The Toyota Center had a decent atmosphere for Games 3 and 4 of the Thunder-Rockets playoff series. Two rousing games helped, of course.
The electricity was nothing like in Oklahoma City. Or Oakland. Or Portland. Or Salt Lake.
But there was a time when Houston roared for pro basketball. And a scrawny little guy who played with his heart helped make it that way.
Brooks was his name. Scotty Brooks.
Nineteen seasons ago, the Rockets won the NBA title, and Brooks, now coaching the Thunder, was a Houston sparkplug.
The Summit, now Joel Osteen's megachurch but then the Rockets' coliseum, sizzled with the great team led by Hakeem Olajuwon.
“The Summit at that time was just like Chesapeake Arena,” said Rockets broadcaster Matt Bullard, Brooks' teammate on that 1994 Houston title team. “The fans were crazy, they were loud. It was an awesome atmosphere.”
And Brooks helped make it that way. Foreman Scotty is low-key as the Thunder coach. But he wasn't low-key as a Rocket backup point guard.
“Scott Brooks is one of my all-time favorite teammates,” Bullard said. “We used to call him the energizer bunny. He would come in and change the game.
“He was a lot like Patrick Beverley is for the Rockets now.”
That's fighting words in contemporary OKC. Beverley, whose collision with Russell Westbrook knocked the Thunder star out of the playoffs, is Public Enemy No. 1. But Brooks was a similar player in demeanor.
“Oh, he was a pest,” Bullard said. “There's no doubt. You loved having him on your team. But you hated playing against him.
“There's a lot of guards … you would ask ‘em, ‘Oh, Scott Brooks is guarding me? Made it tough on me, 94 feet.'”
Brooks toes the political line when reminiscing about his Houston days. After all, this is a franchise that now stands between Brooks' team and the Western Conference semifinals, heading into Game 5 Wednesday night. Brooks wants nothing more than to crush the Rockets.
But it's clear that his 21/2 seasons in Houston holds a special place in his playing memories.
“It's a great city,” Brooks said. “I love Houston. Some of my best memories as a player are here. The atmosphere was off the charts at the old Summit … one of the loudest buildings in the game. Great fan base. The crowd was always good.”
Brooks made the Philadelphia 76ers roster as a 5-foot-11, rookie free agent in 1988, then was traded to Minnesota two years later. In 1992, the Timberwolves shipped him to Houston for a second-round draft pick, and Brooks found a home.
“He definitely was a fan favorite,” said Fran Blinebury, then a Houston Chronicle columnist and now an nba.com writer. “Kind of goes with the stature of the little guy in the big man's game. He was sort of a bundle of energy of hustle.”
That first season in Houston, 1992-93, Brooks played all 82 games and averaged 18.5 minutes. The Rockets won 55 games and lost to the Seattle SuperSonics in a seven-game Western Conference semifinal series.
“Scott was undersized,” Bullard said. “He shot the ball really low. He didn't have a high release on his jump shot. So he had to be wide open when he shot it. But he played so hard that he was able to play at a high level for a long time in the NBA.
“He would come in, play unbelievably hard defense. Full court. He would change the tempo of the game. He could knock down open jump shots. He was very good at creating shots for Hakeem.”
The Rocket point guard was Kenny Smith, now of TNT analyst fame, who always talks about how Brooks was the closer, often playing the fourth quarter of games.
But as the 1993-94 season wore on, Rocket coach Rudy Tomjanovich began incorporating rookie point guard Sam Cassell into the rotation. Brooks' playing time declined. Only twice after March 22 did Brooks play double-digit minutes. In the playoffs, Brooks played only five games total, none in the NBA Finals against the Knickerbockers.
Brooks didn't complain, endearing himself to Tomjanovich.
“He just kept going to practice, doing what he did,” Blinebury said. “Became the Rockets' biggest little cheerleader over there on the bench.”
And Bullard says despite the frisky nature of Brooks' style of play, Brooks the person as a Rocket point guard was the same person we've come to know as a Thunder coach. Decent. Down to Earth. Quality individual.
“His character is what stands out to me,” said Bullard, who enjoyed a lengthy chat with Brooks in the Toyota Center seats before Game 4 Monday night. “Just a really good guy. Easy to be friends with. Always got along with him great. We're still friends to this day.”
Even then, the Rockets saw Brooks as a likely coach.
“Very intelligent,” Bullard said. “You could just see at that point, he knew the game. He was like another coach on the floor.”
Tomjanovich, a Houston icon who had been a Rockets star, grew attached to Brooks. Bullard tells the story that as the trade deadline drew near in the 1994-95 season, with the Rockets pushing toward what would be another NBA championship, Tomjanovich told Brooks that he loved his game. “As long as I'm here, you're going to be here,” Bullard related Rudy T. telling Brooks.
“And two weeks later, Scott was traded.” Sent to Dallas for Morlon Wiley and a second-round draft pick.
Over the years, Brooks has talked of his anger at being traded. He's now over it and is back on good terms with Tomjanovich. But it was no fun in 1995.
“That's an unfortunate part of this business,” Bullard said. “I'm sure Scott was hurt in his heart when that happened. That's a wound he's had to overcome and deal with. I'm sure Scott would say … it made him stronger. Made him understand the business part of basketball little bit better.”
Brooks would play 31/2 more NBA seasons, with Dallas, New York and Cleveland. Then he began coaching, with gigs with Denver, Sacramento and Seattle. Oklahoma City is his 10th NBA city as a player or coach, and not until OKC did Brooks find the stability and success he enjoyed in Houston.
“Houston, I have special moments there because we won a championship there,” Brooks said. “That's what you want. Whenever I look back at my career over a decade of playing, I always look back at winning the championship.”
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.