No. 10: Houston Rockets

Originally Published: June 11, 2009
By John Hollinger | ESPN.com

Hakeem OlajuwonNathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesHakeem the Dream took his game and the Rockets to new heights in Houston's two title seasons.

While we bemoan the nicknames L.A. and Utah were stuck with because the relocated teams carried a nickname to a city where it no longer made sense, Houston was a bit more fortunate. The Rockets left San Diego after only four years but brought the Rockets name to Houston --- the home of NASA headquarters. It was a perfect fit.

The club has been synonymous with great centers ever since. Moses Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon both won MVP awards and conference championships here, while Yao Ming has become a worldwide icon.

The team's first decade was a miserable one, with just two playoff appearances, but the Rockets broke through behind forward Rudy Tomjanovich and a 21-year-old Malone to win the Central Division and reach the Eastern Conference finals in 1977. Four years later Malone would deliver them a playoff upset of the Lakers and a trip to the Finals after a 40-42 regular season, where they lost to Boston in a surprisingly tough six games.

Moses left two years later, but his departure put Houston in position to draft Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson in consecutive years. That duo reached the 1986 Finals thanks to a miraculous spinning shot by Sampson that beat the Lakers in the conference finals before, again, Houston lost to Boston in six games.

Despite seven straight nonlosing seasons with Olajuwon, the Rockets couldn't seem to get over the hump, winning between 41 and 52 games and losing in the first or second round every year. That changed in 1994, when Tomjanovich -- now coaching -- set a series of 3-point shooting role players around Olajuwon and relied on Hakeem's dominant low-post skills to do the rest. Houston became known as Clutch City after the Rockets won consecutive titles with this group, the second coming in 1995 as the conference's sixth seed following a midseason trade for Clyde Drexler.

In those two seasons the Rockets went 8-0 in elimination games and twice came back from 2-0 deficits in the second round against Phoenix. And with three great centers, 26 playoff seasons, four trips to the Finals and nine 50-win seasons -- including four in the past five years -- they've given their fans plenty to cheer since coming from San Diego.

Next » Insider