Hometown Heroes

The top 5 athletes in Houston sports history

Hakeem Olajuwon changed sports in Houston. Photo by Tim DeFrisco/ALLSPORT/Getty Images

Texas is known for having some of the most talented athletes from across the world. College coaches consider Houston to be one of the best recruiting hot spots every year, so it's no surprise that some of these incredible players would wind up playing professionally in Houston.

Not all the players on this list are from Texas originally, but they got here as soon as they could. This list is only five players deep —see who made the cut.

5. Craig Biggio

Craig Biggio comes in at No. 5. Biggio became the first player to be inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame as a Houston Astro in 2015, and he finished his career with 3,060 hits. He began his career with the Astros in 1988 as a catcher, and he eventually moved positions several times over the years. Biggio made the All-Star team as a catcher and a second baseman, something that had never been accomplished in the history of baseball. His seven All-Star appearances and his 668 career doubles ranked him fifth in major league history and are the most ever by a right-handed hitter.

His career averages were very impressive as well, as he was able to rack up 105 runs, 17 homers, 38 doubles, 67 RBI, and 24 stolen bases on average per season. Biggio's No. 7 was retired from the Astros in 2008, making him the ninth player in Astros history to have this honor. He has a strong relationship with the Astros front office and players and will always be remembered as the first player to be inducted into Cooperstown as an Astro.

4. Jeff Bagwell

The last two spots are reserved for the most famous of the Killer B's: Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. The order of these two players is clearly subjective, but Jeff Bagwell ranks ahead of Biggio for one big reason: power. This decision is mostly based on statistics, and which player I thought was better in his prime. Bagwell, on average, was much better than Biggio in some of the most important offensive categories, such as runs, home runs, RBIs, and batting average. He finished with a career season average of 114 runs scored, 34 home runs, 115 RBI, 15 stolen bases, and a .297 career batting average. Yes, he averaged those numbers for his entire career.

He won Rookie of the Year in 1991 and made the All-Star team four times. That's saying something when you consider the Hall of Fame first basemen he was competing against throughout his career. Albert Pujols, anyone? Bagwell also has a National League MVP on his resume from the strike-shortened 1994 season in which Bagwell already had 39 bombs and 116 RBI through only 110 games.

He was a member of the only Astros team to play in a World Series, but didn’t have much left at that point in his career. The team was swept by the Chicago White Sox, and Bagwell’s severe shoulder injury would eventually end his career. Bagwell was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2017, and remains one of the most revered athletes to ever play in Houston.

3. Earl Campbell

The third name on the list is one of the best running backs in the history of college football and the NFL, Earl Campbell. Earl was drafted by the Houston Oilers in 1978 and had a rookie season for the ages. Campbell won the Rookie of the Year award and was named to the All-Pro team after rushing for 1,450 yards with 13 TDs in his first season.

Campbell's best season was two years later when he rushed for a mind-boggling 1,934 yards and an unbelievable 5.2 yards per carry. Not to mention, Campbell won the MVP in 1979 with 1,697 rushing yards and a whopping 19 TDs. His overall resume is incredibly impressive: He finished his college career with a Heisman trophy at the University of Texas in 1977, NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1978, five Pro Bowls, three Offensive Player of the Year awards, and the MVP of the National Football League in 1979.

His career was short-lived due to the pounding he took in college and the pros, and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991 after only eight seasons in the league. “The Tyler Rose” is still a local favorite in Houston for being a big part of the Luv Ya Blue Oilers teams that just couldn't get past the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs. He remains one of the most iconic players to ever play in front of a Houston crowd.

2. Nolan Ryan

The second spot on the list goes to the iconic Nolan Ryan. Nothing says badass more than Nolan Ryan, and maybe Chuck Norris. His combination of talent and intimidation is something that every young pitcher dreams of. A 100 mph fastball and a willingness to throw inside made him a legend, and racking up Ks at a never-before-seen pace sure didn’t hurt his reputation.

For a pitcher, strikeouts show just how nasty your stuff is, and Ryan is the all-time king of strikeouts, with over 5,000 in his career — talk about a record that will never be broken. One of his biggest achievements was throwing his record-breaking fifth no-hitter for the Astros in 1981 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was already 34 years old at the time, but nobody knew he had another decade left in that right arm.

His other super human ability, besides his blazing fastball, was his longevity. He was able to pitch until the age of 46 and was still considered a power pitcher upon retirement. Ryan played on some great Astros teams, particularly in 1980 and 1986. Both teams came very close to a World Series appearance, and Ryan was a huge part of those teams.

He finished his career with the Texas Rangers, but will always have a special place in the hearts of Houston fans. The Astros were not interested in bringing him back after the 1988 season, and didn’t foresee he would have so many more quality years left. You can still catch Nolan at the ball park quite often, and his Nolan Ryan Beef is a huge hit at Minute Maid Park, especially on Wednesday nights for dollar hot dogs. Oh, and by the way, his son is the president of the Astros. Pretty amazing considering the Astros might have the blue print for one of the best run teams in Major League Baseball.

1. Hakeem Olajuwon

When we're talking about the best Houston player of all-time, championships have to be the first thing considered. No offense to Robert Horry or any of the other guys, but it was very clear which player was the driving force behind the Rockets' back-to-back NBA championships. Look no further than "The Dream," Hakeem Olajuwon.

Hakeem was drafted by the Rockets in 1984 and started his career with a bang, being voted runner-up as Rookie of the Year finishing just behind the GOAT, Michael Jordan. Olajuwon ended up making the All-Star team 12 times, was voted Defensive Player of the Year twice, and finished as the regular season and finals MVP in 1994. He was also voted finals MVP in 1995 when the Rockets won their second championship in a row.

The Rockets are the only Houston team to win it all in modern times, and that feat places Olajuwon in a lonely tier of all-time Houston athletes. We've had some talented HOF players over the years, but it's all about winning in the end, and no other athlete comes close to the achievements of Olajuwon.

He almost captured a college championship as well for the city of Houston, but he and the University of Houston Cougars fell just short in an all-time upset against North Carolina State in 1983. Dealing with that failure may have been a critical learning experience that eventually led to back-to-back championships with the Rockets. Olajuwon is still a big presence in the Rockets organization and is well-known for helping young players develop their skills in the post.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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