Earlier this year, I had a chance to talk with few members of the 1994-95 Houston Rockets team, including the 3-time NBA champion, the author of the “Kiss of Death” – Mario Elie. We discussed the team’s path to second straight NBA championship.
What were your expectations before the start of 1994-95 season? Was the second title on your mind?
Our first year, we felt great about our team in training camp. The team added some new additions. And we got off to a great start 15-0 and 22-3. We had home court in the playoffs. First title was so hard, we weren’t thinking about the second.
In February 1995 Rockets traded Otis Thorpe for Clyde Drexler. How did you react to that trade? Did you think that this will be a major improvement?
Some of the players like myself was upset about the trade. We won our first championship with Otis; it was a tough pill to swallow at first. But “Dream” was hurt at the time and Clyde came in and played some great basketball. We knew with Clyde playing well and when “Dream” got healthy, we had a great 1-2 punch.
Did you believe that you will beat the Jazz, when you were down by seven points in the fourth quarter of Game 5? Did you think that your season might be over?
I just remember “Dream” saying we have to make our move now and we did. “Dream” and Clyde step up big on both ends of the floor. We had a group of players who believed in each other and never gave up.
Could you take us through the “Kiss of death” against the Suns? How was this play originally designed?
It wasn’t design. Danny Ainge decided to double off me to rush our offense. Kenny got double in the backcourt then made a short pass to Robert then Robert spotted me in far-left corner. Threw the pass and I caught it. Danny Schayes had a decision to make: let me shoot or leave “Dream” under the basket. Of course he wasn’t leaving “Dream”, which allowed me to shoot the Kiss of Death.
Conference and NBA Finals
What was the team’s mindset when you were up 2-0 against the Spurs? Did you think about the sweep?
Playoffs mind set is one game at a time. Spurs where the first seed with the MVP of the league in David Robinson. We won the first two, they won the next two. Then “Dream” took over. Rest is history.
You became the starter from Game 5 against the Spurs. When you were drafted with the 160th pick in the NBA Draft and played overseas, did you even dream of having such important role on the biggest stage of the NBA?
That’s what you dream of as a little kid. Growing up in the parks of New York City I use to think I was Magic, Joe Dumars, Bernand King etc. I had dream and went for. Odds were against me but with my will, determination, belief allowed me to reach my goal. A Haitian kid from NYC became a 3-time champion.
Do you remember what did coach Tomjanovich say to the team during halftime of Game 1 of the 1995 Finals? What allowed you to make the comeback and beat the Magic in overtime?
Rudy T understood his team. We were a veteran team who never got down, we made a run to end the half and gave us some confidence. We had been down before and didn’t panic. Orlando was good but young. They got excited early. Kenny Smith got hot that second half to help us with our comeback. We beat them in OT and took their confidence.
Who in your opinion was the “hidden hero” – someone who extremely helped this team win another title, but rarely gets recognition?
The great thing about our team is was somebody different every night. You had your two super stars in “Dream” and Clyde but it was me one night, Cassell had big moment, Kenny Smith seven 3’s in Game 1, Horry big 3 in Game 3, etc…