The Houston Rockets got their start in 1967, when they joined the NBA as an expansion team. The club was originally based in San Diego, Calif., but moved to Houston in 1971. The team’s first coach was Jack McMahon, and the team’s first draft pick, in 1967, was Pat Riley (who went on to play for the L.A. Lakers before enjoying a Hall of Fame career as a coach).
The Rockets’ first playoff appearance came in 1969. Led by Elvin Hayes, the team made it to the Western Conference semifinals before being eliminated by the Atlanta Hawks in six games. The following year, the team drafted Calvin Hayes and Rudy Tomjanovich (who would later coach the team).
The Early Years
The 1970s started off roughly for the Rockets, perhaps because they were essentially homeless during their early years in Houston. They had no home arena, so they played in the Astrodome and other venues.
In 1975 the team moved to The Summit. Having their own home court may have helped the team’s cohesiveness; in the 1975-76 season, the Rockets made the playoffs for the first time since moving to Houston. They made it to the semifinals before losing to the Boston Celtics.
The Rockets didn’t make the playoffs in 1975-76, but their fortunes took a turn for the better when they acquired former ABA star Moses Malone. Malone led the team in rebounding and led the league in offensive rebounds as the Rockets posted a franchise-high 49 wins and made the playoffs. This time they made it to the conference final before falling to the Philadelphia 76ers in six games.
The Rockets were the beneficiaries of Michael Jordan’s first retirement, in 1993. Led by center Hakeem Olajuwon (and coach Rudy Tomjanovich), Houston won its first 15 games on their way to a playoff appearance and a championship showdown with the Patrick Ewing-led New York Knicks. The Rockets came back from a 3-2 deficit to win the NBA title in seven games.
The following year, the team acquired shooting guard Clyde Drexler. Drexler, who was Olajuwon’s college teammate at University of Houston, had reached the NBA Finals with the Portland Trail Blazers, but never got over the hump. Houston was Drexler’s last and best shot at a title.
After playing their way to a sixth seed in the playoffs, the Rockets beat the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns and the San Antonio Spurs to earn a Finals appearance against the Orlando Magic. The Magic were led by center Shaquille O’Neal and point guard Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, and they were expected to give the Rockets a run for their money. But the Rockets won four consecutive games and swept the Magic for a second straight title.
This past season, the Rockets were expected to make a deep run in the playoffs. An injury to their star center, Yao Ming, appeared to derail those hopes. Without their best player, the team turned to shooting guard Tracy McGrady to help salvage the season. He did more than that. The team ripped off a 22-game winning streak (12 of which were won with Yao Ming), the second-longest in NBA history, and finished the season with a 55-27 record.
The Rockets lost in the first round of the 2007-08 playoffs, four games to two, to the Utah Jazz.
Assuming Yao Ming fully recovers, things look good for the Rockets. Steve Francis returns after an injury-plagued season, and the Rockets acquired Ron Artest from the Sacramento Kings. If McGrady and Yao can stay healthy, and Artest can blend into the team’s framework, the Rockets could be a threat to the Western Conference champion L.A. Lakers.