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Why the 1997 Houston Rockets Were One of the Best Teams to Not Win a Championship

Updated on October 18, 2019
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Ara is a Journalism graduate from California State University Northridge who is looking to always explore his writing opportunities.

Introduction to the 1997 Houston Rockets and Scope of the Article

In the history of the NBA (National Basketball Association), there are teams that have been very talented but they have not won a championship. One such example of a team like this is the 1997 Houston Rockets. This Houston Rockets team had star players Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Clyde Drexler. Drexler had won a championship with Houston just two years earlier in 1995 when he was acquired from the Portland Trailblazers. This article is about why the 1996-1997 Houston Rockets team was one of the best teams to never win a championship. In trying to provide an analysis of this team since I was a basketball fan at least all the way through 2010, I can think of at least 3 major reasons why this team did not win a championship in spite of the fact that they had a 57-25 record during the season and several talented veteran basketball players.

Houston Rockets Team Logo

Source

Age Was a Big Issue for This Houston Rockets Basketball Team

Age of the star players and the bench players-By this point in their careers, Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, and Hakeem Olajuwon were all in their early to mid-30’s and they were a step slower. The next capsule goes into further detail about how the age of this Houston Rockets basketball team was a major disadvantage for them.

This Houston Rockets Team Was an Older, Slower Basketball Team

  1. In basketball, age makes a big difference. The constant running up and down the hardwood floors over an 82 game season and the playoffs can result in fatigue and injuries. Typically when a team’s star players are 34 or older, winning a championship becomes very difficult to do. In addition to this, bench players such as Kevin Willis, Sedale Threatt, and Eddie Johnson were even older and past their peak effectiveness. I remember Kevin Willis playing when he was with the Atlanta Hawks in the 1980’s. Sedale Threatt proved to be a very effective defensive point guard earlier in his career when he was with the Los Angeles Lakers. Eddie Johnson who had made that great three point basket at the end of Game 4 of the 1997 Western Conference Finals was at the end of his career because he was 38 years old. John Stockton and Karl Malone were veterans as well but Stockton had a game that he will remember forever.


Length of the NBA Season Caught Up With These Houston Players

The length of the season caught up with the Houston Rockets-The Houston Rockets by this point in the year had gone through a full 82 game season and they had barely beaten the Seattle Supersonics in 7 games. The Seattle Sonics had gone to the NBA Finals the previous season. The Utah Jazz on the other hand had not had a grueling series to this point and they were fresher. In 1999 when these Houston Rockets were at the end of their first round series against the Los Angeles Lakers, Doug Collins basically summed it up this way: the Lakers have the younger, fresher legs. In this 1997 Western Conference match up though, we could make the case that the wear and tear of the season had an effect on the Rockets’ performance.

Other Great NBA Teams That Did Not Win a Championship

Team Name
Year of Loss
Team's Record During the Season
Head Coach of Losing Team
Team They Lost To
Los Angeles Lakers
1989
57-25
Pat Riley
Detroit Pistons (NBA Finals 4-0)
Los Angeles Lakers
1990
63-19
Pat Riley
Phoenix Suns (Western Conference Semifinals 4-1)
Los Angeles Lakers
1991
58-24
Mike Dunleavy
Chicago Bulls (NBA Finals 4-1)
Golden State Warriors
2016
73-9
Steve Kerr
Cleveland Cavaliers (NBA Finals 4-3)

The Superb Offense by John Stockton

The play of Utah Jazz point guard John Stockton ended the Rockets’ hopes of winning a championship. John Stockton had 25 points and 13 assists but he had 11 huge points in that crucial 4th quarter including the famous game winning three pointer that beat Houston and sent them home for the summer.

Additional reasons for the 1997 Houston loss

As I analyze and try to look back on the reasons why this 1997 Houston Rockets team did not win an NBA title, even if they had beaten the 64 win Utah Jazz team and NBA MVP Karl Malone, they would have more than likely lost to the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals mainly because Michael Jordan was too great of a talent and he would have found a way to make his team better. Also, in the Western Conference Finals, Charles Barkley was only averaging just over 15 points per game in the series which was not enough for him. Even with a superb game by Clyde Drexler in Game 6, the Rockets still lost the game 103-100. They would however almost get to the NBA Finals again in 2018, barely losing to the Golden State Warriors in seven games.

John Stockton's Performance Was One of the Reasons for the Houston Rockets Loss in 1997

© 2018 Ara Vahanian

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