Houston Rockets: The 15 greatest centers of all-time

By Tevin Williams
Houston Rockets - Hakeem Olajuwon (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Houston Rockets - Hakeem Olajuwon (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Brian Drake/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Brian Drake/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Center. Ralph Sampson. 5. 169. .

The Rockets selected Ralph Sampson with the first pick in the 1983 NBA Draft. Sampson quickly made his mark on the league, averaging 21 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game in his first season. Those numbers were good enough for Sampson to be named the 1983-84 NBA Rookie of the Year.

In the 1984 NBA Draft, the Rockets had the good fortune of selecting the No. 1 pick for a consecutive season and they took Hakeem Olajuwon. With their front court established, Sampson helped lead the Rockets to the NBA Finals in 1986, but unfortunately Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics were just too much for a young Rockets team.

Like the 2012 Oklahoma City Thunder, most people expected the Rockets to compete in the NBA Finals for years to come after so much success early on. Unfortunately, Sampson’s body started to betray him and injuries turned him into a shell of his former self.

Sampson was an All-Star in each of his first four seasons, but the Rockets traded him to the Golden State Warriors in his fifth season when they probably realized that Sampson just wasn’t going to stay healthy.

He spent a season and a half in Golden State, two seasons with the Sacramento Kings and then one season with the Washington Bullets before retiring after the 1991-92 season at just 31 years old. Sampson never averaged more than 6.4 points per game in any of his four full seasons outside of Houston.

But in the end, it wasn’t all doom and gloom for Ralph Sampson. In four and a half seasons with the Rockets, he averaged 19.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. He was a four-time All-Star and an All-Star Game MVP. Sampson made the 1984-85 All-NBA second team and he even made it into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. This is due in large part to his time in Houston, as well as his outstanding career in the ACC at Virginia.