(Logo Courtesy of rockets.com)
The Houston Rockets want you to vote, as they have asked all season! This time it’s for the all-decade team of the 2000’s and the nominees are….
All nominees are highly worthy of being on the list, and have given Rockets fans countless memories over the past few years. The Rockets have done a great job honoring players of the past this season, and if you do get a chance to visit the Toyota Center, make sure and walk the concourse. The feeling is nostalgic, and massive murals have been created, as each decade has been voted upon. A really fantastic idea by the Rockets this season as they celebrate 45 years of Rockets basketball.
It’s always a challenge to vote because every player on each list has given us a memory, and while some are more obvious than others, it’s still a challenge. After looking at the choices I am confident I have my five players picked, and I will explain why.
The first selection was simple for me. He stands tall, and is filled with international pride. Yao Ming who landed in Houston with immense pressure on his shoulders, transcended the way the Rockets were viewed across the world. Yao not only had to adapt to the way basketball was played in the United States, but also had to adapt to the culture. A colossal up-taking, that clearly was well worth the time and effort. As a city we got to know how humble, and smart Yao Ming was. It was a media blitz, and I don’t think Yao ever let that get the best of him. Yao is an eight time NBA All Star, and though injuries plagued his short NBA career, the Rockets drafted a basketball player who brought international appeal. Many are quick to forget that behind all the business advantages of having an international icon, Yao was a very skilled and talented basketball player, at a position that is virtually extinct in the NBA. After all, here in Houston we know our centers. Yao ranks second in Rockets history in career blocked shots (912), sixth in total points (9,196) and sixth in total rebounds (4,467).
My second selection; another easy choice. Tracy McGrady who played for the Rockets from 2004-2010 may have had the most unique entrance and exit this city has ever seen from an NBA player. “T Mac,” arrived to the Toyota center in lavish fashion. Trust me it was impressive, I was there! A few thousand fans showed up, and T Mac was greeted by a highlight reel on the big screen. I can honestly say the city was buzzing, and the Rockets were back on the map. You know how so many of us these days say “the Rockets are a superstar away from being contenders.” Well, Tracy McGrady defined the word superstar. As an individual talent, he was right at the top, and having him in Houston had fans eyes light up like it was Christmas. Throw in the fact that you were pairing him up with a 7’6 giant…. what could go wrong? I remember T Mac saying all the right things in that press conference. Things like “we need this place rockin like it is now, every single night!” He used words like “promise,” and “end my career here in Houston.” Things that all fans wanted to hear at the time…. boy did that change fast. Like Yao Ming, McGrady became an injury liability, and though he handled things questionably at the end of his tenure, the fact still remains that he had a fantastic career as a Rocket. T Mac averaged a stellar 30.7ppg, 6.7apg, and 7.4rpg during the 2005 NBA Playoffs. McGrady became the first player in Rockets history to reach 2,000 points, 400 rebounds and 400 assists in a season, joining Olajuwon, Malone and Hayes with the only 2,000-point seasons in franchise history. If those three names don’t open your eyes, I don’t know what will. McGrady finished his Rockets career 5th in apg (5.6), 12th in total points (6,888) and 11th in total assists (1,699). I think despite the postseason failures that McGrady is always scrutinized for, he deserves a spot on this all decade team.
My third selection comes via a time where the Rockets hit the abyss. We all remember Clutch City, and then the attempt to continue success after that, but when Steve Francis hit the scene, things weren’t pretty. The Rockets were bad, and Francis was stuck in Vancouver, where he had no interest in playing. It became a love relationship for both, as Steve landed on the scene, and brought relevance back to a team that was struggling. It took three teams and 11 players for Francis to wear a Rockets jersey, but it was well worth the complication. Francis quickly earned the moniker “Franchise” and dazzled fans with his incredible crossover, and athleticism. Though the Rockets were still struggling, Francis shared Rookie of the Year honors with Elton Brand. Francis gained even more popularity in 2000, as he participated in an epic Slam Dunk Contest, in which he put on a show. Vince Carter was obviously the winner, dunking with perfection, but Steve Francis was not far behind. Unfortunately the trend of injuries on this all decade list does not stop with Francis. Steve battled various migraine issues, and then in 2003, battled Jeff Van Gundy. Francis clearly didn’t fit Van Gundy’s style of coaching. The Rockets parted ways with him and good friend Cuttino Mobely. Francis, ranks seventh in career scoring average, second in career assists average, third in career steals average, fourth in triple-doubles (6), fifth in 3-pointers made (466) and fifth in steals (610) in Rockets franchise history. At a time when the Rockets needed a boost, Francis delivered memorable ones.
My fourth selection defines professionalism. Shane Battier, a two time all-defensive second team member, was the defensive stopper for the Rockets for so many years. Battier defined the word “leadership,” and always will for the Rockets. A real glue guy, Battier did what was necessary to keep the Rockets in games. It may have not been the most appealing thing to do, but as they say “someone’s gotta do it.” Battier took the challenge upon himself to guard the opponents best scorer on the court. A challenge that Battier broke down to a science. He always seemed like the most prepared Rocket on the court, and silly mistakes was never an option. At one point Battier even told former Rockets head coach Rick Adelman to only put him in the game when needed. In this particular instance it was against Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs. This prompted Adelman to take Battier out of the starting lineup, and only use him when Ginobili stepped on the court. That’s the kind of dedication Shane Battier possessed. I think if Shane came back to Houston as an all decade team member, he would be proud to know the future looks a bit like the past. The Rockets have themselves a good one right now, and he goes by the name of Chandler Parsons. I am willing to bet Battier has heard about him.
The final selection on this nostalgic journey, is none other than the “Chuck Wagon.” Chuck Hayes who has the most unique story out of anyone on this list, has a lot to be thankful for. The Rockets took a chance on an undrafted player, then gradually increased his minutes, and then started him at center. Oh did I mention he’s 6’6! I just had to have Chuck on my all decade team. I’ll admit it was tough between him and Luis Scola, but I am such a huge fan of Chuck Hayes’ story, and his time with the Houston Rockets. It was January 18, 2006 when the Rockets signed Hayes to a 10 day contract. Why you ask? Well take a wild guess… injuries. He quickly made an impact, and even had Rockets broadcaster Bill Worrell question whether he was related to Elvin Hayes! Chuck was a rebounding machine, and though he had lots of odds working against him, he had quite the basketball IQ. He had those intangibles on defense that you just couldn’t teach. His offensive game was atrocious, and his free throw shooting demanded a warning sign for players boxing out, but as Hayes proved, with work anything could be fixed. Hayes become a motivational force for the Rockets, and who could forget those huge charges he would take right in the heart of the paint. Who could forget Hayes dominating hall of fame players like Kevin Garnett, and Carmelo Anthony on defense. The greatest part about Chuck Hayes was his fearless attitude. He looked at superstars in the eye and sent them a message on defense. He’s a great player who I wish nothing but success for in Sacramento. Hopefully he will be back in Houston before it’s all said and done.
So that’s how my list pans out. I hope you enjoyed the path through the decade, and don’t forget to vote for your All-Decade Team of the 2000s.