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 titles. The group was established in 1967 as the San Diego Rockets, an expansion team initially based in San Diego. In 1971, the Rockets transferred to Houston.
The Rockets won just 15 matches in their debut season as a franchise in 1967. In the 1968 NBA draft, the Rockets were given the first overall pick and selected power forward Elvin Hayes, who’d lead 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 heart Moses Malone. Malone went on to win the NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) award double while playing the Rockets and headed Houston into the Eastern Conference Finals in his first year with the group. Throughout the 1980–81 season, the Rockets ended the regular season with a 40–42 record. Regardless of their losing record, they qualified for the playoffs. Directed by Malone, the Rockets stunned the whole league by creating their first NBA Finals appearance in 1981, becoming just the second team in NBA history to make the NBA Finals with a losing record. They would lose in six matches 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 group as the 1954–55 Minneapolis Lakers to make it all the way into the NBA Finals with a missing record.
At the 1984 NBA draft, after more with 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 among the tallest leading courts in the NBA. Nicknamed the”Twin Towers”, they headed 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 reach the playoffs throughout the 1980s, but failed to advance past the first round for several years following another round defeat to the Seattle SuperSonics in 1987. Rudy Tomjanovich took over as head coach midway through the 1991–92 season, ushering in the very successful period in franchise history. Led by Olajuwon, the Rockets dominated the 1993–94 season, setting a franchise record 58 wins and went into the 1994 NBA Finals–the third 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 yet 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 had been headed by a youthful Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway. Houston, which finished the season with a 47–35 record and was seeded 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 presence of three of the NBA’s 50 greatest players of all-time (Olajuwon, Drexler, and Barkley) was not sufficient to propel Houston past the Western Conference Finals. Each of the aging trio had abandoned the group by 2001. The Rockets of the early 2000s, headed by superstars Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, followed the trend of consistent regular 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 in 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 director Daryl Morey, are notable for popularizing the use of complex statistical analytics (similar to sabermetrics in baseball) in participant acquisitions and kind of play.
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