Houston Rockets, professional basketball team and one of seven teams in the Midwest Division of the Western Conference of the National Basketball Association (NBA). The Houston Rockets play in the Compaq Center in Houston, Texas, and wear jerseys of blue, red, and white.
The Houston Rockets reached the NBA Finals in 1981 and 1986 but lost to the Boston Celtics both times. Led by center Hakeem Olajuwon, the team won its first NBA title in 1994, becoming the first professional team from Houston to win a major sports championship. With the addition of veteran guard Clyde Drexler, the Rockets won a second NBA championship in 1995. In addition to Olajuwon, several other top centers have played for the franchise, including Elvin Hayes, Moses Malone, and Ralph Sampson.
The Houston Rockets were originally located in San Diego, California. The club entered the NBA in 1967 along with another expansion team, the Seattle SuperSonics. In its debut season San Diego compiled a 15-67 win-loss record to set an NBA record for losses. (The Philadelphia 76ers broke that record during the 1972-73 season with a 9-73 win-loss record). The Houston Rockets’ record entitled them to the first selection in the league’s collegiate draft, and they chose Elvin Hayes from the University of Houston. As a rookie Hayes led the league in scoring with an average of 28.4 points per game and helped the Houston Rocketss earn their first trip to the playoffs in 1969.
After failing to win much fan support in four seasons in San Diego, the club relocated to Houston for the 1971-72 season. In a city that traditionally supported football, the Houston Rockets gained fans slowly, averaging only 4,966 fans per game in their inaugural season in Houston. But they reached the playoffs in 1975, led by guard Calvin Murphy and forward Rudy Tomjanovich. Early in 1976 the club acquired Moses Malone, who was the first basketball player to advance directly from high school to professional play. With Malone, Murphy, and Tomjanovich, the Houston Rockets won the Central Division in 1977 and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Malone won the most valuable player (MVP) award in 1979 and placed first in rebounding and second in scoring during the 1980-81 season. Despite a 40-42 record, the Houston Rockets qualified for the playoffs by one game in 1981. Guided by head coach Del Harris, the team won the first three playoff series but was defeated in the championship round by the Boston Celtics.
The Houston Rockets traded Malone in 1983, and poor finishes in the next two seasons gave the franchise top picks in the NBA draft. Houston selected 7-ft 4-in (2.2-m) Ralph Sampson in 1983 and 7-ft (2.1-m) Hakeem Olajuwon in 1984. In the 1985-86 season the two centers—nicknamed the Twin Towers—led the Rockets to the Midwest Division title and upset the defending NBA-champion Los Angeles Lakers in the conference finals. Houston was again defeated in the NBA Finals by the Boston Celtics.
The Houston Rockets lost several players on the 1986 team to injuries, trades, and substance-abuse problems, and the club struggled through the late 1980s. With Olajuwon taking his place among the league’s top players, however, Houston recorded several fine seasons in the early 1990s. Tomjanovich was hired as head coach before the 1993-94 season and the Houston Rockets tied an NBA record by beginning the season with 15 consecutive wins. In the playoffs at the end of the year, the Houston Rockets captured the Midwest Division, marched through the playoffs, and downed the New York Knicks in the NBA Finals. Olajuwon won the league’s MVP award and the NBA Finals MVP award.
Guard Clyde Drexler joined the Houston Rockets for the 1994-95 season. He and Olajuwon, both veteran all-stars, led the team to the 1995 NBA Finals, where the Houston Rockets swept the Orlando Magic. With the victory, Houston became only the fifth team to win back-to-back NBA titles. The other teams to do so are the Los Angeles Lakers (first while located in Minneapolis and then again once the team moved to Los Angeles), the Boston Celtics, the Detroit Pistons, and the Chicago Bulls. In the late 1990s, despite the addition of such players as Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen, the Houston Rockets failed to win another championship. The team traded Pippen before the 1999-2000 season, after he spent just one season with the club.