston beyond the Western Conference Finals. Each of the aging trio had left the team 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. After 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 into championship contention from the mid-2010s.
Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, and James Harden have been called the NBA’s Most Valuable Player while playing for the Rockets, for a total of four MVP awards. The Rockets, under general manager Daryl Morey, are notable for popularizing the use of advanced statistical analytics (similar to sabermetrics in baseball) in participant acquisitions and kind of play.
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