August 19, 2014

By Marlissa Herring

Hall of Famer and NBRPA Member Ralph Sampson was the No. 1 pick in the 1983 NBA Draft. He would go on to play eight years (1983-1991) in the NBA with the Houston Rockets, the Golden State Warriors, the Sacramento Kings, and the Washington Bullets. During his NBA career, Sampson was Rookie of the Year, a four-tme NBA All-Star, an NBA All-Star Game MVP, and a member of the All-NBA Second Team. In 2012, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

When did you know that you were passionate about basketball?

My passion for basketball started in about the third grade. I was growing up fairly quickly as far as height and I had a passion for baseball. I loved baseball, but my body kind of grew out of baseball fairly quickly. I loved to pitch, but my arm was getting a little bit laxed and I would hit people in the little league and the other places I played. So they moved me to first base and I was then catching the ball with my opposite hand so I wasn’t using the glove. My mother told me that I had to use the glove. They moved me to outfield, but I said that was too much running, so I ran on to basketball and stayed there and loved it ever since.

You were one half of the Houston Rocket's "Twin Towers" alongside Hakeem Olajuwon. Can you tell me about that experience?

It was an unbelievable experience. I don’t think anybody knew the magnitude of it, because no one had ever really tried it. You had some guys that were so called “twin towers,” but not like we were labeled. We were the original “Twin Towers.” With my skill set and his skill set, it was very special. I could run the floor and he could run the floor, so you basically had two gazelles that could play the game at a high level that didn’t necessarily need to be in the post or the low post. We could play in the high post, we could dribble, we could shoot - as people tell me, we were probably a little before our time. It was an unbelievable experience for the year we played together. I’m sure wish we could have played together a little bit longer.

What was it like making the game-winning shot against the defending champion Lakers in the 1986 Conference Finals?

I always loved playing in Los Angeles. I loved the Forum, the people and the excitement. Largely the most memorable moment was in the 1986 Western Conference Finals and playing that series where we came off of playing a seven game series with the Denver Nuggets and then going to the Lakers. We lost the first game and then we won four straight and ended up winning the Western Conference Finals on that shot that I made. It was a very good memory.

When you made that game winning shot what went through your mind?

There were so many memories from that series and not just the shot. We were down one game to none. We ended up winning the next four. I tell Magic every time I see him, “If you won that game you were going to lose the series anyway because we were going back home to Houston and take care of it there.” But anyway, Hakeem Olajuwon got thrown out of the game, there was an altercation, so it was a very heated battle across the board. And we knew everyone on the team had to step it up after we lost one of our starters and everyone stepped in and played well and did their job. That was a very exhilarating moment for all of us.

What is it like having sons  pursing a career in professional basketball?

I have two of them, so it’s an amazing opportunity for me to have two sons that are embarking on the game of basketball at the college level so they can actually get their feet wet and the professional level. I look forward to them being successful as well in doing what they can do.

What were some of the challenges in the transition into life after the NBA?

The main adjustment is getting adjusted to just the camaraderie that you had across the board. You miss that every day. It’s not the basketball that you miss; it’s the friendships that you miss. And the battles you go through to constantly get there. I think that even when I go through my time throughout the day, I think about they guys you played with and against. I can remember Maurice Lucas (Portland Trailblazers), who has passed on now, he would punch me in the chest every time he saw me, I mean even after basketball, he’d say, “Here take this with you.” I'd say, “Yea I know, I took so many of them from you at the beginning of every game and so let me give you one back.” So you have those little things that are special to you no matter what. For basketball afterwards, it’s the details of stories that will last a lifetime.

What are you currently passionate about?

I’m more so passionate about life. I’m excited about getting up every day creating some opportunity for kids and also just enjoying every minute of it. Because life is precious and you have to enjoy it.

Can you tell me about the Winner’s Circle Foundation and what inspired you to start this foundation?

I believe that people can be winners in life. It started off just being a youth after-school program that focused on middle school kids. We would help kids with their homework. It is just an overall passion. However, right now we are retooling the foundation while I work for the Phoenix Suns.