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.”
When you were at Niagara, college stars were as big as NBA stars. You and Purdue's Rick Mount and LSU's Pete Maravich formed the Three M's. Do you miss that?
“That's interesting. I came through an era of the individual stars. Basketball now is more about team. Pistol led the nation in college, I was right behind him and Mount was maybe the best shooter of us all, but he couldn't put the ball on the floor. But today's game, when they took middle-distance out, they changed the game forever. So it's the 3-pointer or the dunk. So you don't see a lot of scoring, because people don't know how to get shots anymore. I made a whole career out of middle distance. I took 27 3-pointers in my career and made one (the rule was instituted in 1979). At that time, it was the home run shot. I got the ball in the corner with a 7-footer over me. So the game has changed so much, where you don't see the Pistol Petes anymore. And then of course, they've changed the defense so much. I never thought I'd see the simulated zone, they call it. Simulated right. It's a zone, where these big long arms blocking off a lot of space, that takes away a lot of the scoring opportunities also.”
Houston has a nice NBA history. You were here for part of it. How nice is it to see a renaissance this season?
“I was here when they were getting tickets off the bread wrapper. And if you forgot the bread wrapper, bring it back tomorrow. So to watch and see where it is right now, and I'm still a part of it, is fabulous.”