Ralph Sampson regrets not playing longer with Hakeem Olajuwon


ralph-sampsonIf it wasn’t for the injuries, the career of the giant 7’4 center Ralph Sampson probably would’ve been different. The player once predicted to be the greatest ever in the NBA had played just 456 games in the NBA seasons. Sampson, a Hall of Famer, NBRPA member, was the No. 1 pick in the 1983 NBA Draft.

He would go on to play 9 years (1983-1992) in the NBA with the Houston Rockets, the Golden State Warriors, the Sacramento Kings, and the Washington Bullets.

During his NBA career, Sampson was Rookie of the Year, a four-tme NBA All-Star, an NBA All-Star Game MVP, and a member of the All-NBA Second Team. In 2012, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Sampson recently did an interview with NBRPA, where he spoke about his career, playing with Hakeem Olajuwon in Houston and his current activities. In particular, Sampson regretted that he didn’t play with Olajuwon long enough.

“It was an unbelievable experience for the year we played together. I sure wish we could have played together a little bit longer,” Sampson said, adding that him and Hakeem were the original “twin towers”.

“I don’t think anybody knew the magnitude of it, because no one had ever really tried it. You had some guys that were so called “twin towers,” but not like we were labeled. We were the original “Twin Towers.” With my skill set and his skill set, it was very special,” he said.

“I could run the floor and he could run the floor, so you basically had two gazelles that could play the game at a high level that didn’t necessarily need to be in the post or the low post. We could play in the high post, we could dribble, we could shoot – as people tell me, we were probably a little before our time,” Sampson added.

Sampson wasn’t overshadowed by Olajuwon in the late 80’s, when he was still healthy. In 1986, it was Sampson who made the game-winning shot against the defending champion LA Lakers in the 1986 NBA Conference Finals.

“I always loved playing in Los Angeles. I loved the Forum, the people and the excitement. Largely the most memorable moment was in the 1986 Western Conference Finals and playing that series where we came off of playing a seven game series with the Denver Nuggets and then going to the Lakers,” Sampson recalled.

sampson-olajuwon“We lost the first game and then we won four straight and ended up winning the Western Conference Finals on that shot that I made. It was a very good memory,” he said.

“There were so many memories from that series and not just the shot. We were down one game to none. We ended up winning the next four. I tell Magic every time I see him, “If you won that game you were going to lose the series anyway because we were going back home to Houston and take care of it there.” But anyway, Hakeem got thrown out of the game, there was an altercation, so it was a very heated battle across the board. And we knew everyone on the team had to step it up after we lost one of our starters and everyone stepped in and played well and did their job. That was a very exhilarating moment for all of us,” Sampson noted.

The 7’4 Sampson played his first 4 seasons with the Houston Rockets, averaging at least 15.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg and 1.3 blocks per game. He reached a career-high 22.1 ppg average in 1984-85.

As the knee and back injuries began to worsen, Sampson was traded to the Golden State Warriors, then to Sacramento Kings. Sampson finished his career with a 10-game stint with the Washington Bullets, averaging 2.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 0.8 bpg.

He played in total of 456 NBA games (started in 363), averaging 15.4 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.6 bpg in 29.8 mpg.

Having retired from the NBA, Sampson played eight games for Unicaja Ronda of the Spanish League during the 1991–92 season.

Returning to the States, he spent the 1992–93 season as an assistant to head coach Lefty Driesell at James Madison University before coaching a minor league professional team in Richmond, Virginia.

Reflecting back on his career and its three knee surgeries, Sampson admitted that he had attempted to come back too quickly from them, and said that he tried not to think about what could have been.

Read second part of the interview here: Hall of Famer Ralph Sampson: you miss relationships, not basketball


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