The Rockets were founded in 1967 in San Diego by Robert Breitbard, who paid an entry fee of US$1.75 million to join the NBA as an expansion team for the 1967–68 season. The NBA wanted to add more teams in the Western United States, and chose San Diego based on the city's strong economic and population growth, along with the local success of an ice hockey team owned by Breitbard, the San Diego Gulls. The resulting contest to name the franchise chose the name "Rockets", which paid homage to San Diego's theme of "a city in motion" and the local arm of General Dynamics developing the Atlas missile and booster rocket program. Jack McMahon, then coach of the Cincinnati Royals, was brought in to serve as the coach and general manager.
In the 1975–76 NBA season the Rockets finally had a permanent home in Houston as they moved into The Summit, which they would call home for the next 29 years. During the period, the franchise was owned by Kenneth Schnitzer, developer of the Greenway Plaza which included The Summit. After missing the 1976 playoffs, Tom Nissalke was hired as a coach and pressed the team to add a play-making guard in college standout John Lucas and a rebounding center through Moses Malone, who he had coached in the ABA. The additions had an immediate impact, with the 1976–77 Rockets winning the Central Division and going all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, losing to the Julius Erving's Philadelphia 76ers 4 games to 2.
The Rockets traded Malone to the Philadelphia 76ers for Caldwell Jones, as a declining regional economy made the Rockets unable to pay Malone's salary. When the Rockets finished a league-worst 14–68, Celtics coach Bill Fitch was hired to replace outgoing Del Harris, and the team won the first pick of the 1983 NBA draft, used to select Ralph Sampson from the University of Virginia. Although Sampson was awarded the NBA Rookie of the Year award, the Rockets finished last overall. This gave them the top pick in the 1984 draft, which they used to select Houston's own Hakeem Olajuwon.
In his first season, Olajuwon finished second to Michael Jordan in NBA Rookie of the Year and the Rockets record improved by 19 games, good enough for a return to the playoffs as the third-best team in the West. The duo of Olajuwon and Sampson was nicknamed "Twin Towers". In the following season, Houston won the Midwest Division title with a 51–31 record. The NBA Finals once again matched the Rockets up against the Celtics.The Celtics won the first two games in Boston, gave the Rockets their only home playoff defeat that season in game 4, and clinched the title as Bird scored a triple-double on Game 6.
After the Finals, Boston coach K. C. Jones called the Rockets "the new monsters on the block" feeling they had a bright future. But the team had a poor start to the following season, followed by nearly a decade of underachievement and failure, amidst players getting injured or suspended for cocaine usage. and during the playoffs were defeated in the second round by the Seattle SuperSonics in six games, with the final game being a double-overtime classic that saw Olajuwon notching 49 points, 25 rebounds and 6 blocks in defeat. Early in the 1987–88 season, Sampson, who had signed a new contract, was traded to the Golden State Warriors, bringing the Twin Towers era to an end just 18 months after their Finals appearance.
After the roster moves made by Morey during the 2012 NBA off-season, only four players were left from the 2011–12 Rockets roster: Chandler Parsons, Greg Smith, Marcus Morris, and Patrick Patterson, with the latter two leaving through trades during the 2012–13 season. The most important acquisition was reigning sixth man of the year James Harden, who Morey called a "foundational" player. Harden caused an immediate impact as part of the starting lineup for the Rockets, with 37 points, 12 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 steals, and a block in the season opener against the Detroit Pistons and an average of 25.9 points a game through the season.
James Harden took it upon himself to keep the Rockets near the top of the conference, turning him into an MVP front-runner. He became the first Rocket to score 50 points in a game since Hakeem Olajuwon, as well as the only player in franchise history to record multiple 50 point games in a season.
During the 2017 off-season, the Rockets were purchased by Houston restaurant billionaire Tilman Fertitta for $2.2 billion, breaking the record for the price to purchase an American professional sports team.
The team also acquired 8-time All-NBA player and 9-time All-Star Chris Paul in a trade from the Los Angeles Clippers. Despite missing many games due to a knee injury, Paul was a key addition to the Rockets. The team finished the season with 65 wins, a record both league-leading and the best in franchise history.
On April 7, 2019, against the Phoenix Suns, Houston became the first team in NBA history to make 25+ two-pointers and 25+ three-pointers in the same game, outscoring their last four opponents by 117 points, second-best in a four-game span in franchise history (127+ in February 1993); additionally, the Rockets' 149 points tied the fourth-most in franchise history and are the most since February 1993.
The mascot was introduced on March 14, 1995 formerly known as "Clutch" . From 1993 to 1995, the mascot was Turbo, a costumed man that performed acrobatic dunks and other maneuvers. In 1995, the Rockets debuted Clutch the Bear as a second mascot, a large teddy bear-like mascot that performs a variety of acts during the games. After eight years of serving as dual mascots, the performer playing Turbo retired, making Clutch the sole mascot for the team. The mascot was considered and voted fifth for the most recognizable mascot in the league and was also inducted in the 2006 mascot Hall of Fame.
Cover image: "Rockets v Thunder 22" by the panamerican licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.