Game Time: Best of the Best -- Top 10 Moments from Clutch City Rockets (w/video)
I am a total sucker for lists.
This makes me like roughly 95 percent of society; the fact that I openly admit I'm a sucker for lists makes me a little more unique. There are so many list books, list columns, list blog posts (many by yours truly) that it seems by admitting you like something so formulaic, you're somehow viewed as lazy or shallow.
Screw that. Lists work because they encompass everything that is fun about healthy debate -- opinion, logic (or lack thereof), and something being deemed as good, better, or best.
And if you don't think people care about lists, then you didn't see former Miami Hurricane Alonzo Highsmith's reaction when I told him the 1986 'Canes were chosen the most hated team in sports history by SI.com. He acted like he just won another national championship.
As you have likely seen, the Houston Press has its own sports list this week ranking the ten best (and five worst) sports moments in our fair city's history. Again, love it. I'm all in. However, in weighing in, I wanted to do something a little different...
I think a big part of qualifying to truly rank sports moments or teams or players is that you have to have consumed them in some viable way. Being a general sports fan is enough of a consumption level to rank the most hated teams. However, when it comes to something as nakedly emotional as your hometown sports moments, you almost have to have been there or at least had a major rooting interest.
When it comes to ranking the all-time sports moments in Houston, my basis of emotional investment didn't begin until I moved here in 1994, which obviously means I wasn't living nor dying during Mike Renfro's "catch," the 1980 or 1986 MLB playoffs, Mike Scott's no-hitter, or 35-3 in Buffalo. It's disingenuous for me to rank these as a "Houstonian" because I wasn't one then.
Now, the 1994 and 1995 Rockets? I was in Houston by then. I loved those teams. Great heart, great coach, mostly likable guys, one world-class nutjob in Vernon Maxwell, and the most athletic center in league history at the apex of his game. They won as frontrunners, they won as underdogs. They invented Clutch City, they cemented Double Clutch.
And not surprisingly, their titles were ranked as our city's best sports moment.
I can't speak on the history of Houston sports, but I can speak on the Clutch City Rockets teams. I watched every minute of every game during those playoffs. So if the Houston Press' top ten overall list is the swimming pool, allow me to construct a hot tub off to the side, and give you the best of the best....
In chronological order, the best of the best -- the ten best moments of the Clutch City Rockets' back-to-back titles:
1. Mad Max's 31 point second half -- Game 3 vs Phoenix '94
The second round of the playoffs was off and running, and the Rockets had just finished coughing up a 20-point lead on their home court, and were going to Phoenix down 2-0 in the series. Headlines of "CHOKE CITY" were plastered across newspapers (back when newspapers were hip and cool). They needed a spark, and Vernon Maxwell gave it to them, exploding for 31 points in the second half of Game 3 to help the Rockets cruise to a 118-102 win. The seeds for Clutch City were planted that day.
(jump to 4:30 in the video for the Mad Max explosion)
2. Dream gets the MVP Award before Conference Finals vs Utah
The New England Patriots in the 2002 Super Bowl are given credit for doing a team introduction instead of individual players. Hakeem Olajuwon's receiving the MVP award in 1994 before the conference finals was, in a way, a precursor to the Patriots as he dedicated the award to his teammates and coaches and had them all come up and accept the trophy with him, a touching moment that symbolized this "team first" group.
(jump to 7:30 in the video for the award presentation)
3. Sam Cassell's three-ball -- Game 3 '94 Finals
Sam Cassell, rookie with stones, has to show up on this list somewhere. Needing a pivotal Game 3 win in New York, the Rockets got it and Cassell's three was the dagger shot.
(jump to 3:20 for Sam's three)
4. Dream blocks Starks -- Game 6 '94 Finals
John Starks was on fire throughout Game 6, an elimination game for the Rockets. With one last chance to end the series, Starks got a look from the wing, but Dream got a piece of the shot, the Rockets took game 6, and Starks went on to put up one of the all-time clunkers in Game 7, shooting 2 for 18 from the field.
(jump to 1:30 in the video)
5. Valetntine's Day Miracle -- Clyde Comes Home
Needing an injection of life to get back to where they could potentially repeat as champions, the Rockets got it, adding a second future Hall of Famer by bringing Clyde Drexler home to Houston. It was a ballsy move by the Rockets in that it redefined the roles of several players. Otis Thorpe was gone so Robert Horry had to spend more time inside, and perhaps the biggest change came for Vernon Maxwell, who ultimately quit on the team during the first round of the playoffs over playing time. All's well that ends well.
6. Mario Elie's Kiss of Death -- Game 7 vs Phoenix '95
Perhaps the most famous single moment for Rockets' fans of either title run, Mario Elie's three-pointer from the corner in Game 7 helped the Rockets cap a comeback from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits in the series (without home court advantage, too). People forget how close this series came to ending in five games when Wesley Person's would-be winning jumper at the buzzer in Game 5 rimmed out and the Rockets ended up winning Game 5 in overtime before pulling out the series in seven.
7. Big Shot Bob is born -- Game 1 vs Spurs '95
We had no idea at the time that he would evolve into the ultimate June assassin, but it was born on this night in 1995. Horry made sure that the momentum established in the Phoenix series would continue against San Antonio as the Rockets took Game 1 in San Antonio on the strength of Horry's game-winner with 6.5 seconds to go.
8. Dream undresses David Robinson
Not much really needs to be said here....
9. Nick Anderson's meltdown and Kenny Smith's big stones -- Game 1 '95 Finals
Any run to immortality includes at least one or two (or for this Rockets team, about fifty) coin-flip moments where if things go differently, the journey gets derailed. A fascinating "What If" (which I may have to dig into in more detail)...what if Nick Anderson goes ONE for four from the line at the end of Game 1? No Kenny Smith three, no overtime Game 1 win, no sweep, maybe no title for the Rockets, legacies change, does Shaq stay in Orlando? A fascinating ripple effect to think about. Thankfully, Anderson clanked all four throws....
10. "Don't ever underestimate the heart of a champion..."
Yep. Double Clutch.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on the "Sean & John Show" and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.
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