2012 Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Ralph Sampson is widely considered one of the greatest players whose career was cut short by injury. However, on May 21, 1986, Sampson's name would forever be synonymous with Houston Rockets lore for perhaps the greatest play in franchise history. Ralph would hit the game-winning shot with no time left to send the Rockets to the NBA Finals with a 114-112 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
“This is the greatest moment of my basketball career, ” Sampson said.
Here’s how the Houston Chronicle described the play:
A sellout crowd of 17,505 sat in stunned silence as Sampson’s shot – on an inbound pass from Rodney McCray with one second left in the game – settled into the net and gave the Rockets a stirring 4-1 win of the best-of-seven Western Conference Finals.
“Exactly what was supposed to happen,” said McCray. “He was supposed to go down low, circle back out and get the pass. He was wide open. But Ralph had told me to throw the ball up high no matter who was there. He said he’d go and get it.”
When Sampson caught the ball, he had his back to the basket and no time to square up for a proper shot.
Sampson spun around, let the ball fly over the outstretched arms of the 7-foot-2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and did a little double-kick with both legs.
The shot bounced off the rim and, for a split second, appeared to be a miss. But the ball bounced up and then straight back down into the net.
Abdul-Jabbar stood there in shock, Magic Johnson whirled around as if he couldn’t believe it happened, while Michael Cooper lay sprawled out on the floor.