By Lorenzo Tanos
The Houston Rockets of today are currently going through a rough stretch after a hot start, but this is a team that has seen far worse times…as well as some years as a championship contender. The Rockets have also had more than one home in their 46-year history, having started out as the San Diego Rockets in 1967. In this week's NBA Trivia installment, we're taking a look at the Rockets through the years, starting from the very earliest expansion days.
1. Who was the championship-winning coach who took over from Jack McMahon midway through the 1969-70 season as the Rockets' second head coach?
Alex Hannum, who won an NBA title in 1966-67 for the Wilt Chamberlain-led Philadelphia 76ers, took over the Rockets early in the '69-70 season, and went 18-38 for the remainder of 1970 and a decent 40-42 in his second year. Hannum would coach another group of Rockets after this stint, his final one in the NBA; his final pro basketball coaching job was with the Denver Rockets of the ABA, the team that would later become the Nuggets.
2. Which early Rockets superstar had "the worst fundamentals of any player" ever coached by the legendary Tex Winter?
Elvin Hayes was an awesome talent and, upon the Rockets moving to Houston in 1971, a hometown hero. But he also had a reputation of being a self-centered, stats-obsessed ballhog whose defensive play wasn't as good as his numbers suggested. Still, he was the Rockets' first franchise player before taking his career to the Baltimore (later Washington) Bullets in 1972-73.
3. How long did it take the Rockets to make their first NBA Playoffs appearance?
Eight years. The Rockets, having recently debuted their soon-to-be-iconic red, gold and white uniforms, also hit the 50% mark for the first time in 1974-75. Led by coach Johnny Egan, the Rockets defeated the Knicks in the first round of the 1975 Playoffs before losing 4-1 to the Boston Celtics. Ironically, the Celtics' championship hopes were dashed in the Conference Finals by the Washington Bullets, then led by former (and future) Houston Rocket Elvin Hayes.
4. Who did the Rockets get in return for Moses Malone when the reigning MVP was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in 1982?
Now this was a really unbalanced trade. But at that point, the financially-strapped Rockets' hands were tied. Malone, then only 27 and in the prime of his Hall of Fame career, was sent to the Sixers for 32-year-old Caldwell Jones, the team's defensive specialist at the power forward and center slots. While Jones was a more than decent, albeit offensively limited player, he was far from the caliber of Big Mo. And that goes without saying.
5. Who was the reserve point guard who called that all-important timeout in the last second of the Rockets' series-winning victory over the L.A. Lakers in the 1986 Western Conference Finals?
Allen Leavell was largely a backup for John Lucas for most of his time in the Rockets, but if not for that last-second timeout with the score tied at 112, Game 5 of Houston vs L.A. in the 1986 Western Conference Finals would have gone into overtime. Not a bad accomplishment for a fifth-round pick out of little-known Oklahoma City University.
6. What season did Hakeem Olajuwon become the NBA's all-time career leader in blocked shots?
1995-96. "The Dream" was in his twelfth season when he overtook Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the all-time NBA career blocked shots leader, an honor he still holds today, with 3,830 blocks. DikembeMutombo is a distant second in the list with 3,289, while Tim Duncan has the most blocked shots among active NBA players with 2,584, 9th in career rankings.
7. How many consecutive games did the Rockets win to start out the 1993-94 NBA season, and how many did they win for the entire regular campaign?
The Rockets got off to a hot start in 1993-94 behind new coach (and former Rockets All-Star forward) Rudy Tomjanovich, winning the first 15 games of the season. For the entire year, they won 58 games and eventually won the 1994 NBA Finals versus the New York Knicks, in what many consider one of the "ugliest" championship series ever.
8. Who was the last Rocket to win an NBA award as an individual player, not counting All-NBA teams of any kind?
Aaron Brooks was Most Improved Player for the 2009-10 season, averaging 19.6 ppg and 5.6 apg in 35.6 mpg, an increase over his 2008-09 numbers of 11.2 ppg and 3.0 apg in 25.0 mpg. But like many other Most Improved Players in the past, he wasn't able to sustain that momentum. Injuries turned Brooks into a bench player for most of 2010-11, and that's where he still is for the Sacramento Kings, one season after his brief run in the Chinese leagues.
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