Going, going, gone: Houston sports took a big ‘L’ when these athletes left

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George Springer: Signed as a free agent with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2021

HOUSTON – It’s been a tough several months for professional sports fans in Houston, with a handful of players leaving the city. With J.J. Watt now parting ways with the Texans, it just adds to the list. Over the last year, Houston had already lost James Harden, Deandre Hopkins, George Springer, among others.

While this past year has been perhaps especially rough with the departures, there have certainly been other top stars who have left Houston before that.

Here’s a look at some of the top players who left us heartbroken when they said so long to H-town. If there are any not on our list that you REALLY miss, let us know in the comments under this story!


George Springer - 2021

The Astros star has been in Houston since the team drafted him with their first-round pick in 2011. Springer joined the Astros in 2014, and eventually reached free agency in 2021.

Springer received a 6-year, $150 million deal from the Toronto Blue Jays. The Astros were not competitive in trying to retain their star center fielder.

Gerrit Cole - 2019

Houston pulled off a dazzling trade with the Pirates for the former No. 1 overall pick and Cole lived up to his expectation in two great seasons for the Astros. In 2019, Cole was the Cy Young runner-up to teammate Justin Verlander and led Houston to game 7 of the World Series. Cole left for New York, with the Yankees signing Cole to a seven-year, $324 million deal.

Dallas Keuchel - 2019

Keuchel pitched for Houston between 2012-2018, winning a World Series and a Cy Young for the Astros. Eventually, the lefty got squeezed by MLB’s aversion to veteran free agents, waiting until in-season in 2019 to sign with the Atlanta Braves. Keuchel pitched only one season in Atlanta, and eventually landed his big contract with the Chicago White Sox, signing to a 3-year, $55.5 million deal.

Lance Berkman - 2010

The Big Puma mashed for Houston for more than a decade, but the 2010 Astros started 0-8 and never recovered. That was also the final year of Berkman’s six-year, $85-million contract. The Astros traded Berkman to the Yankees for Jimmy Paredes and Mark Melancon. Berkman won a World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals the next season.

Roger Clemens - 2007

The Texas high school and college star pitched in his hometown for three seasons, helping lead the 2005 Astros to the pennant. Clemens pitched his final season with the New York Yankees in 2007 after dramatically showing up in owner George Steinbrenner’s box in season.


J.J. Watt - 2021

There’s no doubt J.J. Watt is the most beloved player in Texans history and he’ll be hard to top. From being the face of the franchise, winning three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards, and his countless contributions to the Houston community, including more than $40 million raised in rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey, Watt will forever be a Houston legend. But also, now he is gone.

Deandre Hopkins - 2020

In what will go down as one of the most lopsided trades in NFL history, All-Pro receiver Deandre Hopkins left Houston for a running back David Johnson and a second-round pick, and a future fourth-round pick. Universally panned by Houston fans and national media, the Texans went 4-12 despite a career year from Deshaun Watson in 2020 without Hopkins. Hopkins, meanwhile, did what he does, catching 115 passes for 1,407 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2020. A mix of clashing personalities between the now-fired Bill O’Brien and Hopkins, along with a desire for an extension the team didn’t want to pay led to the trade.


James Harden - 2021

Harden spent eight years becoming a Houston legend and undid all of that in several months. Harden demanded a trade, reported to training camp late, and eventually blasted his team in a presser on the way out. Houston gave him his demand, trading Harden to the Brooklyn Nets for a bevy of picks and some players. Harden won an MVP Award in Houston but was never able to lead the Rockets to the NBA Finals.

Tracy McGrady - 2010

McGrady became a superstar over six seasons in Houston, but had lingering injuries in his last few seasons. The Rockets traded McGrady in 2010 to the New York Knicks in a 3-team deal. McGrady eventually bounced around to Atlanta and San Antonio and retired from the NBA after the 2013 season.

Hakeem Olajuwon - 2001

The greatest player in Rockets history brought two championships to Houston in a legendary career. That career did not end in Houston, as Olajuwon turned down a 3-year offer worth $13 million from the Rockets and was traded to the Toronto Raptors. Saddled with a back injury, Olajuwon played his final season in purple, creating one of the strangest basketball memories.

Robert Horry - 1996

Before he was “Big Shot Bob,” Horry helped the Rockets win two championships. The Rockets traded Horry, among others, for ex-league MVP Charles Barkley. Horry ended up with five more rings, three with the Lakers, two with the Spurs.

Ralph Sampson - 1987

One half of Houston’s twin towers with Olajuwon, Sampson played three dominant seasons in Houston before lingering injuries limited his effectiveness in his final two seasons in the Bayou City. Midway through the 1987 season, the Rockets traded Sampson and Steve Harris for Sleepy Floyd and Joe Barry Carroll.

Moses Malone - 1982

A two-time NBA MVP with the Houston Rockets, Moses Malone left in 1982 as a restricted free agent. Houston matched Philadelphia’s offer sheet for Malone, but opted for a sign-and-trade with the 76ers for Caldwell Jones and a 1983 first-round pick, which wound up being Rodney McCray. Malone teamed up with Julius Erving, and he and “Dr. J” won the NBA title in 1983, with Malone winning league MVP a third time. Shortly after, Houston drafted Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon, replenishing the team’s historic strength for big men.


Kealia Ohai - 2020

Ohai (now Kealia Watt) came to Houston in 2014, and left for Chicago after a career where she was named team captain, had an impressive scoring streak, and was named to the NWSL Best XI. Houston traded Ohai to Chicago for Katie Naughton and a draft pick in 2020.

Carli Lloyd - 2017

The USWNT superstar played in Houston between 2015 and 2017, registering 11 goals in 28 games. Lloyd was on the Dash during USWNT’s 2015 World Cup run, where Lloyd won the Golden Boot. Lloyd eventually played in England, before moving to New Jersey to play for Sky Blue FC of the NWSL.

Brad Davis - 2016

Between 2006 and 2015, Davis was one of the top offensive players in the MLS, leading the league in assists in 2011. Davis led the Dynamo to back-to-back MLS Cup wins in 2006 and 2007. Houston traded the aging winger to Sporting Kansas City before the 2016 season, and Davis retired after that season.

About the Authors:

Murrow and Emmy award-winning sports anchor & reporter. Avid traveler, mediocre golfer. Loves good food, good friends and southern rap.

Daniela Sternitzky-Di Napoli has been a digital news editor at KPRC 2 since 2018. She is a published poet and has background in creative writing and journalism. Daniela has covered events like Hurricane Harvey and the Astros World Series win. In her spare time, Daniela is an avid reader and loves to spend time with her two miniature dachshunds.