The Houston Rockets are an American professional basketball team based in Houston, Texas. The Rockets compete in the National Basketball Association (NBA) as part of the league’s Western Conference Southwest Division. The team plays its home games at the Toyota Center, located in downtown Houston. The Rockets have won two NBA championships and four Western Conference titles. The team was established in 1967 as the San Diego Rockets, an expansion team originally based in San Diego. In 1971, the Rockets moved to Houston.
The Rockets won just 15 matches in their debut season as a franchise in 1967. From the 1968 NBA draft, the Rockets were awarded the first overall pick and selected power forward Elvin Hayes, who’d direct the team to its first playoff appearance in his rookie season. The Rockets did not complete a season with a winning record for nearly a decade before the 1976–77 season, when they exchanged for All-Star center Moses Malone. Malone went on to win the NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) award double while playing the Rockets and headed Houston into the Eastern Conference Finals in his first year with the group. Throughout the 1980–81 year, the Rockets ended the regular season with a 40–42 record. Despite their losing record, they qualified for the playoffs. Led by Malone, the Rockets stunned the entire league by making their first NBA Finals appearance in 1981, becoming only the second team in NBA history to make the NBA Finals with a losing record. They’d lose in six matches into the 62–20 Boston Celtics, led by Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and future Rockets’ head coach Kevin McHale. As of 2019, the 1980–81 Rockets are the last team since the 1954–55 Minneapolis Lakers to make it all the way to the NBA Finals with a losing record.
In the 1984 NBA draft, after again using the first overall selection, the Rockets drafted center Hakeem Olajuwon, who would become the basis of their most successful period in franchise history. Paired with 7 feet 4 inches (2.24 m) Ralph Sampson, they formed one of the tallest leading courts in the NBA. Nicknamed the”Twin Towers”, they headed the group into the 1986 NBA Finals–the second NBA Finals appearance in franchise history–where Houston was defeated by Larry Bird and the 67-win Boston Celtics. The Rockets continued to achieve the playoffs during the 1980s, but failed to advance beyond the first round for many years following a second round defeat to the Seattle SuperSonics at 1987. Rudy Tomjanovich took over as head coach midway through the 1991–92 season, ushering in the very prosperous period in franchise history. Led by Olajuwon, the Rockets dominated the 1993–94 season, setting a franchise record 58 wins and moved into the 1994 NBA Finals–the third NBA Finals appearance in franchise history–and won the franchise’s first championship against Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks. During the next season, bolstered by another All-Star, Clyde Drexler, the Rockets–in their NBA Finals appearance in franchise history–repeated as champions with a four-game sweep of the Orlando Magic, who were headed by a youthful Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway. Houston, which finished the season with a 47–35 record and has been seeded sixth in the Western Conference during the 1995 playoffs, became the lowest-seeded team in NBA history to win the title.
The Rockets acquired all-star forward Charles Barkley in 1996, but the existence of three of the NBA’s 50 greatest players of all time (Olajuwon, Drexler, and Barkley) was not enough to propel Houston past the Western Conference Finals. Every one of the aging trio had abandoned the team by 2001. The Rockets of the early 2000s, headed by superstars Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, followed the trend of consistent regular season respectability followed by playoff underachievement as both players struggled with injuries. After Yao’s early retirement in 2011, the Rockets entered a period of rebuilding, completely dismantling and retooling their roster. The purchase of franchise player James Harden in 2012 has launched the Rockets back to championship contention from the mid-2010s.
Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, and James Harden happen to be named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player while playing for the Rockets, for a total of four MVP awards. The Rockets, under general manager Daryl Morey, are noteworthy for popularizing the use of advanced statistical analytics (like sabermetrics in baseball) in player acquisitions and style of play.