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Rudy Tomjanovich talks what if Houston Rockets faced Chicago Bulls in championship

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Last week was the 25-year anniversary of the Houston Rockets second Championship.

Dave Ward sat down with the man himself, Coach Rudy Tomjanovich, who was recently inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame 2020.

From discussing what Michael Jordan thought about a Rockets vs. Chicago Bulls championship match up, to what Coach Rudy T. thinks of coaching James Harden and today’s team, see what the man who led Houston’s first championship team had to say.

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Here is the transcript of their conversation that you can watch through the above video.

Dave Ward: Good afternoon, friends. I’m Dave Ward and I am honored to be split screen here with Rudy Tomjanovich, and you all know him from the San Diego Rockets to the Houston Rockets. And Rudy, you’ve been elected now to the Naismith Hall of Fame of 2020. How does that feel?

Rudy Tomjanovich: Well, first of all, Dave, you look great. Good to see you. I feel honored to be on with you. I watched it for so many years there. And, yeah, I couldn’t be prouder with this great honor. But, you know, like everybody who does get that honor, a lot of people helped us get there. And I had so many. And and that’s what I’m looking forward to, this Hall of Fame celebration when we finally do have it. It’s to thank the people that helped me.

Dave Ward: Wonderful. Well, you’re in Austin now. Do the people in Austin know what a special person they’ve got living in their community?

Rudy Tomjanovich: Well, a few do, but I sort of like it that way. I was out in California for 14 years and not a big deal out there. And I really liked the anonymity of just being a citizen then. I’m I’m proud of what I’ve done. But I think for my keep, I’d be on an even keel, it’s good to be just one of the people in that town.

Rudy Tomjanovich: Ok. This week is the 25th anniversary of the Rocket’s second NBA championship. How unlikely was it did you feel during that season defending champion struggling after that huge trade? How unlikely was it that you were able to make it work and win a second straight championship?

Rudy Tomjanovich: Yeah, well, the problem was we were struggling before the trade, and that’s what prompted us to make that trade, which I would say most of the time I would have been against that. I would have said, let’s give these guys a chance to defend this championship. You know, the way we were, but things were not going well.

And then it became evident that Clyde Drexler was available and to me, he’s the only star that could have made it work the way we did it in the middle of the season and Clyde came in and he was absolutely phenomenal. He kept our head above water. We did drop to the sixth spot without Clyde. We would have dropped right out of the playoffs.

Dave Ward: We will never forget your statement, “never underestimate the heart of a champion.” Those became iconic words. That was for that first championship. Did you think of that beforehand?

Rudy Tomjanovich: Well, it was for the second championship. And it came about after we beat the Phoenix Suns for the second year in a row. They had us on the ropes. We were down. And Kevin Johnson, their star, said it’s very hard to beat the Rockets. They have the heart of a champion. Now, Charles Barkley was on that team and he had a different analogy. He said those Rockets are like those Texas roaches. He said, “you step on them and you think they’re dead, but they scurry away.” So out of those two analogies, I’d like the one about the heart of a champion better.

Dave Ward: Well, so did I. And everyone here in Houston thought those words were just unbelievably fantastic. Was there any one player that you most enjoyed coaching?

Rudy Tomjanovich: Well, it’s just like your children. You love them all to the limit. But for different reasons. And, you know, without Hakeem Olajuwon, you’re not talking to me right now. He was the main he was the main one. And if you don’t have a good relationship, coach doesn’t have a good relationship with his best player, it’s not going to happen. And Hakeem was great. I knew him as well as anybody. I was an assistant coach when we you know, when we saw him at UH, and watch him develop into one of the greatest players of all time. So, you know, I owe so much of all these wonderful things, I’m getting recognized for, for his influence on my life.

Dave Ward: Well, as far as today’s Rockets are a concerned, how would you have enjoyed coaching James Harden?

Rudy Tomjanovich: Well, I I think they’ve got a lot of great firepower. I love finding ways to offensively exploit the opposition. And Mike D’Antoni has got some great players there with Westbrook and Harden and the other. And one of my favorite players is, is Gordon. And, you know, I think they’ve got a chance. I think they have a chance to do something when these playoffs start up again.

Dave Ward: Let’s hope, you know, much has been made of this recent ESPN documentary about Michael Jordan and the Bulls championship teams, called “The Last Dance.” How do you think your team would have fared against Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the championship match?

Rudy Tomjanovich: Well, Dave, I was very fortunate to get it from the horse’s mouth when Charles joined our team the first time we went to Phoenix. He invited the coaches and the trainers over for a nice dinner and he had to surprise guests. One was Tiger Woods. The other was Michael Jordan. And we had a wonderful night there.

And we got to talk about that. And Michael talked about how hard it was for them to beat us because they had no one to guard Hakeem. Hakeem was just too powerful for them. And I did have a background with that offense. “Tex” Winter was the first coach when we first came here to Houston in the early 70s, and I did know a ways to play that offense that we wouldn’t get sucker down plays. That doesn’t mean you’re going to beat them. Our players had to go out and do that. So anyway, Michael said, you guys give us the most trouble. And it would have been a great series.

Dave Ward: I’m sure it would have been. What do you think you would have done if your life had you not had such an amazing NBA career?

Rudy Tomjanovich: I probably wound up, you know, being a high school coach. Something like that, that was my degree. You know, education. And, you know, I, I really didn’t think I’d end up being a coach. It wasn’t something that was on my calendar. I had to do it out of necessity. You know, they had fired a head coach. They needed somebody and they offered it to me. If I didn’t take it, you know, you might not ever get back in the league. So I did. And along with Carroll Dawson, phenomenal basketball mind and like a big brother to me. He promised me he’d give me all the knowledge he had and he did. And together, we created a system that really worked for our guys. And, you know, I was blessed.

Dave Ward: Well, we were blessed to have you here with us in Houston. Rudy, my best to you. I swear, I bet you could still make a shot from mid court, brother. I think you could make it. I really do. But I think I see a roach crawling around, I’m going to stomp on it about five times. Thank you so much. I’m honored to be here with you. Thank you.

Rudy Tomjanovich: Same here.


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