From a post-game altercation in a secret tunnel to a sucker punch that could’ve ended a career, let’s take a look at some of the toughest moments in Rockets history.
The intangible value of being tough in the NBA can either make or break a championship run for a team. Bill Laimbeer and the “bad boy” Pistons ran off that fuel of being tough. Dennis Rodman and Charles Oakley established careers and earned rings with that similar play style. Those who undervalue that strength have underestimated some of the greatest players and teams of all time. Detroit and Chicago are tough just like Laimbeer and Rodman. Houston is a beautifully tenacious city, almost demanding that same sense of tenacity from its team and players.
There is an awesome value associated with being able to call yourself: the lowest NBA playoff seed to ever win a championship. Rudy Tomjanovich, and the 1994-1995 Rockets team alone help embody that value with one word: Toughness.
The ’94-‘95 Rockets leaned on that value of being tough enough to earn a championship as a sixth seed; let us never forget Vernon “Mad” Maxwell was on that roster. With the remembrance of that coach and team vaguely established; let’s now explore the toughness of the Rocket’s program as a whole with my top 5 “most tough” moments in Houston Rocket’s history:
Next: No. 5
5. Any of the times Carl Landry knocked out his teeth (2009): (bonus points if he finished the game)
Yes, Carl Landry, who may be one of the most undervalued tough power forwards of the 2000’s, has donated multiple teeth on several different occasions all in support of the bleeding R era Rockets.
One specific occasion during the 2009 season Carl Landry embedded three to five teeth into Dirk Nowitzki’s forearm as a result of a rough collision. Another game in 2009 Carl Landry had a tooth knocked out by Carl Boozer in the second quarter. Landry returned to the game to earn the win and record 11 rebounds.
Also, to add icing on the cavity cake, Carl mentions that Dikembe Mutombo knocked out the same exact tooth earlier that year during practice. Is Carl Landry exceptionally tough or just seriously lacking calcium? Based on his career longevity and statistics, the first option is most likely the correct answer.
Next: No. 4
4. The Hakeem Olajuwon vs. Mitch Kupchak, John Lucas, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy Fight. (1986):
The 1980’s was the decade that established the Rockets as a gritty fighting team underneath those bright Summit lights (the same arena that is now Joel Osteen’s mega church). The 1985 and 1986 seasons both have a profound number of altercations, usually a catalyst of Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon’s tough play style.
This W.C.F series specifically shows Hakeem Olajuwon consistently being fouled without call until he snapped and connected one of the meanest left hooks on Mitch Kupchak. John Lucas, James Worthy, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did not appreciate the gesture. The Lakers’ impressive team response, which resulted in a scurry, really embodies what 1980’s NBA playoff basketball seemed to represent.
This fight is important for what it represents, a decade of patience and maturity for Hakeem Olajuwon that many believe foreshadow his dominant championship winning 1994 and 1995 seasons.
Next: No. 3
3. Chris Paul, James Harden, and the secret clippers tunnel post-game altercation (2018):
There is something absolutely special about the collective effort and intellect the Rockets put in towards finding the Clippers locker room post-game in 2018. Although, the story differentiates from source to source, it is clear that an effort was made by select members of our team to extend “communication” post-game to the Clippers.
Regardless of speculation about what actually happened in that secret tunnel, it is hilarious that the Clippers now offer paid tours of the “secret tunnel.” Even more hilarious; Chris Paul refusing to acknowledge the incident to the media while simultaneously posting a picture of a satirical secret tunnel on his snapchat account.
Next: No. 2
2. The infamous Charles Barkley vs. Shaquille O’Neal fight (1999).
This scenario alone seems like a NHL meets NBA mega-fan’s fantasy situation. A slightly bloated Charles Barkley throwing the ball directly at a prime Shaquille O’Neal‘s face after Shaq barely grazed him on a rebound effort.
Something is iconic about the look Barkley gives Shaq right before they throw down; a dumbfounded “are we really going to do this?” type look. I would’ve put my money on Shaq over Barkley any day in that fight.
Part of any true NBA fan wishes that scenario might have played out a bit longer; maybe it would allowed a release and less catty dialogue between the two on national television for decades post-retirement. Maybe this was all a release of frustration sprouting from the fact that Charles Barkley never won a championship ring; and at that point within his career the opportunities were growing slim in the shadow of the Kobe and Shaq show.
Next: No. 2
#1 Rudy Tomjanovich’s career response towards Kermit Washington’s sucker punch (1977):
If there has ever been a more cowardly moment in pro sports then Kermit Washington’s sucker punch of Rudy Tomjanovich please comment below and let us know. Our beloved “Never underestimate the heart of a champion” coach and former player was sucker punched in the 1977 season resulting in multiple nearly fatal skull injuries.
He dislocated his skull and started leaking fluid from his brain as well as bleeding immediately on the hardwood floor after the punch thrown by Kermit Washington. Rudy T. was only running towards Kermit Washington in defense of his San Diego Rockets teammate Kevin Kunnart.
However fitting; Tomjanovich would lead the Rockets organization towards the only two championships in history as a coach about 20 years later. There is nothing tough or cool about this situation other than the way Rudy Tomjanovich healed, accepted the apology, and moved on as a man.
Coach and player Tomjanovich will forever embody that sense of tough clutch that makes this organization special. Not only did Rudy transcend adversity on the court on the NBA by maintaining an exceptional player and coaching career after the nearly fatal sucker punch; he exemplified that toughness on the court in a very specific way as well. In 2003, Rudy Tomjanovich and family announced that his cancer was in remission, only reaffirming how tough and loved this man really is.