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Ralph Sampson
Position(s) Center
Jersey #(s) 50
Listed height 7 ft 4 in (2.24 m)
Listed weight 228 lb (103 kg)
Born July 7, 1960 (1960-07-07) (age 49)
Harrisonburg, Virginia
Career information
Year(s) 1983–1992
NBA Draft 1983 / Round: 1 / Pick: 1
College Virginia
Professional team(s)
Career stats (NBA)
Points     7,039
Rebound     4,011
Assists     1,038
Stats @
Career highlights and awards

Ralph Lee Sampson, Jr. (born July 7, 1960 in Harrisonburg, Virginia) is a retired American college and professional basketball player.

A 7-foot-4 phenom, three-time College Player of the Year, and No. 1 pick in the 1983 NBA Draft, Sampson brought heavy expectations with him to the NBA.

The NBA Rookie of the Year, Sampson averaged 20.7 points and 10.9 rebounds for his first three seasons with the Houston Rockets before injuries began to take their toll. Three knee surgeries later he retired a four-time All-Star whose career highlight ended up being a buzzer-beating shot to dethrone the Los Angeles Lakers as Western Conference champions, derailing their hopes for coveted back-to-back NBA titles.


Early life

Sampson was already 6-foot-7 inches tall by the ninth grade, reaching 7-foot-3 in high school in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He averaged nearly 30 points, 19 rebounds, and 7 blocked shots as a senior (after averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds as a sophomore, and 19 points and 17 rebounds as a junior), at Harrisonburg High, leading the team to state AA basketball championships in 1978 and 1979. His senior year he lost the high school player of the year award to another talented center, Sam Bowie. However, he did get a form of revenge against Bowie, outplaying him in the Capital Classic, getting 23 points and 21 rebounds with 4 blocks in a game titled "Battle of the Giants".


Sampson was arguably the most heavily recruited college and professional basketball prospect of his generation appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated an unprecedented six times in a span of less than four years (December 17, 1979; December 1, 1980; March 30, 1981; November 29, 1982; December 20, 1982; and October 31, 1983).

Playing center for the University of Virginia, he led the Cavaliers to an NIT title in 1980, an NCAA Final Four appearance in 1981 and an NCAA elite 8 appearance in 1983. He earned three Naismith Awards as the National Player of the Year, only the second athlete to do so, and an unprecedented pair of Wooden Awards. In spite of his personal success, however, Sampson was criticized for a loss to Chaminade University and for not leading Virginia to a college championship while the team was ranked first in the nation.

NBA career


Houston Rockets

With his size and agility Sampson was expected to score like Wilt Chamberlain and win championships like Bill Russell when he reached the pros. The Houston Rockets made him the No. 1 pick in the 1983 NBA Draft.[1] As a rookie he averaged 21.0 points and 11.1 rebounds, played in the All-Star Game, and won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award.[2]

The Rockets managed only a 29-53 record in 1983-84 and again earned the right to pick first in the 1984 NBA Draft. This time they chose the 7-foot Hakeem Olajuwon out of the University of Houston. Many observers felt that the Rockets had made a mistake because it was believed that two 7-footers couldn’t play effectively together. But others thought the combination would be overpowering. Sampson, playing a new style of power forward, had new expectations placed upon him. At the time, Dallas Mavericks Coach Dick Motta said, "That front line, when history is written, when they’ve grown up, might be the best ever assembled on one team. Ever." Houston guard John Lucas said of Sampson’s move to forward, "He’ll revolutionize the game."

The so-called "Twin Towers" worked out pretty well. In 1984-85 the Rockets improved by 19 games to 48-34 and made the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. Sampson had his best individual campaign, averaging 22.1 points and 10.4 rebounds and earning a berth on the All-NBA Second Team. He and Olajuwon both played in the 1985 NBA All-Star Game, and Sampson, after scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, earned the game’s MVP Award.[3]

The next season Houston won the Midwest Division with a 51-31 record and defeated Los Angeles, four games to one, in the Western Conference Finals. In Game 5 of that series in Los Angeles, Sampson provided one of the most memorable moments in NBA Playoff history. With the score tied at 112 apiece and a mere second remaining on the clock, Sampson took an inbounds pass and launched a miraculous, twisting turnaround jumper that sailed through the hoop at the buzzer, giving the Rockets a 114-112 victory and a shocking series upset.

