Inside Rudy Tomjanovich’s Hall of Fame legacy: Why Houstonians have a place for him in their hearts

Rudy Tomjanovich talks to KPRC 2 about his upcoming Basketball Hall of Fame induction
Rudy Tomjanovich talks to KPRC 2 about his upcoming Basketball Hall of Fame induction

HOUSTON – As Rudy Tomjanovich prepares to enter the Basketball Hall of Fame and receive the top accolade in the sport, we take a look at why the man affectionately known as “Rudy T” is so special with Houstonians.

Tomjanovich is known mainly for his coaching exploits, but he was also known to be an above-average player in his own right. The forward averaged 25.1 points and 14.4 rebounds in 72 collegiate games at the University of Michigan. In his junior year, when he was an all-American, Tomjanovich averaged 30.1 points and 15.7 rebounds. To this day, he tops the Wolverines’ all-time career rebounding list.

So it was no surprise that Tomjanovich was drafted second overall in the 1970 NBA Draft by the San Diego Rockets. With the Rockets, Rudy T’s career ramped up quickly. Tomjanovich averaged double doubles in his second and third pro seasons, then averaged a career-high 24.5 points and nine rebounds in his fourth year. That season marked the first of his five career berths in the All-Star Game.

However, as a player, Tomjanovich is perhaps best-known for the infamous moment on Dec. 9, 1977, when -- during an on-court fight with Kermit Washington -- he was punched in the face. That fight left him with a broken nose, fractured skull, broken jaw, other facial injuries, and a leakage of spinal fluid. Tomjanovich eventually recovered and played three more seasons before retiring. Tomjanovich finished his playing career with career averages of 17.4 points and 8.1 rebounds.

NEW YORK - CIRCA 1978: Rudy Tomjanovich #45 of the Houston Rockets in action against the New York Knicks during an NBA basketball game circa 1978 at Madison Square Garden in the Manhattan borough of New York City. Tomjanovich played for the Rockets from 1970-81. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) (1978 Focus on Sport)

After starting through the assistant coaching route, Tomjanovich was named the Rockets’ head coach in 1992, succeeding Don Chaney. Two years later, Tomjanovich won the first of back-to-back NBA Championships with the Rockets, the only titles in franchise history. That second championship season was a bit of a roller coaster for the Rockets, as they started the season hot with nine straight wins, but finished the regular season as the Western Conference’s sixth seed.

LANDOVER, MD - CIRCA 1995: Head coach Rudy Tomjanovich and Sam Cassell #10 of the Houston Rockets reacts after a foul call against the Washington Bullets during an NBA basketball game circa 1995 at US Airways Arena in Landover, Maryland. Tomjanovich coached for the Rockets from 1992-2003. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) (1995 Focus on Sport)

Even still, the roster certainly had championship makeup, and the team got hot at the right time. Not only did stars like Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler come through, but Rockets fans will forever remember moments in that postseason from the likes of Robert Horry, Kenny Smith, Sam Cassell, and Mario Elie, just to name a few.

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