Who is the most despised Houston Rocket ever? This is a question that many will have different answers on: some say Tracy McGrady(a tenure marred by injuries), some say Yao Ming(same as T-Mac, injuries almost defined his career on the court), some say Vernon Maxwell(no need to get into ‘Mad Max’s character). But for Yahoo! Contributor Mike De Moor, Ralph Sampson is the most despised Rocket ever in his eyes.
But do injuries justify hate? If that is the criteria and logic, then Greg Oden would be the most hated person in the NBA. Is it disappointing to see a player with an unlimited ceiling be hampered by injuries? Yes. Is it frustrating for fans to see their favorite team invest millions of dollars to somebody who has trouble staying on the court(or field)? Absolutely. But does that make them hated? The majority will say no.
Sampson was rookie of the year in 1983-’84, averaging 21 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks for a 29-win Rockets team. But after Houston drafted Hakeem Olajuwon the next season, the Twin Tower duo became a dominant bunch. In Olajuwon’s rookie season, the duo combined to average 42.7 points, 22.3 rebounds and 4.7 blocks per game and a playoff berth, and carried the Rockets all the way to the NBA finals in 1986, where they would eventually lose in 6 games to the Boston Celtics. While it looked like the ceiling was infinite for the Rockets franchise, the ’85-’86 season would be the peak, as Sampson began suffering injuries in the ’86-’87 season, and was dealt to the Golden State Warriors in 1988.
De Moor connects Sampson to another Portland Trail Blazers big man, Sam Bowie, who will forever be remembered as the infamous no. 2 pick in the 1983 draft, the pick before Michael Jordan was selected. But an injury-riddled career held the Blazers franchise back from being a championship contender for nearly a decade. But where’s the connection? Sampson actually produced and helped carry the Rockets to Western Conference supremacy, while Bowie, in essence, was nothing more than just a role player.
“Sampson had the most disappointing career of any Rocket to date, as him and Olajuwon once appeared headed for greatness, but Sampson’s injuries forced the Rockets franchise into a tailspin.
Houston didn’t get out of the second round of the playoffs again until the 1993-94 season, when Olajuwon led the Rockets to their first title in franchise history. If Sampson would have stayed healthy, and the rest of the ’86 supporting cast kept their heads straight (Lloyd and Mitchell Wiggins were suspended for cocaine use, and Lucas, an alcoholic, suffered a relapse), they could have been the premier team of the ’80s, but, instead, they turned out to be just another team that almost got itself a ring.
Sampson’s career will be forever entwined with the “What if?” label, as the Rockets’ faithful were cheated out of a decade of greatness. Fortunately, for the Rockets, they were able to win a couple titles during Michael Jordan’s baseball years, which seems like a crooked kind of redemption for a franchise that was the victim of circumstance.”
Oh, the “what if” games and scenarios are always fun to play. So let’s play this game: what if Scottie Pippen’s tenure with the Rockets lasted longer than 7 months in 1999? To start, we must go back to 1997 first.
After the Rockets decided to trade away Robert Horry, Sam Cassell, Chucky Brown, and Mark Bryant for superstar Charles Barkley in 1996, the Big 3 duo of Barkley, Clyde Drexler, and Olajuwon carried the Rockets to the Western Conference Finals against the Utah Jazz, before a John Stockton buzzer-beater in game 6 broke the hearts of Clutch City. The 3 future hall of famers, all on their last wheels, needed more help for the Rockets to remain championship contenders. Injuries and age cost Houston the ’97-’98 season as they lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Jazz again, and Drexler retired after the season. A youth movement was in need.
The Rockets drafted Michael Dickerson and Cuttino Mobley in 1998, and made the biggest headline weeks before the NBA lock-out was scheduled to end in January 1999 when they acquired Pippen for basically a sack of marbles(taking nearly all of Pippen’s new 5-year $67-million contract for Roy Rogers and a 2nd-round pick). The Big 3 was reloaded; Olajuwon and Barkley on their last legs, joined by Pippen, who was still in his prime at that time to make a championship run, and Pippen to be the face of the franchise in the next few years to come.
But the vision turned into a travesty. The Rockets played pretty well in the regular season, finishing 31-19 in a lock-out shortened season despite Pippen and Barkley feuding throughout the season, but flopped in the playoffs, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in 4 games, 3-1. While Barkley was at most going to play 1 more season, Pippen felt like he didn’t want to stick around anymore, and demanded a trade after the two got into some heated arguments traveling together for a Nike Tour that summer. And so, the Rockets shipped away Pippen to the Blazers, for his satisfaction only. In return, Houston got Kelvin Cato, Stacey Augmon, Walt Williams, Ed Gray, Brian Shaw and Carlos Rogers, that lead to 4 years in the lottery, a doormat in the Western Conference, 10 years before winning a 1st-round playoff series, and PLENTY of bad contracts and decisions(Maurice Taylor, Kelvin Cato, Eddie Griffin, Glen Rice etc.)
Let’s put this in perspective: the Rockets traded away Dickerson for Steve Francis in the summer of ’99 before they shipped away Pippen, so the future all-star would have been paired up; add Mobley, Olajuwon as a role player, and the Rockets would have a solid core after Barkley retired.
No, the Rockets would not have instantly become championship front runners, like the tandem of Sampson and Olajuwon would have been, but they would have been Western Conference contenders for the following years.
You can’t hate a player for something they can’t control(injuries), but you can definitely hate a player for not being able to control his mouth. Scottie felt the need to tear Barkley down publicly, and his actions set the Rockets franchise into irrelevance for a period of time. That’s why he’s the most despised Rocket.