In the NBA Finals against Boston, Sampson suffered a jarring fall on his back and had a disappointing series. His difficulties were compounded by an incident in Game 5 in which he swung at 6-foot-1 Boston guard Jerry Sichting and was ejected from the game. During the six-game championship series loss against the Celtics, Sampson averaged 14.8 points on .438 shooting, 9.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.[4]

Golden State Warriors

Injured halfway into the 1986-87 season, Sampson fell out of favor with Rockets Coach Bill Fitch and was traded, along with guard Steve Harris, to the Golden State Warriors for Eric "Sleepy" Floyd and Joe Barry Carroll. But Sampson’s knee and back troubles worsened, and he never played a full slate in the next four seasons. He averaged 6.4 points and 5.0 rebounds with Golden State in 1988-89 and was traded to the Sacramento Kings for Jim Petersen.

Sacramento Kings

Sampson’s days at Sacramento were disheartening. He totaled just 51 games in two seasons, averaging 4.2 and 3.0 points, respectively, in 1989-90 and 1990-91.

Washington Bullets

Released by the Kings, Sampson went on to a mere 10-game stint with the Washington Bullets in 1991-92 before being waived. The player once predicted to be the greatest ever in the NBA had played just 441 games in 10 NBA seasons, slightly more than half the 820 scheduled.


Sampson finished out his professional playing days at just 32, rounding out the 1991-1992 basketball season with eight games for Unicaja Ronda of the Spanish League.

Returning to the States, he spent the 1992–93 season as a $16,000-per-year assistant to head coach Lefty Driesell at James Madison University before coaching a minor league professional team in Richmond, Virginia.

Reflecting back on his career and its three knee surgeries, Sampson admitted that he had attempted to come back too quickly from them, and said that he tried not to think about what could have been.

In 1996, Sampson was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. In 2002, he was named to the ACC 50th Anniversary men's basketball team as one of the fifty best players in Atlantic Coast Conference history - one of only three Virginia Cavaliers so honored.


Basketball statistics


'79-80 Virginia 34 34 29.9 .547 .702 11.2 1.1 14.9
'80-81 Virginia 33 33 32.0 .557 .631 11.5 1.5 17.7
'81-82 Virginia 32 32 31.3 .561 .615 11.4 1.2 15.8
'82-83 Virginia 33 33 30.2 .604 .704 11.7 1.0 19.1

NBA Draft: Selected in the 1st round (1st overall).


'83-84 Houston 82 82 32.8 .523 .661 11.1 2.0 21.0
'84-85 Houston 82 82 37.6 .502 .676 10.4 2.7 22.1
'85-86 Houston 79 76 36.3 .488 .641 11.1 3.6 18.9
'86-87 Houston 43 32 30.8 .489 .624 8.7 2.8 15.6
'87-88 Houston 19 19 37.1 .439 .741 9.1 1.9 15.9
'87-88 Golden State 29 25 33.0 .438 .775 10.0 2.9 15.4
'88-89 Golden State 61 36 17.8 .449 .653 5.0 1.3 6.4
'89-90 Sacramento 26 7 16.0 .372 .522 3.2 1.1 4.2
'90-91 Sacramento 25 4 13.9 .366 .263 4.4 0.7 3.0
'91-92 Washington 10 0 10.8 .310 .667 3.0 0.4 2.2

See also



External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Mark Aguirre
Naismith College Player of the Year - Men
Succeeded by
Michael Jordan
Preceded by
Danny Ainge
John R. Wooden Player of the Year - Men
Succeeded by
Michael Jordan
Preceded by
James Worthy
ACC Athlete of the Year
Succeeded by
Michael Jordan
Preceded by
Albert King
ACC Men's Basketball Player of the Year
Succeeded by
Michael Jordan
Preceded by
Mark Aguirre
Adolph Rupp Trophy
Succeeded by
Michael Jordan
Preceded by
James Worthy
NBA first overall draft pick
1983 NBA Draft
Succeeded by
Hakeem Olajuwon
Preceded by
Terry Cummings
NBA Rookie of the Year
Succeeded by
Michael Jordan


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