Rudy Tomjanovich, a five-time NBA All-Star player and a two-time NBA champion as head coach of the Houston Rockets, earned an induction into the 2020 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Tomjanovich won two NBA titles in the mid-1990s with Hakeem Olajuwon.
Tomjanovich spent 34 seasons with the Rockets as a player, assistant coach, or head coach.
As a player with the Rockets in the 1970s, Tomjanovich is best-known for being on the wrong end of a sucker punch during a brawl with Kermit Washington and the Los Angeles Lakers in 1977.
Tomjanovich, 6-foot-8, grew up in Hamtramck, Michigan outside Detroit. He excelled at multiple sports in high school and earned a scholarship to play basketball at Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Tomjanovich still holds the record as the Wolverines all-time leading rebounder. He holds a Crisler Arena scoring record with 48 points. Tomjanovich becomes the first, ex-Michigan player or coach to enter the Basketball Hall of Fame.
"Don't Ever Underestimate The Heart Of A Champion!"
Rudy T is a Hall Of Famer! pic.twitter.com/D2hVEq8P8A
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) April 4, 2020
Rudy T: Michigan > San Diego > Houston
Tomjanovich ended his career with the Michigan Wolverines in 1970. He averaged 30.1 points and 15.6 rebounds per game during his final season in Ann Arbor.
At the time, the Rockets were located in San Diego. With the #2 pick in the 1970 NBA Draft, the Rocket selected Tomjanovich. He would then spend the next 34 years of his life with the Rockets as a player or coach. The Rockets moved from San Diego to Houston during his second NBA season.
Once Tomjanovich arrived in Houston, his career flourished. Over his 11-season career, Tomjanovich averaged 17.4 points per game.
In the 1977-78 season, Tomjanovich played only 23 games. He nearly lost his life and during a brawl between the Rockets and Lakers. Kermit Washington struck Tomjanovich so hard that he fractured his jaw, nose, and skull. Tomjanovich recovered and played three more seasons with the Rockets. In his first season back, he averaged 19 points per game and earned a spot on the All-Star team.
When his playing career ended in 1981, Tomjanovich joined the Rockets as an assistant coach. Midway through the 1991-92 season, Tomjanovich got his first head coaching job.
Coach T and Hakeem the Dream
It took two full seasons with the Rockets before Tomjanovich guided them to the first of two NBA championships. Tomjanovich, known as a players’ coach, found a way to maximize Hakeem Olajuwon’s talent on both ends of the court.
In 1993-94, Olajuwon won the NBA MVP and the Defensive Player of the Year. The Dream destroyed opponents on both offense and defense.
The Rockets faced the New York Knicks in the 1994 NBA Finals. It was a rematch for Patrick Ewing and Olajuwon, who battled in college during the 1984 Final Four a decade earlier. Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas defeated Olajuwon’s Houston Cougars to win the 1984 March Madness championship. But in the rematch a decade later, Olajuwon and the Rockets edged out Ewing and the Knicks during an exciting seven-game series.
The Rockets had a rough start to the 1994-95 season. They traded for Clyde Drexler and it took a while before the team finally gelled as a cohesive unit. With the #6 seed, Tomjanovich and the Rockets ran the table in the postseason. The Rockets even came from behind in a 3-1 deficit to knock out Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns.
With another spot in the NBA Finals, the Rockets defended their crown to win back-to-back NBA championships in 1995.
During the trophy ceremony, Tomjanovich said a simple phrase that has been a mantra for athletes around the globe.
“Never underestimate the heart of a champion,” said Tomjanovich.