Given the town’s strong ties to space exploration, you’ve probably never thought twice about how the Houston Rockets got their nickname. Incredibly, the moniker actually comes from the franchise’s original home of San Diego, where Atlas rockets were being produced when the team debuted in 1967. However, after four seasons in Southern California, the club charted a new course and soon saw its fortunes take off.
While the move to Houston took place in ‘71, it was during the ‘74-75 campaign that the Rockets truly announced their arrival. The team posted its first .500 season and made its debut in the second round of the playoffs. Two years later, the club acquired big man Moses Malone, and the rest of the league began to pay attention. A 12-time All-Star and the first player in history to forgo college to for the professional ranks, Malone was a one-man wrecking crew who nabbed MVP honors in ‘78-79 on the strength of his 24.8 points and 17.6 rebounds per game. In ‘80-81, he carried the Rockets to the NBA Finals, which made them the first professional sports team from Houston to compete for a world championship. Malone would pull down a second MVP award in ‘81-82 before being dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers, but he wouldn’t be the last giant to suit up for the franchise.
The team’s 1983 draft pick Ralph Sampson was technically taller at 7’4”, but it was 1984 selection Hakeem Olajuwon who would cast the largest shadow in Rockets history. After a successful college career as a member of “Phi Slama Jama” at the University of Houston, Olajuwon helped steer the franchise to an NBA Finals appearance in ‘85-86, and by the ‘90s, he was viewed as one of game’s most tremendous talents. His patented “Dream Shake” was the stuff of nightmares, as it proved to be practically unstoppable. In ‘93-94, Olajuwon was named both league MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, and topped those accomplishments by leading Houston to its first title and walking away with the Finals MVP trophy. The following year, “The Dream” was reunited with his former college teammate, Clyde Drexler, and together, the pair of All-Stars captured Houston’s second NBA crown.
In the new millennium, the franchise tradition of producing 7-foot All-Stars continued with the emergence of center Yao Ming, who became an international sensation after arriving in the league from China. At the Toyota Center, the Rockets take fans young and old to bold new heights by counting on both the Space City Seniors and the Little Dippers to psych them up before battle. It’s also not unusual to see diehards wearing fake facial hair as folks show support for their MVB (Most Valuable Beard), James Harden. Put simply, as long as you’re prepared to cheer for the full 60 minutes and wear the Red and Yellow, you’ll be welcomed with open arms in Houston.