Clutch City is a nickname given to the city of Houston, Texas after the Houston Rockets won two NBA Championships in 1994 and 1995. The name was given as a response to a front-page headline by The Houston Chronicle declaring Houston as "Choke City," It also refers to the clutch performance shown by the Rockets during their championship years. The nickname has also been used in other Houston teams.
"Choke City" was a Houston Chronicle front-page headline in 1994, given to the City of Houston after the Houston Rockets blew very big leads in the first two games of their second round of their match-up with the Phoenix Suns in the 1994 NBA Playoffs. It was feared at the time that the Rockets would follow the same fate as the Houston Oilers – they blew a 32 point lead during a January 3, 1993 NFL playoff game where the Buffalo Bills won in overtime. During this era, no Houston-based professional sports team from an existing sports league (NFL, NBA, MLB) had won a championship.
In Rudy Tomjanovich's second full year as head coach, the Rockets began the 1993–94 season by tying an NBA record with start of 15–0. Led by Hakeem Olajuwon, who was named the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, the Rockets won a franchise-record 58 games. The Rockets recovered from being two games down to the Phoenix Suns in the second round of the playoffs, to advance to the finals. Houston once again went down by three games to two to the New York Knicks, but they managed to win the last two games on their home court, and claim their first championship in franchise history. Olajuwon was awarded the Finals MVP, after averaging 27 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots a game.
The Rockets initially struggled in the first half of the 1994–95 season, and ended up winning only 47 games, which was 11 games lower than their previous year's total. In a midseason trade with Portland, the Rockets obtained guard Clyde Drexler, a former teammate of Olajuwon at the University of Houston, in exchange for Otis Thorpe. Houston entered the playoffs as the sixth seed in the Western Conference, but managed to defeat the 60–22 Utah Jazz in the first round. They fell behind 3–1 to the 59–23 Phoenix Suns in the second round, but won three straight to win the series, and became only the first team in NBA history to overcome a both a 2–0 and 3–1 series deficit in a seven-game series. The Rockets then beat the 62-20 San Antonio Spurs in the conference finals, to reach the Finals against the Orlando Magic, led by Shaquille O'Neal and Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway. When Houston swept the series in four straight games, they became the first team in NBA history to win the championship as a sixth seed, and the first to beat four 50-win teams in a single postseason en route to the championship. Olajuwon, who had averaged 35.3 points and 12.5 rebounds against the Spurs and regular-season MVP David Robinson in the conference finals, was named the Finals MVP, becoming only the second player after Michael Jordan to win the award two years in a row.
Usage in other Houston sports
The name Clutch City would be used by the MLB team Houston Astros after their first World Series appearance in 2005, and by the MLS team Houston Dynamo after they won the MLS Cup on their inaugural season in 2006. The name Clutch City is now also associated with the Houston Aeros and their triumphant march to the Calder Cup Finals – the biggest stage in AHL hockey.
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