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[chron]RALPH SAMPSON: 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by tinman, Apr 24, 2006.

  1. tinman

    tinman You want to protect the world
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    [​IMG]
    http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/sports/bk/bkn/rox/3665930.html

    RALPH SAMPSON: 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987
    The bigger they are, the harder they fall, but this half of the Rockets' Twin Towers is determined to climb back up

    By FRAN BLINEBURY
    Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

    ATLANTA - He had sat inside the restaurant for more than two hours, deflecting some of the stares, pretending not to notice others. But when the handsome, immaculately dressed man in the gray tweed sport coat and black slacks stood patiently waiting for the valet to deliver his car, a woman at the front of the line finally blurted it out.

    "How tall are you?" she asked while tilting her head slowly back as if trying to see the top floor of a skyscraper.

    "7-4," he replied.

    "Oh my," she said with a voice like Georgia sweet tea, "I've never seen anyone quite like you."

    That was always the problem for Ralph Sampson.

    When he was still a gangly high school colt in Harrisonburg, Va., the legend of the big kid who could dribble the length of the court to beat a press was already growing out of control. All through his career at the University of Virginia — three times national College Player of the Year — the tales of his talent and his exploits were growing exponentially.

    By the time then-Rockets owner Charlie Thomas called "heads" in a coin flip to win the rights to make him the No. 1 pick in the 1983 NBA draft, the hype had turned Sampson into a combination of Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Paul Bunyan.

    Here was the new breed of big man who could leap high above the rim to catch a lob pass and slam it home with authority, could outrun guards on the fast break, could dribble the ball between his legs or behind his back and could stick the 20-foot jumper in your face. All while doing advanced algebra in his head and curing the common cold. He could have been even larger than life only if he had ridden into town on Babe the Blue Ox.

    "I don't think there's ever been another player in history who came into the NBA with a higher level of expectation," said Charles Barkley, who has been known to use hyperbole but in this case wasn't. "Nobody ever revolutionizes or changes the game. But that was all the talk surrounding Ralph. He was set up for the fall."

    And it came hard.

    Sampson was a unanimous pick as the NBA's Rookie of the Year in 1984, a four-time All-Star and the MVP of the 1985 All-Star Game in Indianapolis. And until the Rockets made their back-to-back championship runs in 1994 and 1995, he had the biggest basket in franchise history with his twisting, last-second, 10-foot turnaround that defeated the L.A. Lakers in the 1986 Western Conference Finals. In his first three NBA seasons, he averaged 20.6 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.03 blocked shots.

    Three knee surgeries, three teams and six seasons later, Sampson limped out of the league as a symbol of potential unfulfilled, averaging 2.2 points a game in a brief stint with the Washington Bullets in 1992. Critics called him soft for the way the big man preferred to play out of the low post, mostly facing the basket. He was labeled a shrinking violet who took a swing at a player (Jerry Sichting) more than a foot shorter than he in Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Celtics and then disappearing with a mere eight-point effort in Game 6 at Boston Garden as the Rockets were eliminated.

    Even in Houston, where he often electrified The Summit with his dazzling play, Sampson's legacy, of course, pales in comparison to that of adopted hometown hero Hakeem Olajuwon.

    "Not to take anything away from Dream," said former Rocket, Olajuwon teammate and now TNT analyst Kenny Smith. "But one was hurt and one wasn't.

    "I hear people say that Ralph only did it for three or four years. But for three or four years, nobody could touch him. He'd have been (voted) a Top 50 (all-time) player if not for his knees. When it comes to Sampson, everybody seems to want to go for the easy negative instead of looking for the truth."


    The ugly truth is that Sampson was hauled into U.S. District Court last fall on charges that he owed nearly $300,000 in unpaid child support to two daughters and was facing a jail term. That story hit the wire services and ESPN SportsCenter and went coast-to-coast. He divorced his wife, Aleize, with whom he has four other children, in 2003. His oldest, Ralph Lee Sampson III, is a 6-11 sophomore who plays basketball at a private high school in the Atlanta area. He recently had a seventh child, India, with a woman he said he'll likely marry.

    He appears fit, weighs 220 (about 15 pounds lighter than his playing weight), and the biggest surprise is the confident, engaging demeanor that has replaced the scowl that was so much a part of his persona on and off the court in the old days. There is a smile on Sampson's face as he discusses a fractured life that he says is slowly coming back together.

    "It's hurts to be called a 'deadbeat dad' and have people who never even met you believe that's what you're all about," Sampson said. "The money situation is something that was definitely real. The last of the NBA money ran out in 1999, and you didn't have to go back there far to a time when I was broke.

    "I'm proud to say I had nothing, and I've worked myself back up onto my feet. The child-support payments were all part of a larger story that I explained to the court in a 30-page statement, and the expectation is that it will be settled and I'll be able to go forward."

    But on Jan. 18, the U.S. Attorney's Office indicted Sampson one one count each of perjury and making a false claim in order to obtain court-appointed counsel in the federal child-support case. On Feb. 6, Sampson pleaded not guilty, and U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer set a May 16 hearing date.

