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All-Star past makes picking all-time Houston team a tricky shot

POSTED: Feb 14, 2013 11:36 AM ET

By Fran Blinebury

BY Fran Blinebury


Hakeem Olajuwon, here against Patrick Ewing in the 1994 NBA Finals, was a two-time Finals MVP.

— Tick off the names of the cities with rich basketball histories and deep NBA connections -- New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Detroit.

Don't forget Houston.

Just like the city itself in the 21st century, the roots of the game in Houston are a melting pot. From Lagos, Nigeria to Shanghai, China. From the sheer size of 7-foot-6 Yao Ming to the sheer grit of 5-foot-9 Calvin Murphy. From the creativity and artfulness of Tracy McGrady to the blue-collar work ethic of Moses Malone.

To select our 12-man All-Houston All-Star roster required much evaluation and selective editing. First, there had to be a level of success and excellence at the NBA level. Ties to the Rockets were not necessary, but a simple pass through didn't make for an automatic qualifier for stars who did the bulk of their work elsewhere. (Sorry, Rick Barry, Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen.) There were some personal favorites -- hello, John Lucas, Sam Cassell, Ralph Sampson -- who shone like comets, too briefly, to make the cut. College counted, but only so far. One guy never played in college or the NBA in Houston but made Houston his home, so he simply could not be left out.

All-Houston Team

So with apologies to the above -- along with Mario Elie, Otis Birdsong, Dwight Jones, Ricky Pierce, Mike Newlin and Ollie Taylor, among others -- this is our All-Houston team, and we're sticking to it:

First Team

Forward -- Elvin Hayes, 6-9, 235, 21 ppg, 12.5 rpg

His two stints with the Rockets sandwiched the meat of his iron-man 16-year NBA career, during which he missed just nine of a possible 1,312 games, was a 12-time All-Star, three-time All-NBA first teamer, 1969 scoring champ, NBA champ in 1979 and voted as one of the 50 Greatest in NBA history. While his greatest NBA achievements came with the Baltimore/Capital/Washington Bullets, the Big E and his turnaround jumper were already legends at the University of Houston. He and Don Chaney were the first African-American players at UH and formed the core of the team that defeated Lew Alcindor and UCLA in the first nationally televised college basketball game, played at the Astrodome before a record crowd of 52,693. His No. 11 jersey was retired by the Bullets and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1990.

Forward -- Rudy Tomjanovich, 6-8, 218, 17.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg

"Don't ever underestimate the heart of a champion!" It is the post-1995 NBA title declaration when he was the Rockets coach by which most modern-day NBA fans know him. That is, if they're not thinking of his being on the receiving end of the infamous punch from Kermit Washington on Dec. 9, 1977 that nearly took his life. But all of that overlooks the fact that Rudy T came out of Hamtramck, Mich. with one of the sweetest jump shots and the longest range you've ever seen. Drafted No. 2 overall by the then-San Diego Rockets in 1970, he became a virtual lifer and a five-time All-Star with the organization. The Rockets retired his No. 45 jersey. He's an adopted son and permanent fixture.

Center -- Hakeem Olajuwon, 6-10, 255, 21.8 ppg, 11.1 rpg

The Dream. The perfect nickname, not only because it rhymed, but also because it described his journey from Lagos, Nigeria to finding a home in Houston. From the University of Houston, where he led the Cougars to three straight Final Four appearances to 17 seasons and two NBA championships with the Rockets, he is simply the greatest player ever -- in any sport -- in a city that has had more than its share. From the Dream Shake fallaway jumper on the baseline to all of those whirling, spinning moves in the paint that tied the likes of Shaquille O'Neal and David Robinson into knots, to a defensive mindset that never saw a shot that he didn't think he could block, Olajuwon was a different kind of big man with probably the best footwork ever. The NBA's all-time leading shot blocker, he was MVP in 1994, two-time Finals MVP, six-time All-NBA First Teamer, 12-time All-Star, two-time Defensive Player of the Year and selected as one of the 50 Greatest in NBA history. His No. 34 jersey was retired by the Rockets and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006. | Career highlights

