Houston and the Brink of Revenge

By Forrest Walker on May 10, 2018

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The Houston Rockets have one mission: the destruction of the Golden State Warriors. The Rockets are about to host the Warriors, but this is, at the moment, just a coincidence. This isn’t their current goal, this is their primary goal. This is the reason for their existence. Should they beat the Warriors, they’ll be hell-bent on a ring, but as the only way to achieve their overarching desire. Houston, the team, the fans, and the city, hunger for one thing: revenge.

Perhaps Houston wasn’t always so salty. Maybe before Houston became the fourth-largest city in the country, it was happy with its lot in life. Maybe in the 80s, in the middle of an economic boom, and before the Houston Rockets won any championships, the city and the fans were aspiration. Perhaps, at some point, we were David, hoping for a crack at Goliath.

In May 2018, nobody in Houston wants to be David. The city, poised to pass Chicago as third most populous in the nation, is, if anything, Goliath. No, Houston has long desired respect, admiration, and a place amongst the elite. The city has watched as its cultural relevance is passed over for places like Dallas, as seemingly every other sports franchise in the state either wins a championship or sits high atop the affections of the world. No, Houston and the Rockets don’t want to be David. They want to be John Wick.

What began a generalized neurosis has, for Rockets fans, blossomed into a full and lush inferiority complex. This sort of dissatisfaction and disgust takes decades to bloom, and this one has been nourished for as long as many of have been alive. The roots go back to 1994, the year the Houston Rockets won their first championship, and were fitted for their first asterisk. The following season, the Rockets struggled through multiple 60-win teams on their way to winning back to back rings, and not winning back to back MVP awards for Hakeem Olajuwon. This is the season in which Hakeem famously punished David Robinson for having the temerity to win an award. This is the season in which they came back from the brink in two separate playoff series, winning a total of 5 elimination games.

This was the season that poisoned Houston.

The Rockets received their second ring and their second asterisk in as many years. Michael Jordan, you see, was not in the NBA. Well, at least he wasn’t in the first season. He came back in the middle of the 1994-1995 season, but that doesn’t appear to count because his Chicago Bulls lost before the Finals. Most asterisks on championships fade quickly. Not so for the Clutch City era Rockets. They were never forgiven for having the temerity to win it all when Jordan was unavailable. They were especially never forgiven for having done it twice.

The single most critical truth about the Houston Rockets and their fans stems from this moment, this ongoing campaign. This is why the Houston Rockets demand nothing less than dominance and respect. This is why Rockets fans act as though pretenders sit in their throne. This is why Houston fans are defined by a deep and abiding saltiness.

So, now, Daryl Morey’s Rockets have a chance at something many might mistake for redemption. Chris Paul has finally made it to the Conference finals, James Harden seems to finally have secured that MVP, and the Rockets finally have a defense that people recognize. This is, by any measure, a successful season for a team many wrote off.

But it is that write-off, that year-after year relegation that makes success not part of the equation. Redemption is nothing. Rings are just jewelry. For Houston, being a feel-good story is ashes in their mouths. There is one goal, one desire, one obsession that sends the Rockets screaming through the playoffs and the fans screaming through twitter. The Rockets need vengeance. The Warriors are the proximate recipient of this bloodthirst, though it goes so much deeper. The decades of being overlooked, the recent years of going from up-and-coming to endlessly maligned, the narrow MVP losses, the embarrassing failures. All of these have sit and festered, waiting to be released. All of these have led to a team built not to win, but to destroy. All of these have led to a fan base concerned less with the glorification of their own legacy, but with the sundering of all others.

Rockets fans are often called petty, vengeful and sensitive. If they are these things, it is because they have never tried not to be. Rockets fans are known for their myopic obsession with winning a championship above all else. This is an inherited trait from the team itself, from a general manager who refuses to accept anything less than the big prize. Whether this is healthy or worthwhile is of no concern. There is a team to destroy, and an opportunity to destroy them. The Warriors take delight in crushing opponents, but seem not to care who is served up for them to destroy. Their greatest opponent is themselves, as they seemingly get bored with new fields to conquer, new destiny to manifest. They thrive on domination, and are utterly unstoppable when they’re exalting in their own power.

They will probably sneer as they destroy the Rockets. This is their right. But in this moment before the games begin, we can imagine another scenario. Those who seek revenge can fill their veins up with images of a Rockets team standing atop their foes. The vengeful can imagine the true prize, the stinging salt being thrown back in the eyes of everyone who transgressed upon them. The secondary prize, a Finals berth and perhaps more, are merely instruments of wrath.

This robs the joy of all other outcomes, makes every setback have that much more weight. Revenge, and the hunger for it, are a drug. But like many drugs, the long-term drawbacks of this poison are balanced with short-term benefits. The high of retribution is absolutely an upper, a stimulant that can create a terrible and fatal drive. We have no assurance that the Rockets will win this series, but we know they want it more than is healthy or wise. And we know that Rockets fans want this blood perhaps more than that.

If you are a fan of another team, pray to your god that this does not come to pass. The Rockets are underdogs for good reason, but no amount of explanation will ever be sufficient. Every doubt, every slight, imagined or otherwise, every expression of distaste is merely one more note in the pad. The receipts are myriad, and they are growing, and they are in danger of coming due. Houston, the city, the team, the fans are waiting for a chance to have their pound of flesh, and the another, and another.

Everything you have seen from Rockets fans to date, every indignancy, every complaint, every petty retort has been a practice run. If the Rockets shock the world and do the impossible against the Warriors, decorum and tact will be abandoned at record speed. Root for the Warriors, because if they lose, there will be more salt unleashed than you can possibly imagine. This is the chance the Rockets have dreamed of for years. This is the best Rockets team anyone has ever watched. And with another championship in tow, this may be the best chance the city of Houston ever gets to noot demand but force the sports world into respecting them.

There is one mission in Houston. If it is successful, if the Golden State Warriors are struck down, do not think for a moment that they will be the end. The Rockets demand vengeance. Pray they do not get it.

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