Houston Rockets: 30 Greatest players in franchise history

By Ben Beecken
Houston Rockets Hakeem Olajuwon, Kenny Smith, Robert Horry, Vernon Maxwell, Otis Thorpe (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Hakeem Olajuwon, Kenny Smith, Robert Horry, Vernon Maxwell, Otis Thorpe (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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Ralph Sampson #50 of the Houston Rockets. (Photo by Brian Drake/NBAE via Getty Images)
Ralph Sampson #50 of the Houston Rockets. (Photo by Brian Drake/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Center. Ralph Sampson. 8. 169. .


  • Five seasons with the Rockets (1983-88)

  • Averaged 19.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game

  • 4x All-Star with the Rockets

You’ll find Ralph Sampson‘s name near the top of nearly every “what could have been” list in sports history.

Sampson, a 7-foot-4 center with offensive skill that would rival any other center in league history, dominated the league in his first two seasons. He played all 82 games in each campaign, being named to All-Star teams each year and averaging 21.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game over the course of the two seasons.

But it was in just his third season in the NBA, at the ripe old age of 25, that the knee issues started to pop up. Sampson managed to play in 79 games that season and still make the All-Star team, while averaging 18.9 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. However, the next year saw Sampson play in only 43 games, as he made the final All-Star team of his career.

Sampson bounced back to start the first 19 games of the 1987-88 campaign before he was shipped off to the Golden State Warriors, where he completed the season and managed to appear in 61 games the following year. But he was limited to 17.8 minutes per game, which severely limited his impact.

Sampson then spent two years with the Sacramento Kings, playing only 51 total games across the two seasons. His career finished with 10 games with the Washington Bullets in 1991-92.

For as amazing as Sampson was as a 23-year and 24-year-old big man, it’s impossible to know what he could have become if it weren’t for the injuries that allowed him to only play in just over half potential games over his 10-year NBA career.

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