Guard -- Clyde Drexler, 6-7, 210, 20.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg

Clyde the Glide played just 3 1/2 of his 15 NBA seasons with the Rockets, but his Valentine's Night trade from Portland and return to his hometown gave the defending champions the boost they needed to go back-to-back in 1995. He blossomed at Ross Sterling High and stayed home to star as a member of the celebrated Phi Slama Jama team at the University of Houston. He entered the NBA with a few questions about his game and answered them all with exclamation points as one of the fiercest competitors at both ends of the floor to ever lace up a pair of sneakers. He was a 10-time All-Star, All-NBA First Teamer, a member of the original Dream Team and was voted as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history. His No. 22 jersey was retired by both the Trail Blazers and Rockets and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2004. | Career highlights

Guard -- Calvin Murphy, 5-9, 165, 17.9 ppg, 4.4 apg

For a franchise that has long been recognized for the excellence of its big men, few have been bigger for the Rockets than their smallest Hall of Famer. After a sensational college career at Niagara University, the diminutive Murphy was the 18th pick of the second round in the 1970 Draft by the San Diego Rockets was told by many that he would never survive in the NBA. So he had to literally fight and scratch for respect every step of the way and often did that literally as a tough, confrontational character -- ask Sidney Wicks -- who always took the court with a chip on his shoulder. He moved to Houston with the team in 1971 and still calls the city home. The Rockets retired his No. 23 jersey and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1993.

Second Team

Forward -- Otis Thorpe, 6-9, 225, 14 ppg, 8.2 rpg

There were many nights when it was almost impossible to pry words out of the laconic power forward, just like it was often impossible to pry a rebound out of his grip. For 6 1/2 seasons, Thorpe was the silent bouncer who always had Hakeem Olajuwon's back, as a defender, a low post scorer with a career shooting percentage of .546 and a guy who could be counted on to show up every night. He played all 82 games eight times in his 17-year NBA career, five times in Houston. Nobody took losses harder, nobody made fewer excuses and nobody had a bigger grin when the Rockets beat the Knicks in Game 7 of the 1994 Finals than O.T. He played in one All-Star Game in 1992. Often underrated, but shouldn't be overlooked in the role he played in delivering Houston's first major professional sports championship.

Forward -- Robert Horry, 6-10, 240, 7.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg

Sometimes the statistics do lie. Or they don't tell the entire story. At least until you get to the only one that really matters -- seven NBA championships, the most in history by anyone who isn't Bill Russell or one of his teammates. The first two came with the Rockets, the team that made him the No. 11 pick in the 1992 Draft. Some might argue his inclusion on this list, considering he spent only four of his 16 NBA seasons in Houston. But it was his tremendous length as a defender and weak-side shot blocker and his ability to stretch the floor with his 3-point shots that finally unlocked the door to the throne room for Hakeem Olajuwon. And he was always there at crunch time. His jumper in Game 1 of the 1995 Western Conference finals to beat the Spurs. His trey in Game 3 of the 1995 NBA Finals to beat the Magic. The legend of Big Shot Rob would only grow and grow over the years. But it began in Houston.

Center -- Moses Malone, 6-10, 260, 20.3 ppg, 12.3 rpg

When you're a raw, gangly teenager just off the airplane from Nigeria, where do you go to cut your teeth, sharpen your elbows and learn all of the tactics and tricks that will one day carve you a path to the Hall of Fame? Hakeem Olajuwon went straight to Fonde Rec Center in downtown Houston and went to school with Big Mo. Malone played with an indefatigable style that could have taught a team of oxen about hard work. He was a bull in the paint, a relentless rebounder, an unstoppable low-post scorer, a big man who could knock down the mid-range jumper and clutch performer that could finish you off at the free-throw line. Malone himself was still a gangly kid when he arrived in town in 1976, but won two MVP awards and led the 40-42 Rockets on a stunning playoff upset path to the 1981 NBA Finals. He moved on to the Sixers to win his third MVP and led Philly to the 1983 championship. He was a four-time All-NBA First Teamer, 12-time All-Star and was selected as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history. His No. 24 jersey was retired by the Rockets, his No. 2 by the Sixers and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2001. | Career highlights

