On June 5, 1986, I was barely 17 years old and on my way home from a music lesson. While cutting through a nearby neighborhood, my car, an amazingly awful pumpkin orange Datsun B-210 I bought from a friend for 500 bucks, broke down...again. Fortunately, I was only about two blocks from a schoolmate's home, where they graciously let me call my parents. Within 15 minutes, my father and I were staring blankly under the hood of the car as it misted rain.
Our biggest concern wasn't the leaking transmission fluid or the fact that neither of us really knew how the hell we were going to get the car home -- we ended up leaving it there until the next day. Mostly, we were worried that we wouldn't get home in time to watch game five of the NBA Finals between the Houston Rockets and the Boston Celtics. The only good thing about that crappy car was the radio and it was blaring the Rockets game into the darkness while we considered our options. By the second quarter, we were on our way home with the car fading into the night in the rearview mirror. Priorities.
Today, I got to re-live some of the moments of that year and years prior with a fascinating story on Grantland.com called The Team That Never Was.
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The feature provides a detailed, blow-by-blow (literally and metaphorically, as it were) account of the 1980s Rockets after drafting both Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon and paring them in a forceful duo nicknamed the Twin Towers. The two, along with a slew of young talent, would dominate the league with a style of play not seen before or since given the size and skill of the front court. Unfortunately, there would be no dynasty.
The article tells the story in the words of the people involved. Quotes from a wide range of people including Sampson and Olajuwon, coach Bill Fitch, then-owner Charlie Thomas, a bunch of players, coaches, team staff and even a referee are included. Fights, drugs, suspensions, trades, money issues and rivalries are all explored. The team, built around these two giants, would make it to the finals only once and Sampson's career would be cut short very soon after thanks to a litany of injuries, but the run captivated the NBA and a skinny, 17-year-old kid whose love for the Rockets started by carrying a Calvin Murphy basketball card around in his back pocket in middle school.
The feature story is very long, but a must read for any hard core Rockets or NBA fan, even if it drops in a small dig at the team that did eventually win a title with this: "Olajuwon claimed his elusive championships in 1994 and 1995 when Michael Jordan took his baseball sabbatical, doing it without any of his teammates from the '85-'86 season." Not cool.
As for me, my dad and I did make it home by the half and watched as the Rockets forced a game six in Boston. My car didn't survive, but my interest in the Rockets did.