Disclaimer right up front: I am biased.
I had Rockets season tickets for the great Hakeem Olajuwon’s entire career, and saw every game of the two championship playoff runs. And I agree the old adage “you can’t go back.” Whether one is discussing being a participant (be it fan or player) of a great team’s run, or working for a great company like a Compaq, that particular environment, the excitement and enthusiasm is hard to recreate. You expect things to be the same, but they rarely are.
And that brings us to this year’s Rockets.
In the 2004 season, against the Phoenix Suns, the Rockets had home court advantage, just like this year’s Rox had home court against Portland. The 2004 Rockets had leads evaporate in both game 1 and game 2. This year’s Rockets let game 1 slip away and were soundly beaten in game 2.
The Rockets of 2004, of course, earned the name “CHOKE CITY” for losing those first two games in that fashion, and then came back and won the series in seven games, prompting the T-shirt empire that was “CLUTCH CITY.”
And then those Rockets: Hall of Famer Olajuwon, and a cast that included TNT Commentator Kenny “the Jet” Smith, Vernon “MadMax” Maxwell, the underrated Otis Thorpe, Mario Elie, Sam Cassel, Robert Horry (who has more championship rings that most Hall of Famers) and a cast of others…won the NBA Championship over the New York Knicks.
Then they did it again the next season, with the addition of hometown hero Clyde “the Glide” Drexler.
And they were done.
They brought in the “Round Mound of Rebound” Charles Barkley, who was more round than rebound. That didn’t work out.
They brought in Scottie Pippen, late in his career, and without Michael Jordan. That didn’t work out.
Tracy McGrady came in, Yao Ming came in. A small bit of playoffs, but that didn’t work out.
And thus we come to the current incarnation, good players with good nicknames: James “the Beard” Harden; Dwight “DHo/Superman” Howard, Chandler “J.T.” Parsons, and a good cast of Patrick Beverly, Jeremy Lin, Terence Jones and others.
Like their illustrious predecessors, this years Rockets get home court in the playoffs, and lose the first two.
Can they make lightning strike twice? Can they turn Choke City II into Clutch City II?
Sadly, I think not. Even worse, I find that I cannot care about this team.
There are several reasons.
One, hack-a-Howard. If anything makes a game not worth watching, it is this strategy. Sure, the guy being hacked (whether Shaq or Howard or Omer Asik) should make the free throw and thwart the strategy. But what a waste of watches and paid attendees time.
Two, if it is true, this sequence from Harden:
“I’m not worried about my offense, I’m worried about our defense — our defense as a team,” Harden said.
A few minutes later, the questions stopped coming, but not before Harden, evidently still aggravated, circled back and spun the questioning to the aforementioned reporter, taking issue with his basketball credibility.
“You’ve never seen someone shoot 29 percent in two games? You must not watch basketball.”
The longtime reporter responded that he’d watching basketball longer than Harden had been alive. And that Harden should be held to a higher standard because he is All-NBA.
“Weirdo,” Harden said, before walking out of the room once Houston’s PR staff stepped in.
Despite his defiance, Harden has never been this bad. He has missed 33 shots in his past two games, the most he has ever missed in a two-game span in his career. In the 2012 Finals, Harden infamously shot 18-for-48 (37.5 percent) in five games, but he wasn’t the focal point of the offense like he is in Houston.
In Game 2 on Wednesday, Harden missed 13 shots, which is more than he attempted in any of those five Finals games.
Third, DHo. My son and I like him, really want him to be successful. But, unlike Olajuwon, who’s motor and competitive fire seemed to always be running (sometimes to his detriment) and who is working with Dwight, Howard seems to need a push. And, when he plays like Shaq wants him to play, the running Rockets are out of sorts.
And, lastly, and most telling, I find myself switching over to watch hockey (which I call Rugby on Ice). I find it more enjoyable these days than the NBA. I don’t get as much enjoyment from a Rockets win as I do from the San Jose Sharks winning. I get more enjoyment from an Anaheim loss than I do a Spurs loss. The players seem to try harder, push themselves more, and aren’t such prima donnas.
Can this year’s version of the Rockets come back?
I wish them well, but most likely won’t be watching.
Twenty-five years ago today, my wife and I had our combined bachelor-bachelorette party – yes, on April Fools Day. Most of my friends indeed thought I was kidding…and are still awaiting the punchline.
I published this essay about how Rugby led me to my wife (or her to me?) in the book Voices In My Head, written for my mother and father on their 70th and 75th birthdays, respectively. I offer it now to mark the date 25 years ago when Audrey could have said “April Fools!” and walked away…I’m infinitely better off that she wasn’t fooling.
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Young men play sports. Young men in Texas MUST play sports. I believe it is part of the state constitution, under the Articles of Testosterone, right after the one about “Men must hunt deer” and right before “Texas has the right to secede from the Union whenever we damn well please.”
Go to the State Capitol; look it up.
The first sports team I can remember was the baseball team Terry and I were on in Spring Branch called the Bears. These weren’t the “Bad News” Bears, these were the “We just plain Suck Rocks” Bears. We played at a field that was dusty and rough, with very little grass, and our skill level wasn’t even worthy of that. Terry was our only good player (a lefty first baseman, and the oldest) and I’m not sure why he stuck around; probably because of me, or maybe cause mom told him to. I clearly remember pitching (I only got to pitch when we were way behind), with a kid from the other team taunting me to throw it over the plate. I walked a couple of batters to catcalls from the opposing dugouts.
Then I started aiming for the batters.
It made me throw a lot harder. But I still missed. That is when I first learned to trash talk. Words sometimes hit harder than a baseball (and I was more accurate in throwing them).
I learned two very valuable lessons at that young age: channeling your anger can be good in sports if you can control it; and I absolutely abhor baseball. The sport is adequately described as two guys playing catch with lots of others standing around watching. It is no wonder that when little kids play t-ball they inevitably end up picking grass or putting their glove on their heads; face it folks, America’s pastime is boring unless it is the ninth inning with a runner in scoring position…and even then only because most of the crowd got their third beer at the seventh inning stretch. (more…)