Guard -- Tracy McGrady, 6-8, 210, 19.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.4 apg

Thirteen points in 35 seconds. There are so many ways to sum up and describe T-Mac's 15-year NBA career. But nothing does it better than that amazing finish on Dec. 9, 2004 that beat the Spurs. He had the size to shoot over anybody with a range that was virtually limitless, the moves to slash through traffic and get to the basket for explosive dunks and court vision to thread passes that his teammates often didn't see coming. Already a two-time scoring champ with the Magic, in the three seasons when he was healthy in Houston, perhaps only Hakeem Olajuwon ever made more jaws drop than McGrady. Yet even with Yao Ming as his teammate, he could never close the deal by winning a playoff series and, in fact, is the only NBA scoring champion in history to go 0-for-the-playoffs in his career. Thus, his 4 1/2 seasons with the Rockets were largely unfulfilling and his stay ended in recrimination. But, ah, those 35 seconds will live forever in Houston annals. He was a two-time All-NBA First Teamer and seven-time All-star.

Guard -- Slater Martin, 5-10, 170, 9.8 ppg, 4.2 apg

Long before there were rockets from NASA or Rockets from the NBA in Houston, there was a fiery little point guard who helped get pro basketball's first dynasty off the launch pad. Martin was born in Elmina, Texas, but moved to Houston when he was a year old and, at just 5-foot-7, 130 pounds, led Jefferson Davis High to two state championships, then helped the University of Texas "Mighty Mice" reach the 1947 Final Four. He joined the Minneapolis Lakers in the pre-shot clock era and was the slick passing point guard who got the ball to George Mikan, Vern Mikkelsen and Jim Pollard. Martin was also a tenacious defender on four Lakers championship teams, usually called on to guard stars Bobby Wanzer, Bob Davies and Bob Cousy. In fact, later in his career, St. Louis traded for Martin so that he could specifically defend Cousy and the Hawks beat the Celtics in the 1958 NBA Finals to earn him his fifth championship. He was a seven-time All-Star, elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982 and made Houston his home until his death in 2012.


Center -- Yao Ming, 7-6, 310, 19 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 1.9 bpg

He came to Houston a stranger in a strange land and over nine seasons became a favorite son, the linear descendant to great Houston centers Moses Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon. The No. 1 pick in the 2002 Draft had his NBA career start as a joke, with Charles Barkley telling his TNT partner Kenny Smith that he would "kiss [Smith's] ass" if Yao scored more than 19 points any time in his rookie season. In his eighth game, Yao shot 9-for-9 from the field, 2-for-2 from the foul line and scored 20 against the Lakers -- and Barkley eventually kissed the back end of a donkey on national TV and showed that Yao was a serious player. For a stretch of three seasons (2005-2008), Yao was the best center in the NBA, though he and teammate Tracy McGrady were never able to lift the Rockets to a championship level. Yao retired prematurely in 2011 after a series of foot and ankle injuries forced him to miss 250 games in his final six NBA seasons. He was an eight-time All-Star.

Guard -- Don Chaney, 6-5, 210, 8.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg

The Baton Rouge, La. native was recruited by coach Guy V. Lewis to join Elvin Hayes as the first African-American basketball players at the University of Houston and together they helped put the city on the college basketball map. While The Big E filled up the hoop with his shots, the quick, rangy Chaney played at the top of Lewis' zone and was a lock-down defender as the Cougars rose to prominence in the polls. Chaney played all 40 minutes of the "Game of the Century" when Houston took down UCLA with Lew Alcindor at the Astrodome. He was the 12th pick in the 1968 Draft by the Celtics and became a star defender on two Boston championship teams. He was a five-time member of the All-Defensive second team and, with a career that spanned from 1968 to 1979, is the only Celtic to play with both Bill Russell and Larry Bird. He returned to coach the Rockets for 3 1/2 seasons and was named Coach of the Year in 1991.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977 and has lived in Houston since 1982. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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