#3) May 21, 1986: Ralph Sampson‘s “Shot Heard ‘Round The World”
I was way too young — I was five-years old — to even comprehend or to see this live but as I got older, I had the opportunity to watch this game as well as other throwback games and this was certainly one I could not leave out.
Thank goodness for outlets such as ESPN Classic and the eventual NBA TV where they show games like these all of the time.
Space City Scoop
The then-feisty Olajuwon had been ejected with five minutes left after a scuffle with Mitch Kupchak causing a massive bench-clearing brawl — he also had 30 points to his credit.
I just love the physicality of the 80s — none of that would’ve flown in today’s NBA!
With a team that featured not only Olajuwon and Sampson but bang-up supporting cast in Rodney McCray, Robert Reid, Lewis Lloyd, Allen Leavell, Mitchell Wiggins and Jim Petersen — coupled with the outspoken, fiery head coach in Bill Fitch, they were just the right mix to stir things up against the heralded Los Angeles Lakers who were the team to beat back in 80s along with the Boston Celtics.
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After losing the first game, the Rockets dominated the rest of the way through defeating the Lakers with a shot that certainly is one that is all-time favorite of fans — not only that but Sampson himself.
The inbound-play with one-second left was set up for Sampson — but Pat Riley mysteriously did not put James Worthy nowhere near Sampson as he probably thought that we were going to Reid or McCray for the last shot.
It was beautifully orchestrated and it certainly catapulted the Rockets into a new era of legitimacy after being an obscured shadow in the Western Conference for quite some time.
It was just great hearing legendary sportscasters Dick Stockton and Tom Heinsohn on the call.
Sampson had 29 points and nine rebounds in the Rockets’ 114-112 Game 5 win to give them that coveted trip to the Finals winning that series four games to one.
The Rockets went on to fall to the Celtics in the 1986 NBA Finals 4-2 in that series and was the last championship they won before 2008, their most recent banner that has been hung up at the Garden.
But the Rockets learned a lot about themselves that year — evolving from just a begotten expansion team to a team that would build a respective history and solidify itself as one of the best-run franchises in the world.
I just wished Sampson’s career would’ve lasted longer — I’m positive there would be more banners hanging up in the rafters at Toyota Center.
Next: CLICK HERE: Clutch Shot No. 2: My All-Time Favorite Buzzer-Beater!