HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – Rockets owner Leslie Alexander glanced over at the players waiting to take the stage and their place on Thursday night on the Rockets All-Decade Team of the 1990s: Hakeem Olajuwon, Robert Horry, Mario Elie and Clyde Drexler.
Alexander smiled much like proud father and then he said what those in attendance at the Toyota Center were likely thinking at that very moment and what Houstonians who long for the glory days of the “Clutch City” Rockets still feel in their hearts.
“If I could turn back the clock and have these guys out here now,” Alexander said.
Indeed, that would be something. Instead of trying to hold on to the eighth seed in the West the debate with this collection of players (which also included an absent Kenny Smith) would be about their chances to win the NBA title.
But for one day, the Rockets and their fans got to relive the old glory days and here the stories as the Rockets unveiled their 1990s All Decade Team to go with the mural that already includes All-Decade Teams from the 1970s and 1980s as part of the franchise’s 45th anniversary.
The previous two All-Decade Teams were special because of the memories but the 1990s Team is glorified because the core players delivered Houston its first two and only NBA Championships in 1994 and 1995.
“That’s what made us standout are the championships we won,” said Olajuwon, who was also a member of the 1980s All-Decade Team. “That’s why we are here today.”
Each honored player played a role in the Rockets title runs. Horry is remembered for the big shots he made in winning the first two of seven NBA titles he would go onto to win during his career. Elie also hit some shots but it was his defense that stood out. Drexler, the hometown boy, came at mid-season for the second title run and provided some moments. And then there was Olajuwon, known simply as The Dream, who was the heart and soul of both Rockets title runs.
Elie recalls the calming force that Olajuwon was, especially when the Rockets went down 3-2 in the NBA Finals to the New York Knicks on the road during the first run 1994. Elie was upset and distraught until Olajuwon brought some levity to the situation.
“Dream said relax, we’re going home for two games,” Elie said. “When your best player comes up to you and says that and then goes out and gets it done…
“Being the emotional player that I am, I said `If Dream says it’s going to be alright then it’s going to be alright.’ Then we go on to win the championship and then we went on to win another one. It was a great run.”
Horry still relishes those times with the Rockets even though he went on to help the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers win NBA titles, too.
The second NBA title run was Horry’s favorite primarily because of the significant odds the Rockets had to overcome to win it, having to take nine playoff games on the road, while defeating the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs before dismantling the upstart Orlando Magic led by a young Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway.
“The first two were amazing,” Horry said. “Coming in your second season and winning a championship, playing with guys you idolize like Dream, and Otis Thorpe and Vernon Maxwell was a dream for me come true. But the second one was simply amazing. That was my favorite championship because of the run we had.
“You go back and look at the people we beat and you will never see a run like that. John Stockton, Karl Malone, Kevin Johnson, Charles Barkley, David Robinson, Avery Johnson. Then to beat America’s team and I call them America’s team because we were the defending champs and we were never on TV and these guys were on TV every day. So to beat Shaq and Penny was simply amazing.”
What was ultimately the difference and what made this collection of players great was their undeniable bond that is still evident to this day.
“We just had some tough-minded guys, very close knit,” Elie recalled. “We would be very competitive in practice and it carried over into the game. A lot of guys spent a lot of time together off the floor so it was just a great group so when we stepped out on the court we had great chemistry out there.”