The San Diego Rockets

[Get Exclusive Tips on our Patreon, Ad-Free

The San Diego Rockets were a professional basketball team that played in the NBA from 1967 to 1971. They were the predecessors to present-day Houston rockets. The team were based at the San Diego Sports Arena. The Rockets’ on-court performance was disappointing, as they only made the playoffs once and failed to record a single winning season.

How did the San Diego Rockets Start up?

The Rockets started as an expansion team for the NBA in 1967 along with the Seattle Supersonics. The franchise borrowed the nickname “Rockets” from the NASA Atlas Rockets which were made in the city. Jack McMahon was named the team’s first coach and the team’s first draft was Pat Riley.

The Rockets in Competition

San Diego lost their first two games in competition at home to St. Louis Hawks on October 14th and 17th 1967. Their first win came on October 20th away to the Seattle Supersonics. They won only one game in the next fourteen and eventually finished the 1967/68 season with a league worst record of 15-67. During the 1968 offseason, they drafted rookie Elvin Hayes having won the first draft. With Hayes recording an NBA-leading 28.4 points per game, the Rockets finished fourth in 1968/69 with a record of 37-45 to claim a playoff berth. They were however defeated in five games by the Atlanta Hawks.

Hayes continued to shine in 1969/70 with 27.5 ppg but the Rockets finished rock bottom of the league with a 27-55 record. In the off-season, they drafted rookie guard Calvin Murphy who combined well with Hayes the following season. Hayes had an average of 28.7 ppg while Murphy who fed Elvin Hayes for much of his scoring returned 15.8 ppg. The Rockets improved as a result, recording 40-42 for third in the new Pacific Division. They still missed the playoffs however by a single game as only the top two teams progressed. That would be the final season for the Rockets in St. Louis, a spell in which they failed to record a single winning season.

The San Diego Rockets Most Notable Moments

The Rockets certainly had a good eye for rookies if the drafting of Elvin Hayes and Calvin Murphy is any indication. Hayes, drafted in 1968 and Murphy drafted in 1970 both recorded impressive numbers and combined to good effect during the one season they played together. Elvin carried the team on court during his three seasons there. The latter of the two players stuck with the franchise as it relocated to Houston and went on to become a team legend. In the year they spent together, they both complimented each other well and San Diego were left to rue what could have been if the partnership had continued.

The Rockets Most Notable Players

Elvin Hayes was signed as a rookie in 1968 to become the star performer for the team over the next three seasons. He topped scoring for the Rockets each season he played for them and was consistently among the best scorers in the NBA. He led the league in scoring in his rookie year with 28.4 points but lost out on the Rookie of the Year Award to Baltimore Bullets’ Wes Unseld.

Small guard Calvin Murphy played only one season but is notable to the franchise fans for his subsequent success with the franchise in Houston. He was picked as the 18th draft overall in 1970 and the following season he was nominated for the NBA All Rookie team. He went on to score a career point tally of 17,949 in a total of1002 games. He was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1993.

John Block was with the Rockets for their entire period in San Diego and was particularly influential in 1967/68. That season, he was the team’s main man scoring 20.2 ppg and 11.0 rebounds per game for the rockets. Block scored more than 1000 points a seasons for San Diego on three occasions.

Other Notable players for San Diego include Jim Barnett, Don Kojis and Pat Riley.

What Happened to the San Diego Rockets?

With the Rockets returning dismal results on court, their match day revenues took a hit and eventually the franchise was sold to a group called Texas Sports Investments for 5.6 million dollars in June 1971. The group, represented by banker Billy Goldberg and real estate agent Wayne Duddleston relocated the team to Houston, Texas. The franchise was renamed “Houston Rockets.” Meanwhile, San Diego would not miss pro basketball action for long as the new ABA franchise San Diego Conquistadors were formed in 1972. The team however folded in 1975 with the ABA suffering financial trouble. In 1976, the NBA returned to San Diego as Buffalo Braves moved from the folding ABA and became the “San Diego Clippers.”