The 10 Biggest Houston Pro Sports Stories of 2018

James Harden finally won the MVP award in 2018 thanks to a stellar season and 65 wins for the Rockets.
James Harden finally won the MVP award in 2018 thanks to a stellar season and 65 wins for the Rockets. Photo by Jeff Balke
It would be fair to consider 2018 a rather disappointing year in Houston sports on a number of fronts. While 2017 felt inspirational with the Astros winning their first ever World Series, particularly in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, 2018 felt more anticlimactic. There were near misses and close calls and a whole lot of what we natives consider plain old Houston sports.

But, it wasn't all bad. There were plenty of positives worked into a year of mostly meh. We take a look at our year in review, pro sports edition.

10. Texans Sign Tyrann Mathieu

In the first major deal of the Brian Gaine era (more on that in a minute), the Texans had their most significant offseason signing in quite some time as the Honey Badger came to town. And his impact on the field has certainly been felt on a defense that has had more ups than downs this season. It was a bold, splashy move that we aren't accustomed to seeing with the Texans.

9. Rockets Carmelo Anthony Saga

There were warnings and red flags everywhere, but the Rockets, who had pursued the future Hall of Fame forward for years, were undaunted. After failing to land Melo in a trade in 2017, they got him on the cheap in 2018 in an experiment that lasted about a month before Anthony was exiled to "not with the team, undisclosed injury" status. It was certainly exacerbated by the losses of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute and the struggles to open the season, but the fact that the Rockets seem to have righted the ship without the guy they thought would be a key to winning says volumes.

8. Astros Win Team Record 103 Games, Fall to Boston in the ALCS

Throughout the season, the Astros offense was just not what we had come to expect from 2017 despite having essentially the same lineup and a monster season from third baseman Alex Bregman. Injuries took their toll, but more importantly, the magic was just missing. Still, with absolutely dominant pitching, they rallied to win 103 games, the best ever for the franchise. Unfortunately, a repeat was not in the cards as they fell to the eventual champs in the ALCS.

click to enlarge Gerrit Cole was one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball and solidified the best staff in the majors. - PHOTO BY JACK GORMAN
Gerrit Cole was one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball and solidified the best staff in the majors.
Photo by Jack Gorman
7. Brian Gaine Replaces Rick Smith as Texans GM

After 11 seasons of somewhat tepid and, at times, downright questionable decision making by Rick Smith, the Texans hired Brian Gaine to run the team's personnel. The company line that Smith was stepping down to care for his ailing wife was a convenient way to avoid the fact that the choice came down to coach Bill O'Brien or Smith and O'Brien clearly won. In addition to the aforementioned signing of Mathieu, Gaine presided over one of the best rookie classes in years despite not having a first OR second round draft pick.

6. Rockets Come Within One Hamstring Game of Western Conference Finals

Oh, what could have been. After a record breaking season, the Rockets pushed Golden State to seven games only to miss out on a trip to the Finals and, let's be honest, almost certainly a third championship in the team's history. With Chris Paul injured in game five, the Rockets were left without his needed scoring and leadership, particularly in game seven when they missed 27 straight three pointers.

5. Astros Acquire Gerrit Cole

You might be forgiven if you forgot Cole was acquired by the 'Stros in January given the controversial trade for Roberto Osuna at the trade deadline, but make no mistake, Cole was the most important pitcher added to the roster this season. He and Justin Verlander made the most feared one-two punch in major league baseball starting pitching. They helped anchor the best staff in the league. Cole posted a sub-3.0 ERA while leading the majors in strikeouts per nine innings and coming in third in total strikeouts, just 14 behind Verlander.

4. Texans Go on Nine-Game Winning Streak (After Starting 0-3)

Admit it. When the Texans lost at home to the Giants in week three, you expected this team to go into a tanking spiral. Surprise, surprise, we were all wrong. After the miserable 0-3 start, the Texans went on to win nine in a row (the most ever by a team who had opened the season losing their first three) and clinched a playoffs spot this past weekend. With one win in their last game, they can also win the division and still have a path, albeit unlikely, to home field and a bye in week one of the playoffs. Quite the turnaround.

click to enlarge Bob McNair, who passed away in November, is cemented as one of the true Houston sports legends. - PHOTO BY ERIC SAUSEDA
Bob McNair, who passed away in November, is cemented as one of the true Houston sports legends.
Photo by Eric Sauseda
3. Rockets Win Team Record 65 Games

Despite falling in the Western Conference finals, the Rockets set the pace in the NBA last season with 65 wins, not only the best record in basketball, but also the best record in franchise history. They were an astonishing 34-10 on the road and when James Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela all played, they were an unbelievable 50-5.

2. Texans Owner Bob McNair Dies

On November 23, Robert McNair died at the age of 81 after a long battle with cancer. While the Texans struggled on the field with ups and downs throughout his tenure, McNair was a consummate good guy and long standing member of the Houston community. It was through his efforts that the NFL came back to Houston after losing the Oilers to Tennessee in the mid 90s. That alone makes him one of the true legends of Houston sports.

1. James Harden Wins NBA MVP

After several close calls, the 2017-18 season finally was the one where Harden broke through to win the league's best player award. One of the league's most prolific scorers, Harden also improved his much-maligned defense and helped propel the Rockets to a 65-win season. The rather eccentric and mercurial guard, known for his dead-eye step back three pointer, has been deserving of the award for at least three seasons and is widely considered one of the best three or four players in the league year-in-and-year-out.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke