Houston Rocket for a Day
Written by Rick Archer
When I was 27, I had the privilege
of playing pickup basketball for 10 minutes with professional
players from the Houston Rockets.
I have always loved basketball.
Unfortunately, at 6' 1", I don't have the height, the jumping
ability or the quickness to be special. I just love playing
As a young man, I was a good shooter
and had a knack for defense. Unfortunately, I didn't
understand much about team ball. I would typically shoot the ball
the moment it was passed to me. Later on when I grew up a little,
I grew fond of being a good passer too. These skills allowed me to
be a good pickup basketball player, but nothing more.
I should have played high school basketball.
However I had a
job after school and had a huge need to save money for college.
Plus I didn't like the coach.
So during high school I played my basketball at city gyms on the days I didn't work
after school. However my decision to skip the high
school B-Ball team haunted me. I spent a lot of time wondering
about the glories that could have been.
I hated Senior Calculus. I have never had so much trouble
concentrating on a class in my life. Daydreaming about
basketball became my favorite escape from a boring math class.
My favorite fantasy
was visualizing a distant spot on the floor far from the basket where I could always make a shot no matter
how much pressure. Although I had limited basketball skills,
professional teams wanted me on their bench just in case they needed
that one special player to make a tough shot
when it counted most at the end of the game.
I won some big games in those dreams.
I also made a D in that calculus class, but I didn't care because I
had already been accepted into college. Since that "D" was my only blot on an
otherwise good academic record, I was able to continue my
education. Once I hit college I became a serious gym rat in college.
I would later do the same thing in graduate
Basketball helped me keep my sanity when things got
tough. It served as my best way to let off steam.
those many years of practice, I have
always been a good playground basketball player.
Not great, but definitely better than average.
After Graduate school, I moved back to Houston. Since I didn't
have a girlfriend, I had to do something to work off the excess energy
My favorite place to play basketball was
the Jewish Community Center
over on South Braeswood.
They had a brand new gym.
The Houston JCC will always be an important place for
me since this where my
dance career began
one year after this story about the Rockets occurred.
In addition, I loved playing Volleyball as well.
One Sunday morning during the summer of 1977 I went over to the JCC
at 9 am to play in my
the volleyball ended,
my friend Michael invited me to stay after to play some one-on-one basketball.
It was now
at 11 am.
This was our Sunday ritual. After playing for a while, we went
to sit on the bleachers to rest.
taller and quicker than Michael, so I would typically win most of
our games. Today I had been playing particularly well.
Consequently I had not lost once. I was proud to be undefeated
for the day. However I would never rub that in. I had
too much respect for my friend Michael to embarrass him like that.
won't deny that in my private thoughts, I had decided I was one heck
of a good basketball player.
face it, I was young and foolish.
cocky that day. Little did I know that the
Universe had arranged a unique way to teach me a valuable lesson.
That's me at age 55 still trying to get better
The Rockets Roll In
It was noon. Michael and I were the only
two men in the gym.
As we sat there chatting,
our eyes began to bulge when several Houston Rockets began to
walk onto the court. I was astonished to
NBA All-Stars Rudy Tomjanovich and Calvin Murphy
begin to warm up right before my eyes.
Dumbfounded, Michael and I looked at each to
confirm we were really seeing what we were seeing. Our heroes!
Michael and I stared in further disbelief as several other Rockets began to
stroll into the gym as well. Although my memory is
eroded by time, other players who were there included
Mike Dunleavy, Robert Reid, Ed Ratliff and a big guy named Don Smith who had just renamed himself "Abdul Aziz"
or something like that.
Since it was the off-season, we assumed these men were here to play
some basketball to stay in shape. Michael and I were excited.
We were going to get a free show!
As the players
worked on their different shots,
we couldn't believe at how huge these men were.
We were stunned by their size.
With the exception of Calvin Murphy who is 5' 9", the rest of the men appeared to be 6'
and up. They weren't just
tall, they were muscular too.
Besides their immense size,
their sense of balance and economy of motion was equally impressive.
Michael and I watched in awe as
these giant trees moved with a grace
associated with dancers and gymnasts.
Next a basketball player named
Rudy White showed up. I cracked up
when I saw him. I immediately told Michael how
pathetic Rudy White was.
I watched the Rockets on TV every chance I could and had decided
this guy was the worst player in the NBA.
A graduate of the
University of Arizona, Rudy had been a late-season addition to the Rockets. He had played sparingly.
He typically appeared only during garbage time at the end of
games, but even then he didn't do very
well. His shooting had been inaccurate to say the least.
Nor was his defense any good. It appeared whomever he guarded scored at will.
Mostly Rudy White occupied a seat on the bench.
I made sure Michael was very clear about my contempt for this athlete
who, in my opinion, did not belong in the NBA.
As I watched the Rockets shoot, I secretly wished I could get out there
and shoot with those guys. Playing professional basketball had always been my secret dream.
I was quite aware I was not even remotely talented enough to harbor any realistic ambitions in this direction.
never stopped me from dreaming about it!
Today I was about to learn the meaning of the
adage, "Be careful what you wish for."
One of the Rocket players,
Ed Ratliff, came over to get something out of his gym bag.
I asked him what the Rockets were doing here.
Ratliff said they were there to play some informal basketball to stay in shape during the off-season.
That's what I thought.
As I continued to
watch the players warm up,
began talking in earnest with another player.
To my surprise, he suddenly pointed
in my direction. The other guy shook his head in disgust, but
then threw up his hands in an exasperated way
as if to say, "Do what you want."
I was immediately on guard. I could
not imagine why I would be involved in the conversation.
That's when a premonition swept over me. They had 7 players.
Apparently someone was late. They wanted to start and needed a fill-in.
Sure enough, Ed Ratliff approached
us. A huge "uh oh"
began to surge through my body. Sure enough,
Ratliff asked if I would join them
for a few minutes till the other guy got there.
I was so
scared I was speechless.
Sensing my fear,
Ratliff turned his head and looked over
at Michael. No way! Michael was just as scared as I was. But Michael was no
dummy. Realizing he was still mathematically in the
solved the problem by sticking a shoe in my
butt and giving me a good strong push off the bleachers. Suddenly I was falling onto the
court. That did it. I was the chosen one.
As I hit the floor, I was feeling pretty shaky.
I was so nervous I couldn't see straight.
But then a bizarre arrogance kicked in. Hell, why not?
Maybe I will make a shot! I almost stumbled in my haste to get out there.
This was great! What a hoot!!
I didn't expect to excel, but I honestly thought I would hit an open shot if they didn't guard me too closely. I also
thought maybe I could play a little defense on someone like
Mike Dunleavy. I walked
close enough to Dunleavy to discover he was maybe an inch taller. I
figured Murphy was too fast for me, but Dunleavy seemed to move about
my speed. Maybe I had a chance.
teamed up with Murphy, Tomjanovich, and Robert Reid.
Because they had "me", my team argued they
should get the ball first. The other team quickly agreed.
That should give you some idea how sorry our
opponents felt for my team. How embarrassing!!
Like an idiot, I smugly thought I would show them!
Wrong. Boy, did I change my
attitude the instant the game started!!
no idea these men were so fast!
I had no idea how fast these men were
until I was right there beside them. Now I panicked.
I am not exaggerating in the slightest when I say
I have never been so afraid
of getting hurt in my life!
These giant men moved at the speed of race cars in the
Daytona 500. My God, they were bigger than trees and faster
than a speeding bullet!
I immediately regretted my arrogance. How could I ever imagine I could "play"
with these guys? What was I thinking? These guys were like
Superman who defied gravity because he came from another planet.
I was stuck in a
nightmare. Imagine being on a roller coaster falling straight
down so fast that you lose
all your confidence. In panic, you scream
at the top of your lungs, "Get me the hell out of here!!!"
That's exactly how I felt. I felt like I was in danger out
there. I was terrified of accidentally stepping across their
path. I knew they didn't intend to hurt me, but I was scared to death I could
not get out of their way fast enough!!
Even worse I feared if I did try to get out
of their way, I might guess wrong and step right into someone trying to
drive around me. It was like trying to dodge a speeding car...
which way do I jump? These men were so enormous and so fast!!
I also worried about being trampled.
Or even worse, stuffed in the basket
along with the ball. That's about how helpless I felt.
Plus I felt small. Heck, I was the
same height as Dunleavy and taller than Murphy, but I still felt like
a midget in the Land of the Giants.
This was a pretty strange feeling indeed for a man who was 6'
1", 200 pounds and used to plenty of physical contact.
These men were just so immense, but it was their speed that I
Fortunately as the
men whizzed by me at the speed of light, they seemed to be able to avoid me no matter how stupid
and unpredictable my movements were.
One time I did step the wrong way right into
Dunleavy's path. To my astonishment, this lightning quick athlete was able to stop on a dime and change directions
without hurting me a bit. One moment he was ready to knock me
over, but in a blur Dunleavy spun 360 and didn't even touch me. Amazing.
After that near miss, I decided maybe it
would safer to just stand
still. It would easier to avoid me this way.
Then I noticed my friend Michael was laughing at me. That shamed me
into moving again. Now for a while I scurried around like a cockroach
trying to pretend like I was doing something.
I noticed no one was even bothering to guard me.
Nor did anyone bother to pass me the ball.
Why did they even bother asking me to join them?
It was like I wasn't really out there. I was the Invisible
Oh my God,
a rebound came near me! I moved to get it,
but a man moving at the speed of light came out of nowhere and
snatched it out of the air. The ball was within inches of
my grasp, but I never came close to touching it!
Now I began to get a sense of complete futility. No matter
what I did, I would have no effect on the outcome of this contest.
I felt worse when I realized that my team was forced to play 3 on 4.
No one guarded me. Two players guarded Murphy, the elusive
one. Oddly enough, despite having me on their team, my team was doing pretty good.
had stacked the teams being putting All-Stars Murphy and Tomjanovich together
as a way to compensate for being stuck with me. Murphy and Rudy T couldn't miss.
Playing a style known as "make it - take it", the two superstars hit six shots in a row.
They were so good, the double team defense couldn't stop either of them.
If Murphy missed, Tomjanovich would just rebound the ball and shoot
Still worried about getting knocked down by one of the
behemoths, it occurred to me to go over in the corner.
This turned out to be
a good move since it led to my only triumph
of the day. I got a rebound as a missed shot caromed deep towards the corner directly to where I was standing.
This time I took a step forward to snatch it before anyone else.
Wow, a rebound! Over in the bleachers I smiled as Michael cheered and applauded my feat!
My joy was short-lived. Seeing Abdul
Aziz come out to challenge me for the ball, I panicked. The guy
was bigger than a mountain. I was intimidated and wanted to get to rid of the
ball as fast as I could. I tried to pass the ball
only to have it intercepted by his fast
So much for my one good play.
Glory is fleeting.
was the opening the other team had been
waiting for. Thanks to my bad pass, the other team got the ball
for the first time that game. I frowned.
Now something really bad happened.
Robert Reid called to me and pointed to the man I was supposed to guard.
I looked and
felt a surge of hope... oh boy, I was guarding
the worst player on the Rockets, maybe even the entire NBA!! Oh
yeah! I can handle him.
sized him up. Rudy White was barely taller than me.
We were almost the same size.
To this day, I still regret that I actually smiled when I
first saw who I was guarding.
You would think after fearing for my
life I would have been humbled enough to see things clearly, but
I was so accustomed to seeing Rudy White screw up in the NBA
games on TV that I thought I could match up with him.
I cannot believe I was arrogant enough to even remotely
think I had a chance… what
in the hell was I thinking?!
I quickly discovered these guys do not have a heart. They immediately passed the ball to
Rudy White out at the foul line.
In other words, they were picking on me,
the weakest link. I got down in a defensive crouch. I
noticed again that White wasn't that much taller than me. I was ready for
him. Bring it on.
White received the ball, he drove past me before I could even take a step.
He was so fast I wasn't even able to
slide my foot before he was
past me. I watched in despair as he made
an easy lay-up.
My eyes bulged in shock. The athletes laughed at my
obvious disbelief. They
were having a little joke at my expense...
Welcome to the NBA, kid.
I frowned to myself. I was
really embarrassed. This Rudy White guy was faster than a lightning bolt.
How could he appear to be so slow on TV?
it was make it-take it, they still
had the ball. Rudy White brought the ball back out to the top. He
handed the ball to me so I could give it back to him as a way of initiating the next play.
The moment I handed him the ball, Rudy
White passed the ball to a teammate
and cut to the basket. He received the ball
back and dunked it in one gigantic burst of power.
Meanwhile I had barely moved.
I stared in shock. No one had ever dunked on me before.
This display of raw power was stunning. He had risen from
the earth into the sky faster and higher than any human being I
had ever seen this close-up. This was unbelievable.
Rudy White was super-human!
I looked at him again. Rudy White
wasn't that much taller than I was, but it appeared he could
jump three feet higher
than I could. How was it
possible that I could just barely touch the rim, but this man
appeared to be able to fly over it?
I had never
felt so slow in my life. Like the previous play,
this dunk happened so fast I could
Maybe I had taken one step
this time before it was over, but I was so
obviously out of my league I was deeply ashamed. These people
had to be extraterrestrial.
After the dunk, Rudy White high-fived a teammate, came over, slapped me on the butt, and flashed a grin wider than the Cheshire Cat. As he handed me the ball again,
Rudy displayed an expensive row of gold-capped teeth that would have had Goldfinger salivating.
I had been "Yo-ed" to the Nth degree.
I could not believe how good Rudy
Fortunately God in
His Infinite Mercy decided I had learned my lesson. I was
spared further humiliation when the missing Rocket, a guy
named Kevin Kunnert, showed up to take my place.
I have never been so happy to see
anyone in my life!!
I quickly gave up my spot and ran to the bleachers as fast as I could.
I just wanted to get out of there.
As I returned to the bleachers with my tail curled between my legs,
one thought crossed my mind, "Okay, God, you made your point. I
I wasn't bitter, just chastened. The Universe had decided I needed to be taught a lesson in humility.
Well, guess what, I got the message.
Michael asked me how I felt. I shook my head in disbelief.
All I could think of was how I
had disrespected Rudy White and how easily
Rudy White had beaten me
to the basket two times in a row.
I was totally helpless to stop him.
Henceforth I would understand the concept of Basketball
Relativity. No matter how good I was, there were levels of
athletes far superior to me. So don't get such a big head.
Even the least talented among these
athletes was an Olympic God compared to pathetic
little me. I was mortal, they were
I told Michael as long as I lived I would never criticize another professional athlete again.
Furthermore, from that point on, I
ridicule or criticize people with ability similar to mine. Since that day, I have made a point never to show
up a fellow athlete. Don't misunderstand, I still compete
hard. But there is a difference. Once in a while, I
will make a good shot despite my opponent's best effort to stop
me. So what? I just walk away without a smile.
that I have been humbled,
in the cosmic scheme of things, there will never be any reason
again to make fun of anyone. I'm just happy to be
able to play.