BY: HIREN JOSHI
May 25th, 1997, fifteen years to the day, Eddie Johnson made one of the most memorable game winning shots in Rockets history.
It was the 1997 Western Conference Finals, and the Rockets were down 2-1 to the dreaded Utah Jazz. Without Eddie’s heroics the Rockets would have been in a 3-1 hole, and we all know how difficult that is to recover from.
I remember the game vividly. Where I was, what I did as he hit that shot, and how prolific the moment was for Rockets fans all across Houston.
Bill Walton was covering the game, and Jim Gray was sideline reporting. These playoff games were on NBC back in the day, and when “The NBA on NBC,” theme music played, you knew you were watching a big time matchup, with big time significance.
“This is Hakeem time,” Walton said. “Jim Gray reports from the Houston Rockets huddle, Hakeem early, then Barkley, and then Eddie Johnson next.”
The third option became the only option as time quickly winded down, and Eddie hoisted up a prayer. The ball hit nothing but the bottom of the net, and Eddie put his hands up to the sky in a sense of gratitude and amazement. Eddie was so shocked, he ran all the way to the other end of the court until he was mobbed by his teammates. The look on Eddie’s face was simply priceless.
While the sold out crowd in Houston kept chanting “Eddie, Eddie, Eddie,” Jim Gray grabbed Eddie before he entered the tunnel and asked about the magical moment that had just occurred.
“I saw Clyde got double teamed, and in that situation it’s a no pressure shot,” Johnson said. “We miss we go to overtime, you know at 38 years old to get to experience this… not many 38 year olds get that.”
After the yelling subsided in my household, I remember going out to dinner with friends and family, and every single restaurant had Rockets fever. Owners saw the rush, fans were wearing Rockets gear, and the city could not have been more proud of the Rockets that night.
It was a magical moment for the Rockets, after tasting what championship success felt like a few years prior. With a core of Olajuwon, Drexler, and Barkely, the Rockets chances were looking good. Though the series ended in heartbreak, the moment will live on for years to come.
The Rockets have given us some great moments since then, but hopefully the future entails new postseason miracles for Red Nation.