Calvin Murphy played 13 NBA seasons with the Rockets and at 5-foot-9 is the shortest NBA player to be in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Murphy, who is part of the Rockets' pregame and post-game television broadcasts, was a college legend at Niagara, where he averaged 33.1 points per game from 1967-70. Murphy scored 17,949 points for the Rockets, which trails only Hakeem Olajuwon in franchise history.
You played in the 1969 All-College Tournament in Oklahoma City. What do you remember?
Murphy: “I remember we won, first of all. It was a great, great tournament. We played Rice and Tennessee (and OCU). We were excited about going down there. Little school in Niagara Falls, N.Y. We were hyped about it. Had a wonderful time.”
Now it's not uncommon to see a small guy play. When you played, it was like someone from Mars. Why has basketball changed?
“Because coaches changed. The coaches stopped worrying about size and started looking at talent. When coaches' jobs were on the line, they stopped worrying about how big the guy was. Could he put it in the basket or could he defend or could he rebound. That's what changed the scene for the average-sized player. I call him average-sized, not small, because the average-sized American male is 5-foot-9. Coaches changed their attitude towards the game. It started with me as the original little guy of the modern era. Having the opportunity to play for Alex Hannum (with the Rockets). Alex Hannum told me the first day he met me, ‘We'll never talk size. We'll talk game. If you don't play, it's not because of your size, it's because you're not doing the right things.' From that point on, things fell in line for me. I was fortunate.”
How much were you able to use your speed?
“That's my whole game. I was lucky. I got a chance to play longevity without injury, because I played open court. The big man was too slow and the little man couldn't get my shot. So I was in Heaven.”
You've been mentioned in discussions about Russell Westbrook and his speed with the ball. Is the fastest you've seen?
“No. Not at all. Let's not forget Randy Smith. I was fast, no question. That's what made my game. I had handle. I had speed. I could shoot the ball. But I would think Randy Smith (Buffalo Braves), who we just lost a couple of years ago, was the fastest I've ever seen. He was a soccer player originally. He had great legs. Sometimes he outran the ball. Sometimes he was too fast. There were a lot of quick men. Westbrook, he's a speed merchant, there's no question about that. I think he uses it well. That's what I like about him. He uses it at the right time. Not only is he fast, but his biggest attribute is he's quick. He has that stop-and-go, side-to-side, that lateral movement that makes him tough to deal with. Then he has those great legs where he springs. He was something special. He is something special.”