This series of articles will celebrate (or laugh at) some of the worst professional sports teams of all time. I will focus on teams within my lifetime so expect the worst from the 1970s to present day.
The Houston Rockets made it to the NBA Finals in 1981. Two years later, the Rockets were one of the worst teams in NBA history. How did the Rockets fall so hard, so fast? It started in the summer of 1982.
Moses Malone was the franchise player for the Rockets in the early 1980s. The 6-11 centre who earned the nickname “The Chairman Of The Boards” for his rebounding prowess, was the NBA MVP in 1981, as he led the Rockets to a finals appearance. However, Malone’s contract was up following the 1981-82 season, which made him a restricted free agent. Rockets management allowed Malone to explore his options, as the franchise decided to pursue a rebuilding project. The Philadelphia 76ers decided that Malone was the final piece to their championship puzzle, and signed Malone to an offer sheet. The Rockets did match the offer, but subsequently traded Malone to Philly for Caldwell Jones and a first round pick in the 1983 NBA draft. The Sixers went on to win the NBA title, the Rockets were headed into misery.
The Rockets staggered their way to a horrendous 14-68 mark in 82-83, by far the worst record in the NBA. They were so bad, they made the San Diego Clippers look somewhat functional. (Remember the San Diego Clippers? No? Don’t worry. Most people in San Diego don’t remember the Clippers either.) In fact, the signs of the Rockets being horrible started immediately as Houston lost their first 10 games by an average deficit of 18.4 points. The Rockets were going to be bad from the very beginning.
The good news for the Rockets was that 10 game losing streak at the start of the season was their longest losing streak of the season. The bad news is the Rockets had losing streaks of eight, seven and nine games as well. Making things worse was the fact the Rockets longest winning streak in 1982-82 was two games. If that isn’t a sign that your team sucks, I don’t know what is.
You want more proof on how bad the Rockets were, well I have more. The Rockets were 5-36 on the road and 8-33 at home. They couldn’t win at home or on the road. Perhaps neutral sites would have helped them, but most likely not.
As for the roster, well it was a mix of aging veterans and unproven youngsters. Starting with the man the Rockets acquired in the Moses Malone trade, Caldwell Jones. The nine-year veteran did appear in all 82 games for the Rockets but his numbers were nowhere close to what Malone was producing. Jones averaged 9.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. Malone meanwhile averaged 24.5 points, a league high 15.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game for Philadelphia that season. It was no contest who got the better of that deal, and it wasn’t Houston.
Elvin Hayes was an excellent power forward for the Washington Bullets in the 1970s. The 14-year veteran was a vital cog in the Bullets only NBA title in 1978. However in 1982-83, Hayes looked old and slow as his career was coming to a close. The University of Houston product did produce 12.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, but it was evident that Hayes could not keep up with the rest of the league anymore.
Despite his lack of physical stature, Calvin Murphy is known to be one of the best shooters in NBA history. The diminutive 5-9 guard led the NBA with a 92% success rate from the free throw line. It was the only positive stat the Rockets led in the entire season. Murphy did average 12.8 points and 2.5 assists that season. But it was his off-court behaviour that was detrimental to the Rockets cause. Although unknown to the public at the time, Murphy was busy with many women, fathering 14 children with 9 different women. Granted, some of this extra-cirriculer behaviour was done after his playing career, but Murphy did confess this was happening during his career as well. Seems like Murphy knew how to shoot in the bedroom as well as at the free throw line. (I know, bad joke but I couldn’t resist.)
Point guard Allen Leavell led the Rockets with 14.8 points and 6.7 assists per season, and was one of the few bright spots on the team. The 6-1, pivot man from Oklahoma City University, (Yes, that Oklahoma City University) was one of the key parts in the Rockets rebuilding phase that did reap rewards in later years.
When a season goes bad, changes occur in the offseason. Del Harris was relieved of his coaching duties, and he was relieved to leave Houston. Murphy retired following the season to pursue fathering more children with different women. But the biggest addition to the Rockets for next season was first overall pick Ralph Sampson. The next year, the Rockets selected Hakeem Olajuwon who teamed up with Sampson to form the Twin Towers. The Rockets did improve with each passing season, reaching the NBA Finals in the 1985-86 season. Leavell was the only player remaining from the wretched 82-83 team that was on the 85-86 team that reached the Finals.
The Rockets did finally win their first NBA title in 1994 and repeated the following season. But in 1982-83 the Rockets lift off was aborted before it started.
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