    In his statement to the court, Sampson declared that he earned more than $500,000 in 1999 but only $12,000 in 2000.

    Sampson currently is a partner in a mortgage company in Atlanta and a voice-over-Internet phone company out of Virginia. He is also working to establish a foundation to raise money to fund college scholarships. Following his NBA career, he played for a year in Malaga, Spain, and coached for a season in the International Basketball Federation.

    After moving to Atlanta in 2000, he began helping to train Krista Watson, a high school athlete who had simply asked for his help.

    "When she came to me, she weighed about 175 pounds and had 27 percent body fat," Sampson said. "In two years, she'd made all-state in basketball and had a scholarship to the University of Alabama. But on her graduation day from high school, she was driving her car, turned a corner and was hit head-on by a truck. She died in her mother's arms in the hospital, and that affected me bad. I couldn't bring myself to get close to new kids for a while."

    However, now Sampson is trying to guide Ralph III through the maze that is AAU basketball and the recruiting process.

    "He's just about my size when I was his age, and except for the chubby cheeks, he looks like me," Sampson. "What we've been working on is getting that little jump hook down, the inside move. He'll need those, you know."

    The irony, of course, is that Sampson was never a low-post player and didn't want to spend time down on the blocks.

    "Ralph was who Ralph was, and that's just the way he wanted to play basketball," said his Rockets coach, Bill Fitch. "Because of his build, he wasn't gonna be able to do a lot of dominant things against the real pros inside.

    "But he could take the ball off the board and start the fast break as well as anybody I've ever coached. You take Dave Cowens, Nate Thurmond, Jim Chones and Olajuwon — none of them ever got the ball and cleared it for the break like Ralph."

    Sampson wrestled often with Fitch over how he should be used. But he did not complain when the Rockets asked him to move to power forward when they made Olajuwon the No. 1 pick in 1984.

    "Playing with Ralph was a lot of fun," Olajuwon said in an e-mail from Amman, Jordan. "He never showed me any jealousy over the position. We were a great complement to each other's game, and I believe we were way ahead of our time. I blocked so many shots because I was able to come from the weak side and behind Ralph. He gave me opportunities for tip-in dunks with his play around the rim. Those were fun years, and I only wish he would not have had the knee injuries. It was sad to see him not reach all of his potential."

    Ex-teammate Jim Petersen battled Sampson every day in practice.

    "Don't anyone tell me that Ralph wasn't a special player," he said. "I know what it was like to try to guard him. He was special."

    The bar, said former Rocket Rodney McCray, was simply set too high for Sampson.

    "It was never going to be enough," McCray said. "Ralph would have had to average 50 a game to make people happy, and I'm not sure that would have done it. I can't imagine anybody who played with him here in Houston saying Ralph didn't play up to his potential for us. In the end, it was all about the knees."

    Sampson says he has finally come to terms with the hurt of being traded by the Rockets and is looking forward to a reunion, of sorts, at the NBA All-Star weekend. He says that in a few more years, he'll be better off financially than at any time during his playing career. He wouldn't mind taking another shot at coaching. He says he plans to move back to Houston in a few years, even as a businessman, because he still has an affection for the city that has grown with his absence.

    What Sampson says he won't do is spend time looking back on his NBA career with regret.

    "There are so many what-ifs," he said. "What if I had left school a year earlier and gone to the Lakers in a coin flip and played with Magic Johnson? What if John Lucas, Mitchell Wiggins and Lewis Lloyd didn't go down to the drugs? What if my knees didn't go?

    "The only time I didn't enjoy playing basketball and didn't enjoy my NBA career was the two years I spent in Sacramento. They got my weight up to 280. With the knees, I couldn't move around at all. I was miserable.

    "But injuries are part of the game. I wish I could have played at that high level for many more years. I wish I could have spent more time playing with Hakeem. Obviously, if I'd have had a 15-year career at that early level, there's another perspective on everything.

    "When I played, people said big men are not supposed to be playing away from the basket. Now I see Kevin Garnett all over the floor. Hey, I had my time. I played my game."

    And no one had ever seen anything quite like it. For Ralph Sampson, that was always the problem.
     
    1 person likes this.
  2. kaleidosky

    kaleidosky Your Tweety Bird dance just cost us a run
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    nice story..
     
  3. rimrocker

    rimrocker Contributing Member

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    I caught some of the Game 5 on ESPN Classic the other day. I realize I may be looking back from middle-age to a time in my youth, but the basketball seemed much more exciting and much more team-oriented. I specifically watched Dream (until the fight with Kupchak) and Sampson. Sampson was a stud... he got more than his share of tough boards and played tough D and ran the floor.
     
  4. pgabriel

    pgabriel Contributing Member

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    they also showed the o.t. game from 87 vs. seattle. didn't realize sampson played that game.
     
  5. codell

    codell Contributing Member

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    Fran is good for a Ralph commentary at least every other year it seems
     
  6. OddsOn

    OddsOn Contributing Member

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    It was much more team oriented back then. But once MJ started going off on guys and ESPN started to get big with the highlights this whole "And-One" mentaliy took over. IMHO it truly has ruined the game of basketball. I mean the dunks and individual moves are fun and all but where is the no look passes like Bird and Magic used to do on a regular basis? Fundamentals are way down these days...
     
  7. Easy

    Easy Contributing Member
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    I don't know if fundamentals are down. But today's basketball is a lot more individualistic and I too blame MJ for what it is (mostly not his fault).

    Back to the topic. I do think Sampson is underrated by a lot of people. He was a freak and could have been one of the greatest if not for the injuries.
     
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  8. kaleidosky

    kaleidosky Your Tweety Bird dance just cost us a run
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    Sorry, if we're on this topic, gotta go with it a little. Not sure how you could say fundamentals aren't down...no one can shoot worth a lick. With teams at least mixing in a zone here and there, guys should be knocking em down lights out. And the guys that CAN shoot don't receive the passes in the right place at the right time because of poor spacing and poor passing (ugh, did you see the Grizz a lot of times? No one knew when to take the open shot...they'd automatically rotate the ball around the horn even if the defense had already rotated off the guy who received the first pass..). And when the Grizz did pass to the right guy, it was at his feet.. just so ugly.

    I don't blame MJ and Sportscenter nearly as much as I blame And-1 and AI. It turned bball at every gym into street ball...and it turned everyone's moves that they worked on at home on their driveway or wherever into hold-the-ball-behind-my-back-with-no-one-knowing or whatever else. The more time people spend on that, the less they spend on fundamentals, including straight shooting practice.
     
  9. CBrownFanClub

    CBrownFanClub Contributing Member

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    Great article, i love Ralph.
     
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  10. geeimsobored

    geeimsobored Contributing Member

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    Me too

    [​IMG]
     
    #10 geeimsobored, Apr 24, 2006
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2006
  11. tinman

    tinman You want to protect the world
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    "It's hurts to be called a 'deadbeat dad' and have people who never even met you believe that's what you're all about," Sampson said. "The money situation is something that was definitely real. The last of the NBA money ran out in 1999, and you didn't have to go back there far to a time when I was broke.

    Maxwell is facing the same situation. He's also getting blind hatred. especially so called 'rocket fans'. they're the same. they're Rocket Heroes.

    Maxwell hit the shot the sealed the Rockets victory over the Knicks. Sampson hit the shot that put the Rockets on the map.

    both great fathers with greedy mothers.
     
  12. Dr of Dunk

    Dr of Dunk Clutch Crew

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    This article is from February... I knew I had seen this somewhere... or something like it anyway.

    As for fundamentals being down... that's just great... because as we all know Bird and Magic were tenacious defenders... lol. Where're the fundamentals on that side of the ball? Jordan had a tenacity on offense and defense - his play showed it, and the stats showed it. Don't blame him if kids only saw half the game.

    Besides, the whole fundamentals argument is pretty weak. They're all fundamentally weak in different ways. It's like when everyone was saying "Euro players know their fundamentals"... yeah, and most can't play defense or have never seen lateral movement when trying to cover a guy. But boy can they shoot jumpers. :)
     
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  13. Dave2000

    Dave2000 Contributing Member

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    I thought the same also because I was looking at today's paper to read the hard copy, then noticed the date on the link. I believe this was published during allstar weekend.
     
  14. Supermac34

    Supermac34 Contributing Member

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    Don't blame Jordan. Blame the NBA for marketing Jordan like he played that way.

    Watch old Bulls games with Jordan. Sure he took over games individually, but he usually made his teamates better, played fantastic defense, and played within his team's structure. Jordan made a lot of passes for a lot of points from his teamates in his career.
     
  15. CreepyFloyd

    CreepyFloyd Member

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    I agree

    I wish some of these ex-Rockets who have so much praise for these guys would do something to help them out...of coure they're not obligated to do anything, but it would be a nice gesture
     
  16. Deckard

    Deckard Blade Runner
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    Yeah, I think I praised Fran for it already, and that's something akin to going to the dentist for me. I've never forgiven him for writing off Sampson, Akeem, and that great Rockets team before they played one game in the playoffs. He tends to "forget" that. Still, a great read about one of the greatest Rockets ever... we just didn't have him healthy as long as we should have. Blame the Celtics. He had a terrible fall that hurt his back, ('86 Finals, in Boston. don't remember which game) and it affected his knees. I remember reading about it somewhere. He changed how he put his weight on his legs, or something like that, to compensate for the back pain, and it screwed up his knees.

    Major bummer for the Rocks, and for Ralph.
     
  17. tinman

    tinman You want to protect the world
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    Ralph Sampson. Rocket HERO.

    I'm taking DREAM's WORD on how good Ralph was.
     
    #17 tinman, Jan 25, 2010
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2010
  18. xiki

    xiki Contributing Member

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    Yea Ralph Sampson ! :cool:
     
  19. Deckard

    Deckard Blade Runner
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    There are miracles! :grin:
     
  20. tinman

    tinman You want to protect the world
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    Deckard,

    in the year 9999. they will still show Sampson's shot to beat the Lakers.

    Ralph over Kareem. Cooper on the floor.

    it's etched in eternity.

    Rockets glory is forever.
     
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